Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reader request

I recently had a reader by the name of Sonja ask me if I can mention any good bars or restaurants in Yantai. That is quite the loaded question, as there are a great many. I'll attempt in this post to talk about the ones I frequent. I apologize if I've left any reader favorites out... feel free to add more in the comments section.

I'll start with bars because there's much fewer of those:

  • Alibaba Bar - by far the bar of choice for expats and many Chinese. Easily the most popular bar in the city. Alibaba is owned by Swedish Daniel and run by his girlfriend Micky and her family. The bar side offers a packed bar most nights, Daniels ridiculously strong drinks, and thumping pop music. The much larger pool hall side offers comfortable seating areas, 19 pool tables, 1 snooker table, a poker room, and a whole bunch of majong rooms.
  • Jackie's Bar & Restaurant - though more of a restaurant offering western cuisine (burgers, fajitas, etc) after about 10pm the downstairs bar can get quite crowded. Small bar but good company. Foosball table to distract you from drinking. Very large selection of drinks, including many imported beers, although prices are a bit stiff.
  • Havana & Cape of Storms - I'm grouping these together because they are almost across the street from one another and I'm going to say the same thing about them. In the past they were cool places to hang out, but after changing ownership, they've turned into primarily Chinese hangouts. The street they are on (Chao Yang Jie) has always been a little sketchy (mafia, prostitutes, etc) but in the past year it seems to have gotten much worse. Chao Yang Jie is undergoing a massive renovation. Perhaps afterwards the street will be better.
  • Bohemia Bar - again, not quite as nice as when under western management, Bohemia is located across the street from Yantai Shan Park. The decor is very nice, reminiscent of many western bars, but the lack of customers can lead to a very quite evening... although, perhaps that's what you want sometimes.
  • Red Fox Bar - purely a Chinese hangout, Red Fox offers constant KareOK performances by the staff at blaringly loud noise levels. The owner is very nice however and will go out of her way to make you feel welcomed.
  • Face Club - Located downtown, the only real clubbing experience Yantai offers, Face Club offers you loud house music, laser lights galore, poor bar service, cover charges, cross dressing bartenders, and a man who will give you a back massage when you're using the urinal (weird). If you feel the need to dance, I suppose Face Club would be a good alternative to Alibaba, although I much prefer Alibaba.
  • Banana Club - the shitty version of Face Club. I've only been there once and I've never heard of any one going there more than once.
  • New Bar out near Yantai University - there is a new bar out near Yantai University which I hear is ok. I don't know the name, but they are trying to attract some western crowd, although I don't think with much success. It is owned by Stephen who also runs Cape of Storms.
  • JJ Disco - another good dance club down near the old train station. Like Face Club but a little cheaper.
There are many more restaurants than bars to talk about and they tend to fall into 3 main catagories; Western Food, Chinese Food, non-Western Foreign Food (Korean, Japanese, etc.)

I'll start with Western Food, as this is what most foreigners are interested in and also the smallest catagory.
  • Jackie's Cuisine - also listed in bar section above, Jackie's is easily the most popular and maybe the best western food option around. Their fajitas are fantastic, their burgers are decent. It is basically Hard Rock Cafe type food with a similar decor. Not cheap by Chinese standards but still slightly cheaper than a Hard Rock Cafe or TGI Friday's.
  • French Romantic Restaurant - Expensive but very good food. If you are looking for steak, this is arguably the best steak in Yantai, but also the most expensive. The Chateau Briand is fantastic, the steak fondue is fun, and if you're adventurous, the steak tartar is decent. Salmon is quite nice there, but their lamb leaves a little to be desired. If you are ready to shell out some serious cash (approx 200 RMB) and pre-order 3 days in advance, Henri (the chef and owner) will prepare a couscous with lamb medallions that is incredible. Finishing the meal with Bananas Flambe is a lot of fun.
  • Sucre - a Chinese operated cafe/French restaurant, Sucre is the poor man's version of the French Romantic. The various steaks are not as good, but they are much cheaper and come with garlic bread, soup, and salad. Selection of wine pales in comparison to the French, but if you're trying to save some cash its a pretty good bet.
  • Pizza Hut - in China Pizza Hut is quite a nice restaurant. They even serve escargot!
  • McDonald's, KFC...
  • UBC Coffee - good selection of drinks, although the western food selection is poor... just the standard Chinese club sandwich or pan fried crappy steak. Also offers some Chinese entrees. Go to UBC for the coffee or the dessert selection (Tira Misu is fantastic).
  • If you're living in Laishan near the Universities, there are a few Korean Pizza places that will deliver right to your door. Pizza is decent, but not that cheap. Ask on the phone, "Ni hue shuo Yingwen ma?" (Do you speak English) and they will put someone on the phone who does. Remember to ask for Cheesy Crust (its pretty good).
Chinese Food; there are hundreds and hundreds of Chinese restaurants in Yantai, ranging from very large, fancy seafood restaurants, to small hole-in-the-wall dumpling restaurants with one light bulb. I obviously can't mention all of then here, but I'll list the ones I frequent. I also don't know the real names, but I'll call them what some of the foreigners do. If you ask around, I am sure you can find them.
  • Above the Ocean World (near Yantai library) - fancy, fancy, fancy seafood restaurant. Be prepared to spend some serious money (by Chinese standards), but if you want to impress Chinese clients/friends, this is where to take them. Live lobster is quite good...
  • Hot Pot behind RT Mart - great hot pot restaurant, providing each person with their own small hot pot instead of one large group hot pot. More suited for the winter as the steam rising from the boiling water can make for a hot dinner... absolutely delicious!
  • Sichuan Restaurant downstairs across street from Changyu Wine Museum - if you like really spicy food and have a translator, this is a great restaurant to keep your mouth burning on fire for a few hours. No English menu or speaking staff, you might want to have a Chinese friend write down what you want on paper that you can show the waitress.
  • Hole-in-the-wall restaurants in general - some of the best food (and cheapest) you will find is in the small family owned Chinese restaurants. Jiaozi (dumplings) are often fantastic and easy to order. Don't be put off by dark or dirty conditions in restaurants... you'll find some treasures if you look around.
  • Huiyifang - Sichuan restaurant near Yantai University - very poplar, very good, not so spicy as others. Try the ma po dofu (spicy tofu), the ganbian yundao (spicy green beans), or the fish flavor obergines (eggplant).
  • Hotel restaurant located on Yantai University - some of the very best Chinese food I've ever had at a great price. Go into the kitchen to choose your food. Don't miss the Beijing Qiezi (Beijing eggplant), pan fried beef, or 10,000 layer bread.
  • Mongolian Restaurant - specializing in North Western Chinese food, their lamb is fantastic. Near Yantai University, you can order more food than 2 people can eat for less than $6 US. Try the Paomo Soup (lamb soup with bread), Cumin Lamb, dry fried pork, really anything... food is fantastic and English menu is available.
Non-Western Foreign Food: If you've never tried it before, Korean and Japanese food are fantastic alternative to Chinese cuisine.
  • Nolboo Korean - located on Nan Da Jie near the Asia hotel, this is one of the best Korean restaurants, with a very nice decor and picture menus available.
  • Korean Restaurant near Huang Hai City Gardens along the Ocean Road - the most expensive, but still quite cheap by western standards. Coal BBQ at the table provides fantastic Korean style meats. Wrap the meat in a lettuce leaf with some garlic, chili peppers, and sauce.
  • Most of the big hotels in Yantai have a Japanese restaurant in house. The top three are the Asia Hotel, Golden Gulf Hotel, and the SD Mach Hotel. The Asia hotel is the most expensive but also the nicest decore. With a Japanese garden in the restaurant, and a large tempanyaki grill, you're sure to enjoy watching the chef juggle knives, light things on fire, and serve your food. The sushi is very good at all locations with quite a large selection. Picture menu's facilitate ordering. To give an idea of price, the standard sushi sampler which would be $18 US in America sells for about 40 RMB here ($5).
  • Tudali - a chain of Korean restaurants throughout the city, Tudali offeres a cheap, decent place to get some Korean food and get drunk on Soju. Often a place to come after a night of heavy drinking, Tudali offeres good drunk snack food. Try the Korean sushi, but be warned that Korean wasasbi is quite a bit hotter than Japanese wasabi.
  • Japanese Conveyor Restaurant on Shengli Lu near KFC - one of those conveyor belt Japanese restaurants where you take the dishes you want as they travel past you on a belt. Usually too empty for them to warrant running the conveyor. The package meals are quite good at a good price (sushi, tempura, egg, miso).
Well, I know this post was long and probably not of any interested to people not planning on coming to Yantai. Hopefully now you have a better idea of what is available and why I struggle with my weight sometimes. As much as I like living in Yantai, but waistline hates it.

Hope this helps, Sonja.