Tag Archives: Steak

My First Beef Wellington

Ignorant American: British food is absolutely and totally gut wrenching disgusting!

Average Brit: Well then, it sounds like you’ve never had a proper beef wellington!

I would imagine that this snippet of conversation could have happened in High Wycombe, West Ruislip, Upper Heyford, or the greater Oxford area, but then again, that’s the part of the United Kingdom I know the most and have a personal connection to. That’s were I lived. In this instance, the Ignorant American is likely a armed service member or one of their dependents. It’s likely the 1980’s and they just ate at a Wimpy burger and are quite sad and on tearful crying bit that it’s not McDonalds or Burger King. (Trust me, I had to deal with these spoiled countrymen while spending part of my youth there and, later, my university vacation life in Buckinghamshire.) American corporate fast food really didn’t start invading Europe until the 1990s.

The Wimpy bar is coming back… and could soon be in a high street near you

To the average non-Brit, some UK food can look disgusting. Beans on toast? I once showed a picture of that to a Chinese friend, and they retorted, “Is that vomit on toast?” Yes, the optics are not optimal, but I would never turn away a plate of beans on toast — especially if there’s a bit of cheese sprinkled on top. If we are talking about the optics of so something not being optimal, there is always eel pie.

I have never tried this. I don’t think I could, either. In all my years in China, I sampled a number of things — usually in hotpot — that I would say I normally wouldn’t eat in America. Organ meat would be chief among that. For me, the above is roughly about the same has Zhou Hei Ya duck — it has eyes, and I don’t like eating things that stare at me.

Getting back to the idea of a proper beef wellington, I realized recently that in all the years I lived in or visited the United Kingdom, I have never tried it. Not once. And here is something else crazy: I sampled it for the first time in Changzhou. For a while, I thought this was something that you could maybe dine on in Shanghai or Nanjing, but not here. Well, apparently you can.

Houde Steak is located in the new Cultural Plaza in Xinbei. This whole area is in a greater cluster that also includes the stadium, the city government, the theater, and the museum. Houde is not your typical Chinese steak place that sells a slab of inedible rubber on a sizzling iron plate. No, Houde serves good cuts of meat that’s been minimally plated with like one carrot, one tine bit of broccoli, and one cube of potato.

So, it was here that I lost my beef wellington virginity. The below cost about 198 RMB on the menu. Obviously, this is one that I cut in half.

The theory of a wellington goes as follows. A chef sears all the sides of cut of beef. Then, that gets rolled in pate. Afterwards, it’s re-rolled in Parma ham and subsequently wrapped in pastry dough. It goes into the oven and gets baked. Of course, I’m likely oversimplifying everything. I can testify, though, that it’s juicy and delicious when done right, and Houde has seem to have done this correctly. But then again, Houde’s wellingtons (I’ve tried it more than once) are the only ones I’ve actually had. So, I don’t know if it’s proper or not. I do have the rest of my life to thoroughly and scientifically try other ones and see for myself. I’m assuming spending the rest of your life questing after the most proper wellington would not be a bad endeavor.

As four Houde, despite the minimal plating, there are other issues to consider here. I could not find a location for this place on Baidu Maps, so I’m unable to post that. Just go to the basement level of the Changzhou Cultural Plaza and you’ll eventually find it. Also, the ordering system involves scanning a table QR Code, and annoyingly enough, the menu itself is totally in Chinese with no English. You have to go off the pictures, or you can feed screenshots into a translation app like I did. All that being said, I’d go back again, and I have several times.

A New Take on Steak

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When my father came to visit a few weeks ago, he was pretty burnt out on Chinese food. Before stepping off the train in Changzhou, he had spent about three weeks traveling the Middle Kingdom and saw sights like Lhasa, Tibet, the Mekong River, and more. He ate a lot of noodles. He ate a lot of rice. He had his fair share of dumplings, and he told me he had more than enough.

That posed a bit of a problem.  The day he arrived here, he settled into Hohai University’s guest center and asked, “Where are we going for lunch? I am starving.” Given that he was dead set against Chinese food, I was at a quandary. Where would we eat? I figured the two of us would walk over to Wanda Plaza, and the rest would eventually play out. McDonald’s or KFC would have been an a last resort. We ended up on the fourth floor, at a place called Tom’s Steak Cafeteria.

 

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The food was not good at all. In fact, I really hated it; I hide to pick chucks of non-chewable gristle out of my mouth. However, as my dad and I ate and caught up on family news, there was another thought in the back of my head. Places like Tom’s are pretty standard, and dismal, attempts at western cuisine. There are lots of places in China that try to do steak this way: sizzle a thin, very cheap slab of beef on a metal hot plate, crack open an egg, and serve spaghetti with a type of tomato sauce that likely came out of a can.

If an expat has lived in Changzhou for quite awhile, they will know steak places like this were the majority options a few years ago, if you wanted to eat something remotely western. Yes, there are fancy hotel restaurants and places like Jagerwirt that do steak well, but that is more of a fine dining experience and can be rather pricey — especially if you are eating on a university teacher’s salary and not an engineer’s or business person’s. However, times change. There seems to be a new trend going on Changzhou.

 

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Tiny, affordable steak places are popping up in malls like Wanda and Injoy. These places take a profoundly different approach than the standard Chinese steak restaurants. Think of these places as high-end snack bars. They don’t use hot metal plates. The sides of corn kernels and cold, faux-Italian noodles are gone, too. And seriously, good riddance. These places tend to strip away everything in the name of sheer simplicity. It’s actually kind of beautiful, from a culinary minimalist perspective.

 

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You pick your steak from a display case. You have a choice several different types of cuts. They weigh your meat and charge you by the gram. You also specify how red or not-red you want your meat. They cook it on a grill, season it, and serve it to you with a simple salad.

I can’t speak for the other places in this regard. The pictures are from Niuhaha at Xinbei’s Wanda Plaza. So, if a place is going to serve steak with very few embellishments, how was the quality of meat? I mean, the simplicity puts an extra emphasis on the steak itself, because there are no distractions like a pile of corn or a bunch of flavorless noodles? If the meat is bad, then the meal itself will fail miserably.

 

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What I had at Niuhaha was very, very good. They use imported Australian beef. It was cooked well with the right amount of juiciness and the amount of pepper and other seasonings was just about right. Now, is this the same as getting a steak at a place like Monkey King or Chocolate’s? No. Of course not. Don’t be freaking silly. That is steak as fine dining, and I will still go back those places when I want a sit down meal with friends and colleagues or am on a date. This is, as I said earlier, more of a cheaper fast-food approach.

I tried Niuhaha after I took my dad to Pudong International in Shanghai and said goodbye. My father has since returned to America. However, as I was enjoying my steak salad afterwards, something else dawned on me. Across the way, on Wanda’s fourth floor, was Tom’s Steak Cafeteria. It made me think. On my father’s first day of visiting, I had so wished I said, “Hey, Dad! Let’s try that tiny steak place over there!” We would have had a more satisfying meal if I had.

Blue Marlin’s Steak Toast

IMG_20160503_023212Even when Jack’s Home was spiraling out of business, they did one thing consistently well: steak toast. When their hamburgers and their attempts at German food got weird, the steak toast remained consistent and reliable. It got to the point where ate only that and ignored the rest of the menu.

So, what was this dish?  Imagine two small pieces of sirloin on two toast slices. One had Hollandaise sauce on it, the other had Bernaise. A side of french fries came with that. Whenever I ate this, I used to love to mop up the remaining sauce with my leftover fries. And then, Jack’s went out of business, and I lost access to one of my favorites go-to dinners. I grew to miss it. Chocolate’s didn’t have it, Monkey King didn’t have it, and Jagerwirt didn’t have it either. That pretty much meant no steak toast in Wujin.

Now, I’m in Xinbei, and recently rediscovered it again.  It’s actually better than what Jack’s Home could ever do, and keep in mind that I really liked eating it there. The recently relocated Blue Marlin offers this dish. They used to be near Candle’s and a bunch of other bars. Now, they can be found at the Rise Sun Manhattan Plaza.

As for the food, I had it steak cooked medium. Both the sauces and the sirloin’s juices didn’t make the toast soggy. At first, I wished there was a bit more of the two sauces, but I realized that anymore would have been too rich and stomach upsetting.

There is another reason why I love this particular menu item. It’s affordable, and I am a notorious cheapskate. Lets say you are a steak lover, but you don’t want to dish out 150 to 300 RMB and upwards on a slab of beef. Let’s also say you really don’t care whether something is “Angus” or “grass fed” or not. Then, this is something for you. You don’t need to celebrate or have a special occasion to eat it.