August 17, 2008

In Search of Chinese Food

We had an adventure last night.

Paul and I had slow days yesterday, because his medalists crapped out, essentially. So we thought we'd take advantage and go out to dinner, somewhere not in the basement of the MPC. I had a vague recommendation from a former colleague about a dumpling place near Beijing Normal University, but I had no specifics and I couldn't find him. And that was too bad, because he said eight people stuffed themselves for 145 yuan. The only thing better than dumplings is inexpensive dumplings!

So I went to another former colleague, and he sent us to Xiao Wang's Home Restaurant in Ritan Park. The directions were slightly vague ... "The taxi will drop you in the middle of the street. Go through a gate, and then an archway and you'll find the restaurant." He suggested the Lemon Chicken, and the online reviews suggested the Peking duck was very good. So we thought, sure, let's try it.

We checked with the transportation desk to see if the photocopy print we had with an address and a map would be sufficent. No problem, they said. We go to the taxi stand, four volunteers ask where we want to go, we show them. No problem, they said. They tell the taxi driver ... you get the picture.

We don't really know where we're going, but it's fun to look at the scenery. We do know the ride should cost about 35 yuan, so we aren't alarmed when it creeps up to 40. There's been a lot of traffic for a Sunday evening.

The driver pulls up to a restaurant. Through a gate, in fact, up to a doorway. We're a little surprised, but we get out. There's not much room for discussion if you don't speak Chinese. And we are welcomed by a lovely woman (and three valets) who asks if we have reservations. We don't and this gives me slight pause. She escorts us through a relatively fancy restaurant, with awards on the walls, out to a garden area. It's lovely. There are bridges and ponds and fountains. It's very soothing. She brings us a gorgeous menu with all the Chinese listings in calligraphy.

I had read that there is a menu-book and that there were also pictures of the food. We had all that. But still, something nagged at me. The prices seemed quite high, the food very exotic. This did not seem like the restaurant we meant to try. A waitress brings us two Tsing Tao beers and I show her the piece of paper. Is this the restaurant, I ask? She tells me no, and says another name, which I don't understand at first. I ask if she knows where my restaurant is. She says she's never heard of it.

At this point, I say we'll just have the beer, then, thank you. They are surprisingly gracious about this. Paul and I start to talk this over. It seems odd to me that this restaurant I want to go to a. has a website. b. is clearly in the same vicinity and c. is well known enough that there are three branches and this fancy woman in the fancy Beijing Ritan Inn House has never heard of it.

We drink our (very expensive) beers and we leave. We go out onto the street and look for someone who might help us. We ask two different people; no luck. The we see a gateway into the park. We know the restaurant we want is in the park, so there's that. So we go into the park. There's a map, but our restaurant doesn't appear to be on it. We show the paper to a couple on a walk. The guy starts to ask questions in Chinese, then goes over to the park ranger and asks him. They discuss it and walk us over to the big map. It's at the other end of the park, they seem to indicate. Go straight and then to the right.

It's getting kind of dark now, and I want to admire the park a little more, but Paul wants to find the restaurant. It's a lovely park, built in the 1950s, and well kept. There are many people strolling and children playing. It has a nice feel to it.

We follow the directions and we come upon the restaurant. We are quite pleased and we discover the taxi driver dropped us on the wrong side of the park. I don't think he paid any attention to where we wanted to go -- only heard the name Ritan Park and then took us to the fancy place. I'm not sure it was malicious, he just didn't pay attention.

And when we left we walked through the archway, then the gate and arrived at the middle of the street.

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