Thursday, January 14, 2016

Another Pop-up Bar at Landmark Mandarin

I hardly know anything of the latest in the dining and drinking scene in New York City these days, but I was told PDT (Please Don't Tell) is some big shot in East Village many considered to be the best speakeasy bar in town, if not the world. After a few stints of pop-up appearances around the world, they recently stopped by Hong Kong to take up a 3-week-long residence at MO Bar of Landmark Mandarin Oriental, and I went on one of the earlier evenings to check it out.

Over the years the hotel has held numerous "pop-up" events drawing in the best culinary and mixology talents from around the world. And I am impressed at how elaborate those events were organized to give guests unique experiences. The original PDT in New York City operates as a secret bar behind the walls of a hotdog joint - and in Hong Kong, they re-built the whole set up at The Shell on the mezzanine floor of MO Bar, completed with the "phone booth" - the secret entrance to the bar after you press the buzzer on the vintage rotary phone inside. The setup itself was worth a visit already.

We started early to beat the drinking crowd, but there's already a couple hardcore fans in there when we walked in, sipping and chatting with Jim, Jeff and Nick, the heart and soul of PDT working tirelessly behind the bar. The interior was super-cozy - a handful of stools in front of the mahogany bar plus a few round tables with leather couches right across. The place got pretty packed as the evening progressed but still decently comfortable.

Great thing about going as a group, other than being able to share some good laughs and chitchats, was that we could easily go through the entire menu by sharing, which was exactly what we did. Over the span of a couple hours, we essentially went through the whole 12 specialty drinks on the menu plus a few off-menu ones that Jim brought our way. Red Velvet sounded and looked like those cliche "girly drink" but it's nothing but - with 2 parts of coconut water mixed with 1 part of bourbon and finished with a touch of velvet falernum and bitters in a vintage-style coupe glass. It's light and sweet but by all means a serious cocktail with complex flavors. Togarashi and tonic was another interesting one, pairing tequila and tonic syrup in a glass rimmed with togarashi - the Japanese chili spices - and salt. That seriously blew my mind off with what tequila could do in a mixed drink.

The food menu was equally impressive - which is somewhat a rarity in the local bar scene. There were a number of classic hot-dogs coming straight from the PDT New York menu, and a number of "Hong Kong-limited" ones created by prominent local chefs available only during the event. That's in addition to a handful "bar snacks" listed on the back page - from a simple tater tots or waffled fries, to one topped with caviar and creme fraiche which will cost you arm and leg (first introduced to the PDT Menu last year for ringing in the new year but since then has become a regular item on the menu - but no we didn't try that one).

Of the local creations, my favorite was the Banh Mi Trap Dog by Chef Jowett of Ho Lee Fok - it's basically a classic hot dog garnished like a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich with pickles, cucumber, liver pate, siriacha mayo, cilantro and chopped birdeye chilis. I personally could live with a bit more herbs but I thought Chef Jowett did an excellent job capturing the essence of Banh Mi in an unconventional form. It's the one I chose to have a second helping after going through the entire menu.

I would say Chef Richard's Frenchie probably came in as a close second in terms of my preference - you simply can't go wrong with the combination of smoked bacon, cheese and black truffles served with a deep-fried chicken frank and a dark hot dog bun. What a "haut" dog that is!

Chef Alvin Leung's Demon Dog was one that drew mixed comments among us - while I sorta appreciate the creativity of using deep-fried Chinese dough stick (aka yau za gwai 油炸鬼/油條 in Cantonese) as the "bun" and filled with a spicy minced pork sauce (a Szechuan pepper chilis, so to speak), but the dough stick soon became soggy and a bit too oily once left in the open for slightly longer. Probably not the most pleasant thing to hold on to and put in your mouth. I wonder whether replacing the yau za gwai with the "ox-tongue pastry" (牛脷酥) - similar but with more dough and lightly sweetened - with the same set of filling would have fared better in terms of bringing a better balance of flavor and texture.

We also couldn't lay our hands off the bowl of tater tots. True, there's nothing too fancy about it - Jim told us they simply use the Tater Tots commonly found in the frozen section of every American supermarkets and served with Cheez Whiz and a small bowl of diced pickled jalapeno peppers - but we just couldn't stop munching on those, bowl after bowl.

Thank you Landmark Mandarin Oriental for the fabulous Friday evening. Good to know the pop-up event is going to be around until the end of January. Perhaps I should crawl myself back through that secret phone booth entrance a few more times before they go away.

More photos:

When? January 8 2016
Where? MO Bar, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Banh Mi Trap Dog
MO Bar:

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