Tokyo Takeover: Give Me All Your Beer and Bourbon

Look, it's no secret that I love whisk(e)y, craft beer and good pub food so yes, of course, I've got some recommendations for Tokyo. 

Ant'N Bee

This small basement bar tucked away in Roppongi doesn't seem like much until you're presented with the twenty tap beer list divided into lagers, weizens, hybrids, ales, black beers and "strong" all from Japanese breweries. Beers can be ordered in four sizes, so you don't have to commit to something you don't know you love, except for the strong beers which only come in small because, well, they're strong. The taps rotate but my favorite while we were there was the "Maitai King", a 12.7% Imperial Stout that wasn't messing around. My preference is for dark beers and I was very happy with the number of porters and stouts available when we went, not something I get to say often.

Along with a long beer list, they also have a pretty extensive and varied food menu. More people than I would've expected were ordering some of the Italian specialties but we played it safe and went with Japanese pub classics karaage (fried chicken) and house pickles. I'm not saying it doesn't exist but I've never had bad fried chicken in Japan and this was no exception, crispy on the outside and hot and steamy on the inside, these were the perfect bite size morsels to go with beer. The potatoes that come with are hand cut and also fried to a golden perfection. We had both the regular house pickles (daikon, lotus root and carrots) and the seasonal special (pickled leaks with balsamic) and they were both delicious. My one complaint is that theoretically this bar has "smoking" and "non-smoking" areas but it's so small it doesn't really matter. Unfortunately indoor smoking is just part of traveling in Japan.

Ant'N Bee is located at 5 Chome-1-5 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo, Japan (basement level) and is open 5:00pm-6:00am 365 days a year (yep). You can find out more on their facebook page or website.

Craftheads

Wait, if this bar is called Craftheads, why are those pictures of bourbon? Well, my friends, this place does happen to have a good number of taps but THIS is the bourbon selection:

I know, I'm sorry, it was dark and I took these pictures with my phone but trust me when I say this is three rows, three or four bottles deep of bourbon. Not scotch, not Japanese whisky, not Irish whisky, just beautiful beautiful American bourbons and ryes. For those not in the know, good bourbon is nearly impossible to find outside of the US, except for one liquor store in Bratislava (true story) and Japan. After all, Suntory is really Beam Suntory these days (along with Jim, this also means Maker's Mark, Basil Hayden's and Knob Creek) and Kirin owns my favorite underrated whiskey, Four Roses. Along with more types of Four Roses than I even knew existed they also had a full line up from Buffalo Trace Distillery (Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Blantons and of course, PAPPY) so basically every one of the three pours I had that evening was an agonizing decision but I left pretty happy and I can't wait to take Dan there on our next trip to Tokyo.

Here we had delicious perfectly fried onion rings with a spicy mayo and more house pickles. I will always order the house pickles and I have yet to ever regret that decision.

Crafteads is located at 1 Chome-13-10 Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0041, Japan. They are open Tues-Fri 5PM-Midnight, Saturday 3PM-11PM and Sunday 3PM-10PM. You can find out more information on their website.

Looking for more mouthwatering food pics? Check out my new food only insta @runawaybunnyeats
 

Taipei Takeover: Japanese Whisky and House Infusions at Wa Shu

House Infusions and Distillations at Wa Shu bar in Taipei, Taiwan

"Have you thought about what flavor you would like to try next?" the bar back asked.

It was all I HAD thought about since ordering my first cocktail, an Old Fashioned made with a house infused smoked whisky. Dan had been the one to originally ask about the bottle labeled "Smoky" but after hearing the description of the cocktail he turned to me with a questioning look, knowing it was right up my alley. Next he asked about the cedar bottle which it turned out was used to make a Manhattan. These are each our cocktails of choice, so we were immediately off to a good start.

"Ummm" I tore my eyes away from the collection of Japanese whisky bottles three deep behind the bar, covering shelves around the room and snuggled into roof beams.

"Is that one Jalapeno Pepper?"

He furrowed his brow.

"Japanese Pepper?" Dan chimed in.

"Yes!"

Even better. He left to consult with the bartender over what kind of drink would be made with the Japanese Pepper whisky. Dan chose a Taiwanese Basil house distillation.

My smoky Old Fashioned bordered on just a little too much smoke, especially since the bite the friendly Taiwanese bar back had suggested with it was a smoked chocolate caramel that seemed a little too matchy matchy. The chocolate caramel with the pine infused Manhattan on the other hand, tasted like campfire in the best way imaginable.

He came back over.

"The Japanese Pepper we will use to make a sort of whisky sour. For the Taiwanese Basil we will also make a sour with a little bit of spice. After this drink, all our customers ask for fried chicken because Taiwanese chicken is made with a lot of this basil and spicy peppers"

We laugh and also ask where we can get some of this chicken because fried chicken with basil and spicy peppers is all I want to eat all day every day.

"Oh you know, just from the side of the road"

We have clearly spend our days in Taiwan on the wrong roads.

For this drink the Japanese bartender/owner comes over to prepare the drink in front of us. Until this point he's been busy with the business of setting up the bar for the evening, as we were the first customers. I thought maybe he didn't speak English since the menu was offered in Japanese and Chinese and we were relying heavily on the bar back who didn't seem to know the purpose of each liquor yet but I was wrong.

"Do you know what Japanese pepper is?" he asked.

"Is it sansho?"

"Yes," he gave a slight approving nod, continuing to pluck basil and mix efficiently while speaking with us. "It will leave a quite distinct flavor on your tongue, do you like it?"

"Very much"

The mixing continued, stirring in two cocktail shakers and then into a blender with some ice.

"Are there any bars like this in New York?" a note of pride in his voice.

The owner had been listening to our conversations with his employee. As always, we had explained that we were from New York but live in Seoul.

"No. I don't think so. There are bars that do maybe five or so of their own infusions, but nothing like this."

"They don't do their own distillations?"

"I don't know any. I don't think so"

"Tokyo the infusion are quite good but not so much the distillations"

He sets our drinks on the counter and I make a mental note to ask him for Tokyo bar recommendations for whenever we find ourselves there next. A mental note I will completely forget until we're on our way home.

I'm happy to not that my sour has the foam indicative of being made with egg white even though I hadn't been paying enough attention to see him put one in. The blended ice adds even a bit more thickness but not so much that it would qualify as a frozen drink. The cocktail is tart but creamy from the frothed white and the sansho pepper is strong but not overwhelming. I definitely get a bit of tongue tingle. Dan is happy with his basil sour but doesn't love it as much as he had loved his Manhattan.

For our next round I choose Yuzu Salt Shochu and Dan chooses Raspberry Whisky. These are also both made into sours, mine with the added addition of a salt rim and a slice of dried yuzu on top. Dan's was a bit a sweet and syrupy for our taste, the only major miss of the night, though I'm sure for somebody who regularly drinks fruity drinks it would be delicious. I loved my Yuzu Salt Sour and it's a hard call between that and the Japanese Pepper for my favorite drink of the night. I really loved the sansho, but I could probably drink more of the yuzu, though I can't imagine ever going to Wa Shu and not wanting to try yet another concoction.

We discuss another round and I'm torn between wanting to try another flavor and my love for the Japanese whisky hidden in every conceivable nook and cranny in the bar. This may be the only place able to ride out the Japanese whisky shortage without have to significantly raise prices, there's so many bottles.

"Are you ready for just whisky?" the bartender asks us.

I let Dan choose first because I'm still thinking.

"Do you have the Hakushu 12?"

Nothing crazy, but I've gone to Japan three times in the last year and never managed to get my hands on a bottle of Hakushu with an age distinction, even at the Yamazaki Distilery.

He thinks a minute then turns to the bottles directly behind him and pulls out one of the green bottles hidden in the back. He looks at me.

"I'll have the same"

"Ice?"

"No"

"You are able to get this in New York?" he asks, surprised.

"Oh no, well maybe you can find it but it's very expensive now. We live in Seoul though so we have to go to Japan for good whisky"

He nods and pushes our pours across the bar before getting an order from the bar back for the large group that had arrived shortly before. A wealthy Taiwanese man who we've been told always travels with a posse and has recently become a regular customer.

"It's ok if there's one of these guys but I don't want two in here. I don't want arguments over who is the bigger man, you know?" he puffs up his chest in slight mockery before lining up a row of glasses and taking out what looks like two glass vases. Next a small torch and a tool I don't recognize with a hose attached.

He pours alcohol into the vases, lights something and then fills them with smoke. He caps each for a minute before pouring them into the glasses and bringing them over to the table and then returning farther down the bar to mix more drinks. I regret that we don't speak Japanese or Chinese so can't read the actual menu to find out what this drink is.

We sip our whisky. In one hour I will be thirty and I think that I miss the friends we would be celebrating with if we lived in America but this is still a pretty good way to end my twenties.

We finish our whisky and ask for the check, without having seen the menu, we're not quite sure what we're in for, especially with our pour of whisky and we're shocked when we see the bill.

Every drink was about US$10, including our pour of whisky which seemed incredibly reasonably priced for such unique creations and conversations with a bartender clearly knowledgeable and passionate about his business. At the good speakeasies in Seoul, drinks start at $25 for a classic cocktail and are usually just okay (which is why we never go to them). We were pretty sure that wasn't going to be the situation in Taipei where other cocktails and craft beer we had already had was priced like New York, but we weren't expecting as low as ten dollars. It's probably a good thing we don't live in Taipei because this would quickly become my favorite bar and I would want to go until we had tried every infusion and distillation, not to mention what had to be hundreds of bottles of hard to find whiskies.

We pay our bill and make our way back to the subway, hoping for the last train.

Wa Shu is located at 忠孝東路四段101巷39號, Taipei, 106, Taiwan (No. 39, Lane 101, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106) for more information check foursquare, their facebook or their website (not in English)

Beijing Break: DaDong Roast Duck

The first sign that we probably should have changed for dinner was probably the valet stand. The next was when we walked into a huge, pristine and bright entryway with a show kitchen full of ducks roasting and a long bar.

When Dan had asked if we could go for duck our first night in Beijing, I told him their was a place Lonely Planet recommended a couple of blocks from where we were staying and that it didn't say anything about needing a reservation or having to wait.

It was Thursday night. We had to wait but only about ten minutes before we were ushered up a staircase that gave a perfect view of the restaurant's light fixtures that were trying to be modern art. Through some hallways and then into another huge room, this one was dim, with glowing light cut outs on the walls and a movie about the restaurant and the chef projected on one wall on loop. After a 5am wake up for our flight and a day spent walking all over Beijing, this club meets fine dining atmosphere is not quite what we're prepared for.

"Well, at least we're not the worst dressed?" I offered, gesturing to a table of patrons in sweatpants.

We're seated at a table which we think would be large for the four people for which it's meant and is comically gigantic for the two of us.

"What do we get?"

"Well, a whole duck probably. And some vegetable sides?"

The menu is much larger and includes more fusion than I expected. We settle on a duck with toppings, roast cauliflower with pork belly and a pea dish. Cauliflower and peas are both hard to come by in Korea and prohibitively expensive when you can find them.

We sit and drink our sparkling water and beer, watching the ducks get carved at the tables around us while the woman in the video sexily eats a braised sea cucumber over and over again.

Our cauliflower comes out first. We got the smaller portion and it's still pretty substantial. There's no serving spoon. We wait a beat but when no spoon or other dish arrives, after a brief discussion about what's appropriate, we dig in with our own utensils. After all, in Korea, even at Western restaurants, food tends to come out whenever it's done, we're starving and who knows when the next thing is coming?! Just as we've finished serving ourselves, the waiter comes over with a serving spoon and a disapproving glance before he puts our peas on the table. Then the duck cart is rolled over. Oops.

I still get a couple of bites of cauliflower in while the duck is carved. It's delicious. Gingery and garlicky. Even though the menu had said the cauliflower was roasted, the dish it reminded me of the most was dry sauteed string beans, and immediately begin thinking about how I can recreate this at home once I get my hands on some cauliflower.

The duck is carved with more speed than my camera can capture. Once there was one plate of it on the table, another server came and began assembling pancakes for each of us. Before he started mine he took a piece of the crisp duck skin, dipped it in coarse sugar, put it on my plate and gestured for me to eat it. I popped it into my mouth. Pure heaven. I watched carefully as he assembled our pancakes, dipping duck into various sauces, folding in different cuts, adding leaks to one and cucumber and melon to another. The wraps he gives us are exquisite. Then we're left on our own to dip and wrap our duck as we see fit.

Our table which once seemed comically large is now filled with multiple plates of duck, two dishes of duck garnishes, our huge portion of cauliflower, side plates with peas and a steamer basket of pancakes. I find myself half standing when I reach for things on the far side of the table.

"This duck is delicious but also this cauliflower! How are we supposed to eat the peas?"

"I don't know," I admit while watching the table next to us also struggle with eating peas with chopsticks.

The peas were served on a spoon with a hooked handle resting on a plate. In the US I would've assumed we were to pick up the spoon, but I try that and notice something has been used to stick it to the plate. I struggle through, alternating between chopsticks and a fork. The peas are fine, but they're no cauliflower.

At first I think we've ordered way too much food, but after a few minutes of the kind of silence that only happens when you are both really hungry and the food is really good, a significant amount of our whole duck has disappeared.

Next a plate of jujubes in some sort of dry ice presentation have to find room on the table, followed by what is maybe a palate cleanser or amuse bouche of very sweet strawberry sorbet. We're still busily working on our duck. I choose to prioritize space in my stomach for cauliflower over the overly sweet sorbet.

Finally, we are sated. I've watched other tables get their leftovers packed up to go and I'm excited that we'll have such good food for our Great Wall picnic the next day. We manage to get a waiters attention and with some hand gestures indicate that we're ready to pay and be packed up. After the waiter swipes our card, another woman comes over and begins to deftly pack our leftovers into a compartmentalized tupperware. Eventually she gets to the jujubes and asks us something in Chinese. We thinks she's asking if we want them packed so we nod.

Instead she slices the flesh of one of the jujubes away from the seed and hands it to me. I eat it. Then she does the same for Dan. Then she asks us another question we don't understand that we think is maybe her asking if we like them. So we nod again, thinking now she'll pack them up. But she doesn't. She smiles and walks away leaving the empty bag and the jujubes on the table. We eat a couple more because it seems like the thing to do, but when she doesn't come back, we pack them ourselves and put them with the tupperware in the supplied small, sturdy shopping bag and head home.

We get back to our room and Dan gets a message from a friend's sister "you should go to DaDong roast duck, but be careful, sometimes they give bad ducks to tourists".

If that was the bad duck, I think I might actually die from too much deliciousness if I had the good.

 

(I came pretty close to that anyways, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't a bad duck)

Beijing's Dumplings: The Good, The Bad and The Cheap

Where to go and what to avoid

I love dumplings of pretty much any variety but Korean mandu are, well, a little underwhelming. Since we have a few China trips planned this year, I figured Dim Sum could probably wait for our Hong Kong or Taiwan trip and obviously xiao long bao for Shanghai, but I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to get in some dumpling meals. All in all we had three different dumpling meals ranging from delicious to... disaster.

The Good: Duyichu (38 Quinman Street)

We hit the tail end of the lunchtime rush and didn't have to wait for a table upstairs at Duyichu but the Lonely Planet description of service at Duyichu as "no-frills" is certainly accurate and we did have to wait a while before placing our order. I actually have no idea if there is an English language menu because it seemed like the server in our area really didn't want to deal with us so I used google translate on what seemed to be the shaomai section of the menu (if you're not going to have data while traveling, you're probably just going to go with the tried and true "point and pray" method unless you bring a local). Some of it, of course, translated totally crazy but we were able to figure out what we wanted so when we finally did get a server's attention, we just pointed at the three different things on the menu.

The shaomai (shumai) I've had at most dim sum places in New York and California aren't usually my favorite. First off, I'm not a shrimp eater and you never really know if they're going to be all pork or have a secret shrimp waiting. Second, I don't know, they just often don't have that great a texture and are kind of boring. These shaomai were nothing like that. The wrappers were delicate and beautiful and the fillings extremely flavorful. The veggie filling which google translate had definitely partially described as "bird home" turned out to be garlicky greens, egg and tofu. Dan insisted on the classic pork and shrimp combination and was quite happy with it. The plain pork dumpling was the winner in my book, it was a gingery, garlicky filling with a bit of liquid in the bottom. Basically like if shaomai and xia long bao had a delicious, delicious baby. Each order of dumplings was eight pieces, and we didn't quiiite finish them all (I think three got left behind) despite the fact that we started out starving. We spent around $30.00 here, including our bottled water, which seemed totally worth it for the quantity and quality of food.

The Bad: Donghuamen Night Market (Dong An Men Da Jie)

The Bad: Dumplings from Dong An Men Da Jie (Donghuamen Night Market) Beijing

Look, I knew Donghuamen was going to be touristy and I figured it would be a little too expensive but who doesn't want to see other tourists eating scorpions on sticks? It was way too expensive, there wasn't that much variety and the things we had were pretty bad. The dumplings pictured above were some sort of beef coriander filling that was ok but the bun was dry and the bottom was hard and tough from sitting. We also got a bowl of garlicky noodles and told the vendor we didn't want her fried dumplings but she threw them on anyway "to try" but she definitely charged us for them. If we had been less hungry maybe we would've been able to deal with the pushy vendors better but it definitely seemed more irritating than fun. If you want the scorpion on a stick experience with less people yelling at you about their not very good food, I'd recommend Wangfujing Snack Street instead.

The Cheap: Zuo Lin You She (50 Meishuguan Back St)

These crazy long dumplings were our first meal in Beijing. I knew we were going to hit the ground running and conquer The Forbidden City on our first day but also that our morning flight and then drive to our lodgings meant we were going to be starving so I wanted something fast, cheap and filling. These bad boys don't look like much (and were a bit on the greasy side) but they left me satisfied. Zu Lin You She doesn't have any English signage on the outside, but the menu has all eighteen of the meat fillings and eight of the veggie fillings translated! I don't think any of the workers speak English, so we just drew a line with a chopstick from the English translation to the Chinese and the server entered it into her ordering pad. We went with spicy beef and coriander, pork and summer squash, pork, green pepper and coriander and, pork and cabbage. We also were planning on ordering tofu and mustard greens but the server cut us off with a hand gesture that implied we had already ordered more than enough for two people and she wasn't wrong.

Dan's favorite turned out to be the spicy beef and coriander he had chosen while mine was the pork, green pepper and coriander. The pork and cabbage was a pretty solid version of a standard gingery, garlic potsticker/fried dumpling filling but the pork and summer squash was a bit on the bland side (I wouldn't order it again). There's chili oil and vinegary soy sauce to mix in your dishes exactly the right size for the dumplings and I recommend slyly watching the other patron's dipping and eating methods since they can be a little hard to handle. This mountain of dumplings cost $6.00. TRUE STORY.

The Libertine


One of the things that never really occurred to me leaving America was how difficult it would be to get a decent cocktail. Sure, I knew my bourbon selection would probably be limited to overpriced Jack and Jim and I'd have to adjust my standards, drinking habits and expected price point for alcohol, but the other week Dan ordered a Scotch and soda from a pretty average bar, with English speaking staff, and got what we think was a Scotch and tonic. Scotch and tonic is maybe the worst drink known to mankind. I'd rather drink something made with Malibu. Yes, I said it, I would rather drink something made with alcoholic suntan lotion, than ever have to try a Scotch and tonic again. In Istanbul, at our fancy hotel rooftop bar, where we were charged TWENTY FOUR DOLLARS to have our drinks made with Bulleit, they SHOOK the life out of Dan's Manhattan and I'm not even sure my Old Fashioned had alcohol in it. They both primarily tasted like melted, dirty ice. I've had two Scotch Old Fashioneds since getting here and one was fine and one was just awful. I'm not opposed to a Scotch Old Fashioned, my favorite drink in the world might be The Campfire at Amor y Amargo (it's not actually on the menu, but go ask for one, you'll thank me later) but you can't just throw a lemon peel and a dash of bitters in a Scotch and soda and go charging somebody $18 like it's an actual Old Fashioned.

You cannot imagine how excited I was when I walked into The Libertine and saw that their drink menu had an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, a Whiskey Sour (with an egg white!) and a Boulevardier. If you had to ask me my top four cocktails, these would be them. They also have the widest and most reasonably priced selection of Bourbon I've seen in Seoul. They charged me one dollar, ONE DOLLAR, extra for having my Old Fashioned made with Buillet instead of the well whiskey (Jim Beam Black). I think Dan got charged a whopping two dollars extra for his Manhattan made with Rittenhouse. Look at that beautiful thing! Just one large globe of ice, a twist of the proper fruit, and actually the proper shade of amber instead of the color of the world's saddest, most watered down, ice tea. The service here is not quick but your cocktail is created with care and I have never seen anyone shake a Manhattan.

This is the Whiskey Sour. You can tell by that thick layer of foam on top that it's made the best way, with an egg white. I realize that egg white cocktails are a little gross sounding to most people but, in America, bars are usually using pasteurized whites so your risk of food borne illness is minimal. I have no idea what they do here. I do know that egg whites usually add a creaminess and body to Whiskey Sours that makes them absolutely heavenly and that this cocktail was no exception. (This is where to get my favorite egg white Whiskey Sour in New York)

For food at The Libertine, I recommend the burger. It's a little pricey but is always perfectly medium rare and juicy. We've found the other dinner food and brunch food fine but underwhelming for the price point. If you do go for brunch, they make a solid, classic Bloody Mary.

The Libertine is definitely the place to go when you've had one of those days where you really just need a burger and some Bourbon. (Other people have those days, right?)

It's address is 141-8 Itaewon-dong. I usually take the 405 bus but you can also get there easily by taking the metro to Itaewon Station. Walk South from Itaewon-ro and it will be on your left just before the street turns entirely into antique shops.

My favorite places for a burger and bourbon in New York are The Wren  (the small plates are also fantastic AND I've gotten an industry discount) or, if you're feeling fancy, Prime Meats.