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  Beijing Scene

Dim Sum at Windows on the World

In the West, dim sum, the Cantonese pronunciation of dianxin (lit. touch the heart, or snacks), is perhaps the best known of all Chinese delicacies. Originating in South China, dim sum consists of artfully prepared dishes cooked in bamboo steamers. It is served from pushcarts by waitstaff shouting out the names of their merchandise like pushy street vendors. Tea is the traditional complement to dim sum, which is why another name for the brunch-like meal is yincha which translates into drink tea. It is also sometimes referred to as zaocha, or early tea.

Despite its fame in China, you will be hard pressed to find good dim sum north of the Yangtze River. The very term dim sum won't be recognized outside large cities as the term is Cantonese. Predictably, Beijing's average attempts at dim sum are decidedly half-hearted.

The dim sum at Windows on the World, however, is a notable exception. The restaurant makes an admirable attempt at bringing authentic dim sum to Beijing. Dishes are prepared individually so they come to your table fresh and hot. And the panoramic view from the top floor of the CITIC building is an added bonus.

Be forewarned: if you have enjoyed dim sum in Hong Kong, or even outside China, Windows on the World may disappoint. Also, there are no pushcarts so you'll have to wait for each dish. If it wasn't for the excellent service this might be frustrating as dim sum is, by definition, only a little more substantial than finger food. There are more than two dozen types of dim sum on Windows on the World's menu. Most dishes cost RMB12 each, and the highest price is no more than RMB16. There are some snacks that must be ordered simply because they are classics.

A good starting point is Steamed Prawn Dumplings. These aren't typical Beijing dumplings, as they sport a slick, semi-transparent skin and freshwater chestnuts mixed into a shrimp filling. Another must-order dish is Glutinous Rice with Assorted Meat in Lotus Leaf. Think zongzi, the traditional sticky rice treat made for the Dragon Boat Festival, except with a meatier flavor and in a squat, box-like package.

Another old favorite is Steamed Barbecued Pork Buns. This dish throws in a touch of sweetness as it pits tender chunks of pork against a white, doughy cover. The Deep-Fried Taro Dumpling looks a bit like a porcupine as it comes to the table with a crisp, flaky skin hiding a moist, tasty interior. Windows on the World pulls off a trick as it not only features this hard-to-find classic, but also does it just right and doesn't skimp on the presentation.

To complement the dim sum, the restaurant features a full menu of dishes, all neatly printed in English and Chinese. However, as for this common fare, there's nothing here that can't be found cheaper elsewhere. For a satisfyingly different and economical meal, stick to the dim sum.

Windows on the World
28/F CITIC Building, 19 Jianguomenwai Dajie
Tel: 6500-3355, 6500-2255 ext. 2828
Food: *** Ambience: *** Service: *** Cost: YYY

The Loft

So you've already checked out all the party people at The Loft, Beijing's newest club. But have you tried the food?

In a city where it is common practice for bars to spill over from crowded interiors and turn sidewalks into alfresco dining areas, The Loft, located a stone's throw from Sanlitun, distinguishes itself by being fashionably difficult to find. The quest for its impressive metallic doorway requires the weary gastronaut to venture down a narrow alley and ignore a series of signs that contrive to deliver him, hungry and unfulfilled, to a barren construction site. Instead, he should follow the trail of sharply dressed young Beijingers waiting to file into this, the capital's latest nightspot.

As we enter, the spacious glass-walled dining area opens up on our left, offering a panoramic view of the aforementioned construction site. But do not despair, The Loft has far more style than this unfortunate vista would suggest. Despite its deceptively compact exterior, the inside is a spacious concoction of bright lights, soft materials, steel chairs and television sets - a mixture of industrial minimalism and cocktail glitz. Tonight the entertainment is taking place in one corner: folk rock band Wild Children jam with vocalist Dou Wei in front of a small TV set showing videos of Cultural Revolution model operas.

Claiming center stage in the dining area is the V-shaped, impossibly glitzy neon-lit bar, behind which bartenders stand attentively, adjusting their bow ties like butlers in an exclusive London club. A couple of them, having obviously watched pirated copies of "Cocktail" one too many times, are juggling empty drink mixers to entertain the crowds.

We take our seats and are attended to immediately by a group of immaculately dressed waiters. They hand us drink menus, which we eagerly peruse. Fortunately we are presented with a more adventurous selection of beverages than the standard range of cheap but tasteless zhapi and overpriced cognacs. To mark the start of summer - and put the avid cocktail juggler to a real test - we all choose Pimms No.1 cocktails, at the very reasonable price of RMB28. To our welcome amazement, the drinks arrive with little fuss in the appropriate tall, curvaceous glasses, complete with a selection of fruits - and not a drop spilled.

Flair and confidence are two qualities that most characterize the atmosphere at The Loft. The menu is adventurous without being overly ambitious, and presents a colorful variety of simple, yet authentically tasty Mediterranean cuisine. We order the Garlic Prawns which are cooked to perfection and not in too much oil. Other favorite starters were the Polenta Pasticciat and the refreshing Caesar Salad with its crisp array of fresh vegetables. For second course, those who prefer a lighter meal can opt for the Penne Pasta an ample portion of al dente pasta topped with cream cheese, smoked chicken and artichokes. For those with a larger appetite, try the Herb de provence roasted chicken. The meat is incredibly tender and arrives on a bed of spring vegetables, including Brussels sprouts and crispy hash browns. For something more adventurous, the Seafood Casserole will certainly not disappoint.

With appetizers and soups starting at RMB15 and second courses averaging at RMB40, The Loft reminds us that good European food in Beijing doesn't have to come at the price of an plane ticket to Italy.

The Loft
No. 4 Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang District
Tel: 6501-7501 Fax: 6501-9588
Food: **** Ambience: **** Service: *** Cost: YYY

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