Tequila Tasting at Taqueria Cañonita in Las Vegas, Nevada

Copious amounts of wine tastings, whiskey comparisons, beer samplings, and now I can cross tequila tasting off the list. As part of a food and travel writers’ conference I attended earlier this year, we were treated to a tequila tasting at Taqueria Cañonita inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ready for tequila tasting at Taqueria Canonita

 

I have to say, before I even got situated and ready to take photos, the first thing I spotted was…

 

guacamole!


Fresh guacamole ready to be devoured

 

Growing up in California and living a life deprived of quality avocados in Taiwan, the sight of guacamole always stops me in my tracks.

The verdict?

This was some awesome guacamole!

But, I digress…on to the important task of the day — learning about tequila!

I have to say, learning about tequila under the faux sky of the Canal Shoppes was a bit distracting and confusing as I’m sitting there envisioning my best Mexico memories, but hearing the serenade of gondeliers nearby.

Executive Chef, Reed Osterholt, put on a great demonstration for us, teaching us the nuances between Don Julio tequilas.

 

Chef Reed Osterholt discussing Taqueria Canonita's use of tequila in cooking

The three types of Don Julio tequila we sampled

Blanco: Double distilled from the finest 10 year old 100% Blue Agave. Ultra smooth, rich and clean. Has crisp agave aromas blended with hints of fresh citrus on the nose, a lightly sweet flavor, and bits of pepper on the finish.

Reposado: The Reposado is double distilled and spends eight months in American white-oak barrels, giving it the beautiful golden amber color. Mellow lemon and citrus on the nose with hints of dark chocolate on the palate, and the finish has a touch of caramel apple.

Anejo: The Anejo is also double distilled and this time, aged in American white-oak barrels for around eighteen months. Definite citrus with notes of caramel on the nose, lots of rich, thick, honey sweetness on the palate, and the taste of honey lingers through to the finish.

And, after admiring the different qualities of the tequila, what’s the next best thing to do with it?

 

Flaming dishes of course!


Chef Osterholt uses a "little" tequila in his cooking

Chef Osterholt began an impressive display of preparing one of Taqueria Cañonita’s signature dishes — Roasted Mussels & Shrimp Skillet with Tequila, Pasilla Oaxaca, and Mexican Chorizo.

Chef Osterholt preparing the flaming mussels and shrimp skillet

Roasted Mussels and Shrimp Skillet at Taqueria Canonita

 

Although our menu sampling was limited, I was rather impressed with Taqueria Cañonita. Its menu concept is pretty simple — to recreate the “soul food” dishes of Mexico City, with a New America ambiance.

The native Los Angeles girl in me would’ve bypassed a place like that when I was living in Las Vegas in favor of the cheap taqueria down the street. However, if you are looking for something more upscale with good quality and authentic food, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

And, truth be told…I am still craving that guacamole.

Taqueria Cañonitas
The Venetian Hotel and Resort (Located in the Canal Walk)
3377 Las Vegas Blvd, South
Las Vegas, NV
Telephone: (702) 414-3773
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Daily
Dinner: 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations recommended, take-out available
Website: www.canonita.net

Although I was a guest of The Venetian and Palazzo Resorts, all views and opinions are my own.

 

Shuffle the Truffle: Truffle Infused Cocktails at the W Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan

The team at Our Tasty Travels was invited to the trendy W Hotel in Taipei to sample some of their newest cocktail creations made with one of my all-time favorite ingredients – truffle!

I could eat truffle on everything – breakfast, a 10 course dinner, and certainly in a dessert, so why not a cocktail?

It’s like the mixologists at the W Hotel were speaking to my heart when they created this menu of unique and trend-setting drinks. Unfortunately, they did not create them just for me, they were in honor of their one-year anniversary in February, 2012.

Shuffle the Truffle menu is available at Yen Bar on the 31st floor, which provides one of the best views of Taipei 101 in the city.  Look for seven very diverse truffle options that will appeal to nearly every type of drinker – from stiff martinis to dessert-style cocktails, everyone can enjoy a truffle cocktail at Yen.

Since sampling cocktails is hard work, we dove right in and started with the two most recommended offerings, Mr. W and Ms. W.

Ms. W and Mr. W Truffle Infused Cocktails

Mr. W

Mr. W is made with the W Hotel’s special infused truffle vodka, vinegar, martini extra dry, rosso, balsamic, and topped off with an olive.

Of the six cocktails we sampled over the course of the evening, Mr. W offers the most pronounced truffle flavor. It’s a classic martini with a definite masculine appearance, but I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to order one…or two.

Mr. W is a classic martini style cocktail with a strong truffle flavor

Ms. W

Ms. W is made with W infused truffle vodka, fresh lemon juice, fresh strawberries, vanilla sugar, rose liqueur and rose sparkling champagne. With its bright pink color, this cocktail was designed for the female crowd that frequents Yen. It was definitely a drink I would order again, but the truffle taste was not nearly as pronounced as with Mr. W.

Ms. W even has a rose petal inside the cocktail

Beautiful sugar rim on Ms. W truffle infused cocktail

Truffle Mary

Hello Sunday morning cocktail – truffle style. The Truffle Mary is made with W infused truffle vodka, tomato juice, fresh lemon juice, old balsamic vinegar, black olive, black pepper and truffle salt.

This one would definitely take care of a rough Sunday morning start and is not a bloody mary for the weak of heart.  The only disappointment on this one for me was the lack of truffle salt on the rim.  According to our host, the salt is in the drink with the pepper. Personally, I would prefer to try it on the rim as I think it would enhance the truffle vodka flavor immensely.

Truffle Mary and Truffle Vodka Fizz at Yen Bar

Truffle Vodka Mary cocktail

Truffle Vodka Fizz

This more feminine option is made with W infused truffle vodka, cherry brandy, fresh lime and sugarcane, served carbonated. This was a refreshing cocktail and had a nice subtle sweet flavor with a hint of truffle.

Truffle Vodka Fizz and Truffle Vodka Mary cocktails

Truffle Vodka Fizz cocktail

Truffle Pie

One of the last cocktails we sampled was the Truffle Pie, made with W infused truffle vodka, fresh cucumber juice, apple liqueur, apple syrup, and fresh lime juice.  Served in a lowball glass, this was definitely one I could’ve ordered two or three of. It was an interesting blend of earthy, sweet, and sour all rolled into one cocktail.

Truffle Pear and Truffle Pie cocktails at Yen Bar

Truffle Pie served in a lowball glass

Truffle Pear

The last cocktail on our tasting was the Truffle Pear made with W infused truffle vodka, pear liqueur, fresh lime juice, fresh pear, and white sugar. This was in a martini glass and another one I questioned on whether it should’ve had sugar around the rim.  The white sugar was said to be in the drink itself, but I honestly expected it to be a touch sweeter.  Still quite nice and a great choice for those who are not fans of overly sweet or strong drinks.

Truffle Pear cocktail served in a martini glass

Truffle Coco

This is the dessert cocktail and the only one on the truffle menu we did not try.  It is made with W infused truffle vodka, orange liqueur, white chocolate sauce, and milk.  After sampling all the others in between a large meal at Yen, we just couldn’t find the room to hold one more cocktails, although I plan to go back and knock this last one off the list!

Each of the cocktails we sampled are 590 NT each (about $20 US each). The Truffle Coco is 690NT. These are obviously not inexpensive as far as drinks go, so perhaps not a drink you might order two or three of each night, but certainly order at least one. The premium ingredients and housemade truffle infused vodka is definitely worth a try.  The W Hotel has done a fabulous job of creating a specialized cocktail menu that is proving to be a hit with Taipei’s in-crowd.

Yen Bar’s tapas menu has increased since we were there shortly after the grand opening last year.  Menu items currently available from 11 a.m. until midnight include:

French fries, assorted dips, 220 NT
Banana cheese spring rolls, 300NT
Sauteed taro with sugar, 180NT
Plum glazed baby carrots, candied kumquat, 220NT
Sesame crisp prawn mousse toast, 300NT
Red braised beef tenderloin, brisket noodle soup, 480NT
Barbecue beef, chicken, prawn skewers, 680NT
Variety of stewed pork belly, seaweed, eggs, and bean curd, 360NT
Crispy chicken boxer wings with dips, 320NT
Kurobuta pork burger, 360NT
Crispy squid with five spice salt, crystal fish, 600NT
Golden sesame seafood cigars, 280NT
Abalone mushroom skewers, duo cheese, 220NT

We did not sample any of the bar menu items, as we were guests of the W Hotel at Yen’s restaurant in between cocktail sampling. The beef tenderloin and brisket noodle soup came highly recommended so definitely on the list to try next time.

View of Taipei 101 from VIP style lounge room at Yen Bar

View of Yen Bar from our little VIP lounge area

Yen Bar at the W Hotel in Taipei
10 Zhongziao East Road Sec 5
Xinyi District
(886)(2)7703-8888
Open: 11:30am – 12:00am
Website: Starwood Hotels W Hotel in Taipei

We were guests of the W Hotel for our cocktail sampling and dinner and, while a portion of our evening was comped, all views and opinions expressed are our own.

New Singapore Sling Cocktail Offerings at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar

Late last week, I found myself faced with a surprising dilemma, an unplanned four day weekend!  I knew that I had Tuesday, Feb 28 off for the 228 Memorial Day Holiday, but did not know I also had off on the Monday before it.  Realizing this only on Friday, I made a quick call to my sister in Singapore, and booked a last minute flight down for Saturday and Sunday.

As this was such a short notice visit, the plans of course revolved around the existing schedule for her and my niece, which included my niece’s Saturday afternoon art class downtown near the Singapore Art Museum.  What were we going to do for the 90 minutes while she was in her class? As the museum is located right by the Bras Basah MRT station, it didn’t take long to come to a good solution…my sister had lived in Singapore for two years, and had yet to try an original Singapore Sling from the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, where it was invented in 1915, only three blocks away!

A few short minutes later, my sister, my niece’s nanny and I had arrived at this grand colonial-style hotel and made our way up to the second floor entry for the Long Bar, and were faced with quite a crowd!  Seems Saturday afternoon may not be the best time to try to make a quick visit to the Long Bar, especially as the second floor bar was not open this day.  We could have sat at the bar or outside on the veranda, but it was only a short wait for a table, so we opted for that, and less than 10 minutes later, we had our seats.

The original plan was for a trio of original Singapore Sling cocktails, however, on taking a quick peek at the menu, we were greeted with a surprising assortment of new sling cocktails on the menu!  In addition to the classic original, the following six items now appear on the menu, all at S$26 each, the same price as an Original Singapore Sling:

  • Spring Sling – Apple Vodka, Apple Sourz, DOM, Cointreau, Blue Curacao, Pineapple & Orange Juice
  • Summer Sling – Bacardi Limon, Lychee Liqueurs, DOM, Cointreau, Mango, Lychee & Orange Juice
  • Autumn Sling – Vodka, Creme de Casis, Apple & Pineapple Juice, Monin Casis, Lemon Wedges, Blackberries
  • Winter Sling - Vanilla Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Cointreau, DOM, Pineapple Juice, Pineapple Puree
  • Tropical Sling - Bacardi, Cherry Heering, Passion Fruit Puree, Lime Juice, Cointreau, DOM, Grenadine Syrup, Champagne
  • Courtyard Sling – Gin, DOM, Lychee Liqueurs, Mango Juice, Grenadine Syrup, Ginger Beer
Sling Options at the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Sling Options at the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Of course, needing to experiment, we had to go for three of the new cocktails (and one original to split…for tradition’s sake, and so my sister could finally say she’s had one here).  Our orders placed, a few minutes of munching on the great Thai peanuts (and making quite a mess with the pile of shells we left on the floor), and we soon had our drinks before us.

Peanuts at the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Peanuts at the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

First thing to note, only the Original Singapore Sling comes in the Original Singapore Sling glass.  All others come in an unlabeled glass.  Also to note, nowhere on the menu did I see the option of ordering the Singapore Sling with the ability to keep the collector’s glass as was available in the past, but perhaps this is meant to have you visit the gift shop on the first floor where you can buy the glass and other Raffles Hotel souvenirs.

Original Singapore Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Original Singapore Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Of the non-standard slings, the Tropical Sling came out first, much faster than the others.  Not sure if this meant this was pre-made like the Original, or just easier to make.  This drink was quite tasty, but did not quite have that signature Sling taste.  Though it was quite nice, with the passion-fruit and champagne.

Tropical Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Tropical Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The Courtyard Sling was very tasty, though perhaps a bit strong.  Again, not a very traditional taste in line with the original sling, but one I would order again.

Courtyard Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Courtyard Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The Summer Sling tasted quite similar to the original Singapore Sling, and seemed to also be the most popular option, aside from the original, that I saw people ordering as well.  This one also took the longest to receive, not sure if it was a lost order due to it being so crowded, or just took a while to make.  Very pleasing flavors, and very easy to drink.  Perhaps dangerously so!

Summer Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Summer Sling, Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Overall, I have to say, the new Slings are rather enjoyable.  I did not see the Tiger Lily on the menu any longer, so I’m not sure if it is still an option, or if it has been totally replaced by these new offerings.  If that is the case, however, I’m happy with the new flavors on the menu.

Yen Bar at New W Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan

Last month, the new W Hotel opened its doors in Taipei.  The hotel is located in the bustling downtown XinYi district where many of the high-end retail stores and restaurants are located.  XinYi is also the financial district and home to Taipei 101, now the second tallest building in the world.

Yen Bar at the newly opened W Hotel in Taipei

The 31st floor of the W Hotel houses the stylish Yen Restaurant and Bar. Prior to our dinner reservations, we showed up at the bar to check out the signature cocktails and perhaps one of their tapas we had read about in T+L Southeast Asia.

Initially, we were told the restaurant featured coveted views of Taipei 101, but as it turns out, only the bar and several private dining rooms have a view.  The bar was dark and swanky, highlighted by abstract pendants and other modern fixtures.  Behind the bar are large-scale art pieces featuring different angles and shots of a human eye.  One corner features a direct view of Taipei 101, while the other side is a massive floor to ceiling wine cellar.  The wine cellar is quite dramatic and essentially is the wall separating the bar from the open kitchen and entrance to the restaurant.

Yen Bar W Hotel Taipei Taiwan

View from our table at the W Hotel's new Yen Bar

Yen Bar W Hotel Taipei

View of Taipei 101 from our table at Yen Bar

Yen Bar Cantonese W Hotel Taipei Taiwan

Artwork behind the bar at Yen on 31st floor of new W Hotel

Yen has a pretty interesting bar menu of drinks.  Two instantly caught our eye and the server said these were the house specialties.  The oolong fizz is w-infused oolong gin with fresh lemon and sugarcane and is slightly carbonated.  A nice touch with a garnish — a few dried tea leaves.

The other drink is the green tea mojito, which is crushed fresh lime, mint, and sugarcane served with w-infused green tea vodka and is also slightly carbonated.  Like the oolong fizz, there was far too much ice in the glass that made it pretty much impossible to really mix the mint leaves into the drink.

Yen Bar W Hotel Taipei Green Tea Mojit and Oolong Fizz

Green Tea Mojito and Oolong Fizz

Yen also has two other interesting sounding signature drinks — the lychee sling and the plum sour.  The lychee sling has crushed lychees, lychee liqueur, fresh lemon, cherry brandy, and tonic water.  The plum sour is Taiwanese plum wine shaken and served with fresh lemon and sugarcane.  These four drinks are NT $340 each — not cheap as far as drinks go, but given it’s a hotel bar, not bad.

The bar menu also had three Bloody Mary concoctions that sounded interesting, just not before a fancy dinner — I am a Bloody Mary Sunday Brunch kinda girl.  Interestingly, the menu claims they have the best Bloody Mary drinks in Taipei — may have to test that claim out!  The three varieties available are:

  • Bloody — “a garden in a glass – the best in taipei”
  • Taipei Mary — “made with our own w-made chili infused vodka-a bit on the spicy side and the other best in taipei”
  • Tokyo Mary — “spiced up with our own w-infused ginger vodka-for sure, another best in taipei”

Other drinks on the Yen bar menu include other mixed drinks, many featuring an Asian flair, various liquors, and high-end Whisky — including ones made in India and Taiwan.   There is a list of non-alcoholic beverages (several of which are repeated multiple times on the menu for some reason).

According to the interview Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia did with Jereme Leung (consulting chef on Yen) the bar was supposed to feature some rather unique Chinese tapas.  The interview talked about “caramelized char-siu, with a caramelized crust” served on skewers with roasted pineapples.  Guess what?  No char-siu on the menu and the server had no idea what we were talking about.

Wanting to at least try one menu item, we ordered the barbecue wagyu beef skewers that were supposed to be served with assorted dips for NT $600 (about $20 US).  The two wagyu skewers came on a cool display with hot coals.  No “assorted dips” only a small spoonful of a hoisin/plum type sauce.

Wagyu Skewers Taipei W Hotel Yen Bar

Wagyu skewers available from Yen Bar at W Hotel

The wagyu was cooked perfectly and had a nice mix of rich fatty goodness — I was still pretty sad there was no char-siu on the menu though.  Other menu items include

  • grilled king crab legs with rock salt (NT $680)
  • sauteed taro with sugar (NT $180)
  • seared salted sword fish belly (NT $240)
  • smoked mackerel with pickled vegetable and sun-dried apricot on skewers ( NT $300)
  • plum marinated cherry tomatoes, candied kumquat (NT $220)
  • golden sesame seafood cigars (NT $280)
  • fresh mushroom skewers with two types of cheese (NT $220)
  • crispy chicken boxer wings with dips (NT $320)
  • selection of Taiwan sun-dried and pickled fruits (NT $220)
  • chocolate fondue, seasonal fresh fruits with fruit candy jelly (NT $380)

Tapas are available daily from noon until midnight.  I’d be interested in trying the chocolate fondue, crab legs, taro, and the swordfish belly.

A couple things to note about the Yen Bar.  The lounge is somewhat small and as word gets out that it’s now open, I’d expect it will be pretty busy on weekends.  Service is fairly slow — it took about 15 minutes to get our two drinks.  With only one bartender (at least while we were there) and a large number of fresh ingredients in many of the drinks, I was not all that surprised it took quite a bit of time.  We arrived an hour before dinner and ended up with only five minutes to spare before our reservations.  As with any new hotel opening, things will probably smooth out and improve a month or two down the line.

Wine Cellar Yen Bar W Hotel Taipei

Wine Cellar on one side of Yen Bar

Overall, the Yen Bar is a nice spot to check out the city views — and if you “luck out” like us, you may even get treated to a bird’s eye view of someone in their hotel room bed! Yikes!  The vibe is definitely trendy chic and since it’s the W Hotel’s signature bar, the recommended dress code is smart casual.  Most of the other people there were in suits and dresses with heels.  Unlike many places in Taipei where very casual works, I definitely would’ve felt uncomfortable in jeans and sneakers.

Taipei 101 Yen Bar W Hotel Taipei

View of Taipei 101 from private room tables at Yen

Yen Bar at the W Hotel in Taipei
10 Zhongziao East Road Sec 5
Xinyi District
(886)(2)7703-8888
Open: 11:30am – 12:00am
Website: Starwood Hotels W Hotel in Taipei

St. Regis Hotel, New York City: American Birthplace of the Bloody Mary Cocktail

Although the history of the Bloody Mary invention is somewhat disputed, most people agree that the St. Regis in New York City is the American birthplace of this signature cocktail, which they call the “Red Snapper”.  This credit goes to Fernand Petiot, a bartender at the St. Regis Hotel, who originally came up with the drink while working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, France in the early 1920′s.  He moved to the U.S. in 1925 and became head bartender at the St. Regis in 1934, bringing his creation with him.

With only a mere 48 hours to hit some iconic NYC food stops — combined with the snow on the ground and what seemed like hurricane force winds when we landed on Saturday night — I had to choose my picks wisely.  On the top of the list was trying the famed Red Snapper aka Bloody Mary at the King Cole Bar inside the St. Regis.

Sadly, packing for a six week trip that included scuba diving in the Caribbean and two formal nights on a ship didn’t leave a lot of room for heavy winter clothes for a couple days on the East Coast.  In my last minute efforts to pack, I only brought a couple pairs of shoes — flip flops, open toe high heel shoes and white sneakers — all “perfect” choices for NYC in the snow.  Brilliant!

Surprisingly, we weren’t instantly booted by the tuxedo donning doormen at the St. Regis (thank you!), but I still wouldn’t recommend showing up in white sneakers! :-)

The King Cole Bar sits to the left of the main lobby doors, behind the Astor Court.  We had arrived around noon (about 1/2 hour after opening) on Tuesday and were surprised to see it fairly crowded, with some tables already finished with food and drinks.  We snagged a quiet table for two in the corner — behind a pillar — in hopes I would not be too distracting when I snapped my photos. (Apologize in advance for the grainy & fuzzy photos in this post — did not want to use the flash in such an intimate and crowded environment.)

Do you know how the upscale lounge got its name?  A giant 25 foot mural hangs behind the bar — painted by renowned 20th century painter Maxfield Parrish.  After making its way around a few NYC hotels, it found its permanent home in the 1930′s at the St. Regis.  The mural is definitely the focal point of the bar — there’s absolutely no chance of missing it, unless you walk with your head always to the ground.

Giant mural is backdrop of bar at King Cole Bar at the St. Regis

Although a regal bar, the ambiance was comfortable.  A family sat to our left chatting about their day and potential menu choices, while an older, astute gentleman sat at the bar, enjoying a hearty breakfast.  Shortly thereafter, a single woman came in to the bar and both the gentleman and bartender greeted her by first name.  These were definitely the New York locals in the know — the ones who escape for a lunch getaway at their favorite haunt, know the best spots in the City, and have built a rapport with the staff.

Foodwise, the bar menu is small, but provides a good sampling of things to try.  The drink menu is comprehensive, but you are probably not going to find Red Snapper or Bloody Mary listed on it.  Ask the server for a Red Snapper and you will be well-taken care of.

The Red Snapper comes served in a stemmed wine style glass.  Don’t underestimate its size — this drink packs a punch (just ask the table next to us who needed more tomato juice added).  Thankfully, we had ordered the Mediterranean sampler ($19) that came with prosciutto, aged cheese, olives, and a few pieces of toasted baguette.

Mediterranean Plate at King Cole Bar

According to legend, the original Red Snapper recipe does not have horseradish — instead, the bottom of the shaker includes four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce.  A dash of lemon juice is added along with some cracked ice, two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, then you shake, strain, and pour.

Red Snapper aka Bloody Mary at St. Regis

Since I had a plane to catch later in the afternoon, we only had time for one drink — a smart idea given that Brett had to drive me to the airport as well.  We asked for the bill and were not far off in our guess at the price of the drinks — the Red Snapper will set you back $20 each.  It’s actually not too bad for NYC and a luxury hotel bar.  And hey, you get a souvenir postcard of the King Cole mural when the server brings your bill.

King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel, New York City:
Two East 55th Street, at Fifth Avenue
New York, New York, 10022
(212)753-4500
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:30am – 1:00am; Friday – Saturday 11:30am – 2:00 am, Sunday 12:00pm – 12:00am.  Bar menu is available until midnight.

Cocktails with a View: M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

While we typically seek out fine wines with dinner, we absolutely love trying out signature cocktails or local drink specialties during our travels.  Although often times pricey, many hotel restaurants and bars offer some pretty incredible concoctions that are definitely worth a splurge.

Brett and I had the opportunity to visit the M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong last weekend.  We booked a dinner reservation at their one Michelin-starred Mandarin Grill (the restaurant legendary chef Thomas Keller recently visited) and wanted to experience the views from their signature M Bar located on the 25th floor.  We met up with Geoff Wu, the Social Media and E-Commerce Manager for the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong and took a tour of the food and beverage outlets onsite.

When making reservations for our dinner, we opted for a later dining time so we could enjoy drinks at the M Bar ahead of time.  The M Bar is dark and swanky, offering a great view of the harbour and skyline.  The M Bar features a comprehensive menu of signature cocktails, beer, wine, and Cantonese tapas.

M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

We started with two signature cocktails — Hong Kong Legend and the Earl Grey Mar-tea-ni.  The Hong Kong Legend featured some interesting ingredients — don’t be fooled by the martini glass — this is no “girly” drink.  It features vodka, Kuei Hua Chen Chiew, lychee liquor, lychee, lime, and the base of the glass features whiskey gum!  Initially, we thought they were part of the glass design, until the bartender said they were edible.  The Hong Kong Legend is an understated drink in that the alcohol and fruit flavors ring through without being overly sweet.  You are supposed to chew on the gum while sipping the drink, which was also a nice addition.

The second drink was the Earl Grey Mar-tea-ni.  This one was definitely intriguing and I am glad it was recommended to us.  As you can probably gather by the name, it contains tea.  It starts with a homemade Earl Grey infused gin, which is mixed with orange juice and served in a martini glass with a sugar rim.  This was probably my favorite  — surprising given that I am not a gin fan — but the tea flavor, orange, and sugar all worked quite well together.

Hong Kong Legend (front) and Earl Grey Mar-tea-ni (rear)

Close up of Whisky Gums

We still had a little time prior to our dinner reservation so Geoff suggested two other signature cocktails.  These two were on the sweeter side, but absolutely home runs.  The first was the Foam Cosmopolitan, which is a standard cosmopolitan served with a cranberry foam they add tableside.

The last drink was the Mandarin Spring Punch, featuring vodka, apricot, cassis, mandarin, raspberry, lemon, and topped with a splash of champagne.  The glass is then topped with a few sugar coated fruits — what a great combo!

Foam Cosmopolitan (front) and Mandarin Spring Punch (rear)

Mandarin Spring Punch

Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong features a nice array of signature drinks, champagne cocktails, beer, wine, liquors, and even a few mocktails.  There are still a number of drinks on the menu I am hoping to try on future visits  — the one that sticks out most is the Crumble (brown butter rum, falernum, and pear cider).

If you’re visiting central Hong Kong and looking for a bar with some unique cocktails and a spectacular view, we definitely recommend swinging by the M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong!  Let us know which cocktail ends up being your favorite!

Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
Address: 5 Connaught Road, Central Hong Kong (M Bar is 25th floor)
Phone: +852 2522 0111
Website: http://www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong/

Best Bars in Antwerp, Belgium: Bierhuis Kulminator

While Brussels may have the bar with the largest selection of beers in the world, there is another bar located in nearby Antwerp that is, in fact, the Mecca for beer lovers everywhere.  This bar is Antwerp’s famed Bierhuis Kulminator.  While only boasting around 600 different beers at any given time, it is the quality of the beer selection here that makes this pub so much more cherished than the Delirium Cafe.

Kulminator in Antwerp, Belgium

Kulminator in Antwerp, Belgium

Kulminator boasts a 30+ page menu featuring one of the largest selections of premium beers around.  What separates this menu from the others is the high quality selection of vintage beers you can choose from.  There is an incredible selection of vintage beers, including beers over 30 years old, some of which are no longer even produced.

On my visit here in May 2005, I tried one of the last jewels in my tasting of Trappist Beers, the Westvleteren 6 (Red Cap), last brewed in 1998, and since replaced by the Westvleteren Blonde.  I also tried the Bush Prestige and had my first taste of what has become one of my favorite sipping beers, the Rodenbach Grand Cru.

The Kulminator is not a large place, and at peak times, it can be difficult to get in.  However, when you are there during a more slow time, it can be an amazing experience.  A visit to the Kulminator can be like sitting at your local pub, only with much better beer!  The owners man the counter, and are very helpful in their recommendations and assisting with your selection process.  When they return with your beer and matching glass, the beer is served properly and you can truly enjoy your fine beer drinking experience.

The Kulminator is located not far from the Grote Markt and Cathedral, though can be a little difficult to find if you’re not sure how to get there.  One definite downside is that they are not open on Sundays, so if you are not staying in Antwerp and want to go on the weekend, you’re limited to Friday or Saturday nights.

Be sure to check out Chuck Cook’s article / interview on Beer Advocate for some great insight on the origins of the Kulminator and their beer selections.

Hours: Monday 8pm-?, Tues-Fri 12pm-12:30am, Sat 5pm-?.  Closed Sunday.

Vleminckveld 32
Antwerpen, 2000 Belgium
+32 (0)3 232 45 38

Best Bars in Brussels, Belgium: Delirium Cafe and Floris Bar

How many choices of beer does your local pub have?  Five?  Ten?  Are you lucky to have one of those specialty establishments with upwards of 100-200 types of beer?  Try over 2000 beers on for size!

Delirium Cafe in Brussels was inducted to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004 for having 2004 different beers commercially available on their menu!  While there may not be quite as many to choose from today, this bar still boasts one of the largest beer selections anywhere.  There are beers on the menu from over 75 different countries, representing every continent (except Antarctica).  Some of my favorite beers can be selected from the menu here, including a number of brews from Abbaye des Rocs, De Dolle and De Struise.

Interior of Delirium Cafe

Delirium Cafe is located in an 18th century basement on Impasse de la Fidelite, an alley off the Rue des Bouchers, the famous street of seafood restaurants located around 100 meters from the Grand Place.  The alley is also the location of the Jannneke Pis statue, the female counterpart to the world famous Mannekin Pis located on the other side of the Grand Place.  The decor within the cafe is mostly made up of breweriana, including signs, glasses, and barrels, which is rather nice.  Delirium Cafe can get extremely busy on weekend evenings, and as of my last visit, was rather smoky.

If you prefer draft beer, check out Delirium Taphouse, upstairs from the cafe.  Erik Smith of On My Feet or In My Mind recently provided more information on the Delirium Taphouse on his blog.

French Absinthe Fountain

If you more prefer spirits to beer, right across the alley from Delirium Cafe is it’s younger brother, the Floris Bar.  Floris is one giant bar with different “grottos” featuring Absinthe, Whiskey, Gin, and Pastis.  In the past, there were areas for Rum and Tequila as well.  Last time I was there, in 2008, there were over 400 different Absinthes to choose from, though their website now boasts of only “no less than 300 varieties”.  One of the best parts of the Floris Bar is the knoweldgable and friendly staff.  As most people are new to the Absinthe experience, they will walk you through your selection, and help you to properly prepare your taste of the famous libation.

Like Delirium Cafe, Floris Bar is also increasingly popular and can be extremely busy and smoky on weekends, so plan accordingly.    For more information on the whole alley, which contains both Delirium Cafe and Floris Bar, visit their Delirium Village website.

Delirium Cafe: Impasse de la Fidelite, 4A - 1000 Brussels +32/2.514.44.34  Open 7 days a week from 10AM to 4AM

Floris Bar: Impasse de la Fidelite, 12 - 1000 Brussels +32/2.514.44.34  Open 7 days a week from 8PM to 6AM

Delirium Cafe and Floris Bar

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