When I think of Romania, I think of Transylvania. I
think of Dracula. I picture a dark, winding dirt road
leading up to a medieval castle.
Closing my eyes during the ride to
the newly opened Arbat, a Russian and Romanian restaurant
on the new Ritan Park bar street, I imagine myself in
a horse-drawn carriage heading to a lavish banquet with
Located along North Ritan Road, Arbat
sits among several other foreign restaurants. Don't
be fooled by the sign outside that reads Apdam. Apdam
is Cyrillic for Arbat. Soft colors and elegant ambiance
dominate the decor, from the avocado green and wine
red tablecloths to the gentle waltzes lilting out of
the sound system. Studio lights suffuse the dining area
with a warm glow, and live plants rim the room.
What sets Arbat apart from other
Eastern European restaurants in town is that it caters
to the small Romanian community in Beijing, estimated
at 150 people.
"I only like Romanian food," says
Gabriela Ioan, a Romanian businesswoman who is an Arbat
regular. She tells me that food from her homeland is
generally strong in flavor, emphasizing condiments like
salt and lemon, and meats like pork and chicken.
At Arbat, authentic Romanian dishes
are skillfully prepared by 38-year-old chef Barsan Nelu.
Born and raised in Brasov, a county in central Romania,
Nelu is a culinary expert with 20 years of professional
experience in the kitchen. He moved to China a year
ago, at the request of friends from home who now live
and work in Beijing.
In light of my romantic reverie on
the way over, I must admit I am disappointed that Arbat
does not really feel Eastern European, except for the
sound of patrons conversing in mellifluous Romanian.
The diverse menu more than makes
up for the lack of authentic decor. Printed in English,
Russian, Italian and Chinese, it includes colorful photographs
of a wide selection of Romanian and Russian dishes.
The diversity verges on excessive, as we try to choose
from the numerous salads, meat pies, soups, seafood,
skewers and roasted meats. You can even order a whole
roasted pig, head and all.
We start with the Pan Fried Pork
Chop, a tender, medium-sized chop topped with a rich,
creamy sauce made from sautŽed mushrooms and onions.
The garden salad that accompanies it is crispy and fresh,
a nice complement to the rich meat.
If you're really in the mood for
something light and refreshing, not to mention delightfully
colorful, try the Purple Salad, which is made from finely
diced green onions, tomatoes, beets and cucumbers over
fresh romaine lettuce.
Next up is the Pan Fried Salmon.
Fried to a golden hue and seasoned with a twist of lemon,
the fish prompts raves from the seafood lovers in our
group. Then comes the Stewed Beef in a Pot, one of the
night's biggest crowd-pleasers. We savor every morsel,
from the moment we break open the bread on top and inhale
the aromatic steam, to the last spoonful of melt-in-your-mouth
tender chunks of beef.
The Deep Fried Chicken Roll is served
with three small scoops of mashed potato. The deep-fried
chicken roll is crispy and tender .
We end our meal with Strawberry with
Cream. Fresh, sliced strawberries are served slathered
in fresh cream and sugar. Other desserts include ice
cream served with slices of oranges and strawberries,
banana pancakes topped with ice cream and chocolate
syrup, and fruit platters festooned with slices of juicy
watermelon, strawberries, oranges, apples and grapes.
For those of you who want to enjoy
good beer, a smooth Russian spirit, or fine Romanian
wine, Arbat's bar is stocked with a variety of brews,
vodkas, wines and other imported selections.
"Romanians don't drink much vodka.
Red wine is most popular. They have good Merlot made
in Vrancea," says Marcello Uarescu, a Romanian customer.
Vrancea, a province in Romania, is known for its expanses
of vineyards that cover rolling hills and lush terraces.
After a satisfying culinary experience,
my images of Romania will no longer be limited to Transylvania
and Count Dracula. Now when I think Romanian, I'll think
2 Ritan Beilu, Chaoyang District, across from Fangcaodi
Tel: 6595-0259 Hours: 11 am to 2 am
Food: *** Ambience: **** Service:
*** Cost: YY