Yes, it was back to the salt mines for your poor, martyred blogger here, thanks to an invitation to the opening of Xi Shi, the posh new bar in the Shangri-La hotel in glamorous downtown Vangroover. It helps when you know the head barman. The woman in charge of the bar at Xi Shi is Heather Yau, who competed admirably in last year’s Tales of the Cocktail both in Vancouver and in New Orleans. Accompanying me was the lovely and talented Cathy Browne, who took all these gorgeous pictures; impressive enough, but moreso when you realize she’s legally blind.
It’s a lovely space once you’re inside, but getting inside consists of going around to the “back” of the building which is really the “front” and standing around the lobby, looking confused, until a staff member asks if you’re here for the Xi Shi party, and gently points the way. I’d tell you how to find it yourself, but I think they’re trying to keep it a secret, and besides, the staff need to keep busy!
Xi Shi Bar
It’s a long, light, L space with ceilings that go up to HERE and sightlines that go out to THERE, which is great for people-watching if you’re not as nearsighted as I am. This isn’t the place for a discreet affair, as the “around the corner, tucked away” tables are basically just off Robson Street, ie you might as well be parked outside of TMZ. This is the place raincoaster, who now refers to herself in the third person because she’s imaginary-dating much higher-grade people lately, will be taking her next boytoy for a quiet drink.
Right after she alerts the paparazzi and gets her hair did.
The general theme is Contemporary Asian, meaning airy and Zen, with referential scatterings of Chinoiserie, as in the cheongsams worn by the waitresses. It must be said, and that by me, that it’s good to see a place that doesn’t go for Generic Vancouver Glossy: black on black on black with black leather chairs and chrome and everything shiny and hard. The cascade of glass over the bar changes colours thanks to clever lighting, although there’s a definite preference for pink: even the house cocktail is pink, at which point I am tempted to insert a reference to intimate anatomy but yea verily, am too way classy.
Ahem. Anyway…as I was saying, a lounge shouldn’t look like a dance club, and it shouldn’t look like an operating room. I like a place that looks good by day as well as by night. See for yourselves:
It's hard to pull off jazz in the daytime, but this worked
Did I say Chinoiserie? Yes, yes I did, even though Spellchecker tried to replace it with “Chitterlings,” but I was having none of that! Chinoiserie I said and Chinoiserie I meant, speaking of which, behold the Lady Grey Cocktail:
Lady Grey sure is pretty
The Lady Grey cocktail is a beautiful thing, a mellowed orange with brassy glints. The pot, by the way, is full of hot water so you can adjust it to the strength you prefer; it and the cup and saucer are a custom-made iteration of the classic Blue Willow pattern which tells the story of a pair of runaway lovers. It’s made with Earl Grey tea-infused Tanqueray gin with an extra measure of Bergamot, and seemed to me a little too sharply citrus. And oh! if you only knew what it costs my very soul to criticize a free drink! Ah, the trouble with using fresh ingredients is, the difference between one lemon and another can be substantial!
Jay Jones has come through with the recipe for us so you can judge for yourself. And wouldn’t a bottle of Earl Grey Tanqueray liven up a nice bridge party? I don’t know about you, but the presence of card snobs of any variety usually drives me to drink, or at least calls me a cab to. And somehow bourbon goes with poker the way gin goes with bridge.
1.5 oz earl grey tea-infused tanqueray gin
.4 oz fresh lemon juice
.6 oz sugar syrup
small pot of hot water
-all ingredients (except hot water) combined in shangri-la blue willow china tea cup & saucer
-served with matching small shangri-la blue willow china pot of hot water
-pour hot water to fill tea cup – top up as desired
*served with lemon zest
Earl Grey Tea-Infused Gin
1. empty a 1.14 liter bottle of Tanqueray London Dry Gin (room temperature) into a clean, dry, sealable container
2. place 4 heaping tablespoons of loose leaf Earl Grey tea in the Gin (use bags alternatively – much neater)
3. seal container and leave to steep for minimum 1 hour at room temperature – longer if desired (2 hours suggested)
4. after steeping, shake sealed container throughly
5. strain tea leaves/remove tea bags from Gin – the Gin’s colour should be deep brown
5. seal and refrigerate to preserve freshness (max 1 week shelf life when refrigerated)
Iron Lotus poured by Heather Yau
The signature cocktail here is the Iron Lotus, concocted by cocktail queen Heather Yau; only last year she was a humble apprentice at hipster central, the Waldorf, and look at her now! Xi Shi is a PBR-free zone!
The Iron Lotus is a hard drink to turn out in bulk, each being made from the same number of fresh raspberries. The sweetness varies wildly depending on the particular individual raspberries, but whether more tart or more sweet, this is as lovely to drink as to look at.
Raspberries in the Iron Lotus
The focus at Xi Shi is on lighter, less alcoholic, and more feminine drinks overall; this is not a place where you will find many people testing flights of bourbon or single malt. There’s no doubt that Xi Shi, named after a goddess, was put together with the fact that women choose the date spot firmly in mind. The flattering, rose-coloured lighting makes everyone look ten years younger (I’m sure they only failed to card me out of deference), and the lower alcohol content in the drinks ensures that you don’t slip from Charming Anita Loos to Scary Dorothy Parker.
And the food ensures you don’t slip from Perky Britney to Sad Britney.
Mary had a little lamb. And then she had another cocktail.
Squeeee! This adorable little roast of lamb was less than two inches long, and came with crunchy yogurt. Yes, crunchy yogurt, and not because it was left in the back of the fridge for six months and then scraped off the lid of the container like your revolting roommate used to do; because the kitchen is a Shangri-La kitchen, and they do things right and just a little weird.
Xi Shi has crabs. But she's a goddess, so who's going to tell her, eh? Not me, that's for damn sure.
Behold the mammoth crabcake! Did I already say “behold?” I did, didn’t I? Oh well, you wouldn’t believe how many people I’m beholden in this town, although their bank managers would.
The salmon was so good the waiter wouldn’t let me refuse, although I was getting pretty full. Believe me, I will never again doubt a Xi Shi waiter.
What to do when you’ve had as much food as you can hold? That’s right: back to cocktails!
Naked Botanical Martini. It sets a certain tone. I intend to order it when I bring Julian!
Just look at the legs on that thing! My pal Jay Jones knows I’m a gin snob, so he made me a Martini using The Botanist gin from Scotland, one I hadn’t tried before. Frankly, this may be Too! Much! Gin! even for me: the title role botanicals are dense and overwhelming if you’re unprepared. Because it’s produced by Bruichladdich, a famous and famously insane Islay Whisky distillery, it is viscous and powerful, and my recommendation is to have one, but have it James Bond style: very large, very cold, and very well-made. And have one only. This gin is Serious Business. Here’s a list of the various botanicals:
Apple Mint Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Chamomile (sweet), Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Meadow Sweet, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover, Wood Sage leaves, Angelica root, Cassia bark, Cinnamon bark, Coriander seed, Juniper berries, Lemon peel, Liquorice root, Orange peel and Orris root.
Say THAT three times fast! The nose on this is citrus and juniper dominated, the taste complex, puzzling…you just can’t figure out the various elements and it can’t be said they blend into one single whole. It’s like listening to a Beethoven symphony and then trying to pick out each of the instruments. And trust me, this ain’t Brahms: it’s DEFINITELY Beethoven. The aftertaste is long and powerful, and in it you begin to discern some of the different components. I like it, but it’s definitely Special Occasion Gin, not It’s Five O’Clock Gin.
Hemingway Daiquiri so much more macho than the Fitzgerald Daiquiri
Ah, the Neo-Classical Hemingway Daiquiri! One of the greatest summer drinks, featuring grapefruit where you’d expect lime, and a sour cherry where you’d expect … nothing at all. Not for Papa your silly blender drinks! Although this has a noticeable alcohol content, it fits right into the Xi Shi aesthetic of light-tasting, citrusy cocktails.
Cue the Darth Vader music…
Why ahoy there, sailor! The Nautical Disaster, a Jay Jones original
The Nautical Disaster is not a drink to be trifled with. It shouldn’t even be left alone with your wallet. This dark and dangerous newcomer is a rum-based take on the classic Sazerac, and it’s hearty, thick, spicy, complex, and sweet, just like me. It’s also definitely your last cocktail of the night. If he has one of these and still hasn’t sealed the deal, well my dear, just get up and go home.
The Manolo’s good friends at the Bacardi Daiquiri have asked the Manolo to say the following question: What food should be paired with the Bacardi Daiquiri?
The question to which the Manolo responds, is this the trick question? Because as far as the Manolo knows, almost everything, from the humble hotdog to the exalted filet mignon, can benefit from the subtle and refreshing taste of Bacardi Daiquiri.
But, if the Manolo had to make the recommendation for the exact perfect daiquiri-accompanied meal, it would have to be something freshly grilled that could be eaten out-of-doors, on the patio next to the pool, as the twilight of the warm summer’s evening slowly fades to dark.
Perhaps grilled wild salmon, accented with the little bit of dill and the squirt of lemon, placed lovingly on the plate next to the green salad.
Simple, elegant, delicious, and when paired with the Bacardai Daiquiri and the good friends, the perfect late summer dinner.
P.S. This summer, rediscover the daiquiri. Bacardi Hand Shaken Daiquiri is the perfect addition to any summer get-together — fun, delicious, and ready to pour. Bacardi Hand Shaken Daiquiri is made with Bacardi Superior Rum, tangy lime and sugar. It is a perfectly balanced cocktail that is not too sour and not too sweet.
P.P.S. Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and compensation was provided by Bacardi via Glam Media
P.P.P.S. The opinions expressed herein are those of the Manolo and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Bacardi
In any case, it’s certainly worth trotting down to the dollar store (remember when they were five and dimes? No? Just me then? Everyone else this old is dead? Oh FINE!) and getting some molds and giving it a whack. Here’s a thumbnail recipe I’ve discovered online and haven’t tried yet, so if you do, let us know how it turns out.
each booze pop contains a full shot of liquor and a 3 to 1 ratio of mixer/juice.
Hmmm. Blackberry/tequila with mint? Mango/rum? Gin/blueberry? I may be busy quite awhile. When I moved to this godforsaken tundra, unrelenting heat was the last thing I was prepared for. Reporting back later this week; video of our latest Booze Swag Unboxing coming soon.
Rogers' Chocolates in Victoria. No they do NOT have wasabi cream, you postmodernist asshole!
Well, the fact is you’re probably right: Victoria is as quiet as a city can be and still be a city, and quite a delightful exception to the usual urban bustlitude it is, too. The fiercest competition in town is rhododendron-and-herbaceous-border-based, and all the pedestrian crossing lights are extra-long, to accommodate the mobility-impaired and the just plain meandering, which often enough includes your faithful foodie and drinkie blogger right here.
And it did, just a couple of days ago. Accommodate me, that is, and that to a positively decadent degree; my suite at the Parkside had not one but two fireplaces, two big screen tv’s, and two bathrooms. For one person. I felt like inviting people over for a pee or something, not to mention enjoying the view from the bathtub, although that invitation might be limited to Viggo Mortensen and Julian Assange and while it might be a tight fit I’m more than willing to try it. It had to be said.
But where was I?
Parkside Victoria sweet suite!
Parkside Victoria sweet suite has a suite view!
Now, I don’t know about you. I only know about me. And why? Because you hardly EVER use the comment box, not that I’ve taken it to heart. Oh, no. Not that the comments box and I stare at one another in the darkness, asking where we went wrong, where the silence comes from, is it me, is it you, is it the XML-PRC?
Not at all. But where was I?
Victoria. Oh yes, I was in Victoria. Well, let me tell you something about Victoria you don’t know (I won’t tell you everything you don’t know, because we’d be here for the next 45 minutes, easy, and I bet it’s feeling like that already). I’m going to tell you that when it comes to foodie culture, this pleasantly placid BC burg has your city beat.
NYC, Montreal, Chicago, pack your knives and go…
I went to a foodie/drinkie dinner in honour of Tom Bulleit of Bulleit’s Bourbon in Victoria and as everyone gathered around the table (some two dozen, unless I’ve forgotten how to count past ten without taking my socks off and that’s always a possibility, particularly at a bourbon dinner) it rapidly became evident I was the least foodie person present. One fellow pulled out five or six baggies full of white powder – Hoo boy, it’s party time, you’re thinking, and you’re not exactly wrong, but while the baggies were a cause of great excitement among the assembled partiers, they were filled with an unexpected substance: sea salt. It was sea salt he’d collected from different harbours all up and down Vancouver Island, as many shades of white as the Innu have words for snow. And my friend Janice pulled out her latest batch of House Made bitters (she makes everything from chai bitters to rhubarb bitters to celery bitters for your morning Bloody Mary), and so it went from the fellow who collects knives over 100 years old to the fellow who distills dandelion brandy until it got to me and I said, “I don’t actually make anything, but I consume exceptionally well” and that seemed to be enough. Hey, what’s a symphony without an audience, eh?
That dinner, which I should have written up at the time but will get to sooner or later, took place, like many of the best occasions, at Clive’s Classic Lounge in the Chateau Victoria, within stumbling distance of the Inner Harbour. I adore this place, but it’s not just me who loves Clive’s: Tales of the Cocktail, the internationally recognized cocktail snobbery and standards organization has just named Clive’s one of the four best hotel bars in the world, along with the Artesian and the Savoy in London and Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon.
And it was at Clive’s that I found myself the other night, for any night that I am in Victoria it’s a better than fair bet I’ll be at Clive’s. And what did I do there? I stole the menu, of course.
These menus, they’re like gold. Bartenders in Vancouver bid for them in cocktails. I got the last one up to three Negronis, and that from a bartender who hates to mix anything more complicated than scotch on the rocks. They do, of course, have “PLEASE FEEL FREE TO TAKE THIS MENU” on the back, but I like to pretend there’s evildoing in it: a splash of nefariousness makes the drinks taste better. Okay, Vancouver, what am I bid for this latest menu, which contains a spread of tiki drinks, both classic and “antiki”? Use your words, Vangroover: put them in the comments box!
Now, there are few things I love as much as a good tiki drink, and few things are as abused in this cruel world as the palate of the tiki drink fancier ( #firstworldproblems ). I remember a holiday in Oahu where I drank at a different bar every night just to see what they hell they’d put in their Mai Tai: anything from gin and pineapple juice to a flower that smelled like rotting liver and a grass leaf from the waitress’s skirt (that just can’t be sanitary, can it?). If you’re ever stuck in Oahu, play the Mai Tai lottery and you’ll never be bored (although you may be queasy).
But back to good tiki drinks, and one specifically, from the Antiki side of the menu at Clive’s: the Holy Hand Grenade.
Now, I defy anyone with an ounce of Nerd Pride to flip past a drink named after a Monty Python bit without ordering it, although the Dead Parrot might be a challenge, not to mention Spam. Naturally, a table full of bloggers fresh from the Social Media Conference had to sample such a geeky delight, and here it is: a world exclusive as far as I know, and believe me, I know better than to actually ask, because then someone might tell me it wasn’t, and if Almighty Google doesn’t tell me so then LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, so here it is, a world exclusive: the original Holy Hand Grenade by Nate Caudle of Clive’s Classic Lounge in Victoria. And yes, it’s in metric: nerds LOVE the metric system, duh!
1oz Green Chartreuse (OUNCE? what is this, Nate? Are you going bilingual on me or something?)
20 ml Appelkorn
20ml Chestnut Syrup
20ml Lime Juice
Shake and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a cross made of palm leaf.
This is absolutely effective against vicious bunnies that are terrorizing the countryside, whether escaped from a Monty Python skit or from Hef’s mansion. After a couple of these, that bunny will be thumping you on the back and telling you what a fine, fine person you are and how did he not notice it in all these years?
How tasty is this thing? Well, as with all good cocktails that aren’t pousse cafes, it gives the impression of being one perfect thing, rather than an assemblage of ingredients. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any of the ingredients here, actually, and it comes across light enough that you could be excused for thinking it wasn’t a bourbon drink at all. Given the varied sweetnesses of which it is concocted, it’s surprisingly light and refreshing, with a mellowed citrus taste and a complex, warm and earthy aroma and aftertaste which is unusual in a drink this summery. It’s perfect for sitting on a patio or lanai, enjoying the scenery or maybe a paperback of something amusing by nerd god Terry Pratchett.
In fact, I have a strong feeling this would have turned Frank from Donnie Darko into Harvey of, uh, Harvey, in no time at all.
Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Mr. Manolo Blahnik. This website is not affiliated in any way with Mr. Manolo Blahnik, any products bearing the federally registered trademarks MANOLO®, BLAHNIK® or MANOLO BLAHNIK®, or any licensee of said federally registered trademarks. The views expressed on this website are solely those of the author.