Friday, September 11, 2015

Eating and Drinking at a Popup Bar

Of course, there were numerous occasions that we are more than willing to go the distance to try out the best restaurants, cafes or bars in far away places, but it's also nice when some of them come to you instead, saving us all the hassles. A few days ago I was at MO Bar at Landmark Mandarin Oriental, checking out the food and drink at a popup by the visiting gang from Employees Only, a speakeasy-style bar/restaurant in New York City's West Village, which is now ranked one of the world's best.


Igor and Steve shaking up a storm behind the bar
For 4 nights only, the Employees Only team, led by the owner Igor, principal bartender Steve and chef Julia, took over the space on the ground level of Landmark Mandarin and made it their own, with a special menu featuring some of the signature drinks and dishes straight from New York City. I went on their second night and started my evening of drinking uncharacteristically early - at 6-ish - but surprisingly the bar was already three-quarter full then.

They seated us at a little room on the mezzanine floor, aka the "shell", up the stairs at the far end of the room. It's a cozy little space a bit detached from all the noises from the main bar area, and it was comfortable with a perfect view of what's going on from above. A number of special cocktails were available, all brought in from the Employees Only team with some selections changing daily, along with other standard drinks normally offered at MO Bar. I started with something called Quiet Storm, with bourbon, rooibos-infused bianco vermouth mixed with lemon juice and ginger beer. To me I thought it was a bit timid - just slightly stronger than a gunner - but it tasted fine with the ginger beer flavor and herbal hint. 

Quiet Storm - Buffalo trace bourbon, rooibos tea-infused bianco vermouth, lemon juice and ginger beer
With more people joining as the evening progressed and a couple more rounds of drinks later, we decided to dig in to the food menu. For a bar, I was surprised at the number of food choices and their portion offered. There were more than a handful of dishes from starters to mains to desserts. And I was even more surprised at the quality of the food as the dishes were presented. Most of them were more than legit - I can even go as far as saying they were much better than what's normally served at MO Bar, and in fact, at many proper high-end restaurants in town.

Reuben Croquettes
Bacon-wrapped Lamb Chops with Salsa Verde
Employees Only Steak Tartar - preparation by the tableside
Throughout the night, we essentially swept through all dishes in the menu - some more than a few times, except the cucumber and radish salad which we couldn't be bothered to try even once. There were too many dishes making the grade. The reuben croquette was a perfect little deep-fried bomb filled with rich cheese and bits of pastrami, spiced up with a little bowl of spicy mayo on the side. I am not a lamb person, but the lamp chops - wrapped with bacon, deep-fried and covered with aromatic salsa verde - were the best I have had. It's full of flavors but not so much about the pungent gaminess and the texture almost reminded me of a well-smoked southern style beef brisket. I didn't even remember how many of those I had that evening. The spicy rock shrimps were reminiscent of those popcorn shrimps served in the fast food joints, but 100 times better with fresh, tasty, bouncy shrimps coated in a well-seasoned batter.

Chicken Liver Pate served on toasted bread with pickled apples and herbs
I also loved the chicken liver pate served on a long piece of toasted brioche - the little slice of pickled apple on top just cut right through the fatty flavor from the pate, and the Employees Steak Tartar, prepared by the table-side, was equally delicious too. The only dish I found a bit meh for the night was the bone marrow popper - from the description it had every potential to be a great dish (with bone marrow plus bordelaise and puff pastry shell), but it was a bit disappointing. To me, the bone marrow was bit too firm and lacked good flavors. A dozen savory dishes and only one dish I didn't like - that's already very good in my standard.

White truffled grilled cheese with parmesan fries
Pork chop & black-eye peas
Skate, paprika with spaetzle
Five main courses were available on the menu and I must say all of them were top notch, starting with the heavenly grilled cheese paired with equally heavenly truffle parmesan fries, then the deep-fried skate fillet served on a bed of spaetzle and the creamy paprika sauce. The pork chop was well-grilled - at least for the first of the two we ordered - with perfect balance of fat, juicy meat and tender texture, and the sauteed black-eye peas and cabbage complimented well with the dish. While I wasn't a particular fan of the side of red cabbage and sour cream potato puree, I love the big piece of chicken schnitzel - what's not to love about a piece of meat breaded with crumbs and deep-fried, right?


As we were finishing up another round of drink, Steve the principal bartender dropped by to make the "curtain call" at our table. We challenged him to fix us up a new round of drinks, each different and each off the regular menu. That's when the night became more interesting. 20 minutes later he showed up with a dozen drinks on a tray - mostly different variations of classic martini and martinez, or old-fashioned style cocktails. We then let the drinks go around the table and everyone took a sip to taste. Soon we asked him to do yet another round of something different, and he was up to the challenge with mostly something new again. That was all good fun, wondering what Steve's going to bring us.

Dark Chocolate Pudding with Hazelnuts and Caramel
Finally we picked a few desserts to share (leaving out the grapefruit campari sorbet which was the least interesting and not really "sharable" anyway). My favorites were the dark chocolate pudding with hazelnuts and caramel, and the butterscotch mascarpone cheesecake, with the former rich and smooth with bits of hazelnuts mixed in, and the latter more like a mascarpone flan with rich butterscotch sauce drizzle all over. Both were decadent, making me wanna lick the bowl and plate clean.

Final toast with our chicken soups
Traditionally, Employees Only serves little bowls of chicken soup to customers who stuck around until the bar close at 4am in New York City - it's a good hangover cure to send people home. They do the same during their stint at MO Bar but at midnight when the waitstaff go around for the last call (the bar closes at 1am). We started our evening kind of early so by around 11pm we had our fair share of drinks, swept the food menu multiple times and properly stuffed. So we whispered to the manager kindly asking him whether it's possible that we "cheat" and have the soup a bit early. And voila, a round of chicken soup was brought in in tea cups, much to our delight. That was the perfect comfort food we need.

When? September 9 2015
Where? MO Bar at Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Bacon wrapped lamb chops with salsa verde, Spicy rock shrimps and Pork Chop & black-eyed peas
Web:
Landmark Mandarin Oriental: www.mandarinoriental.com.hk/landmark/
Employees Only NY: www.employeesonlynyc.com


1 comment :

Mcfaddens Pittsburg said...

I really want to go to this Restaurant, its on my list. And the food looks Awesome and Delicious.

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