Edmonton Restaurant Review: Baijiu Bar

Baijiu’s table settings.

When I’d heard that the owners of North 53 had a new project in the works, I followed their social media feeds religiously to stay in the know. The final product was Baijiu Bar.

Opening in February inside the 110-year-old Mercer Building, the walk-in only restaurant (reservations may be accepted for larger groups) seemed to be a huge hit with visitors. Literally located across the street from the new Rogers Arena and well within the heart of Edmonton’s Ice District, this stylish iteration of a Chinese food joint joined the ranks of its more established neighbours, Rostizado and Mercer Tavern.

As per usual, I didn’t make it there immediately. Even though my office is only about a 10 to 15 minute stroll from Baijiu, it wasn’t until early April that I found myself dining there with a great friend that I hadn’t seen in a long while.

On an early evening after work, I headed straight over to the Mercer Building. As I approached the brick facade, I looked up to see the establishment’s name lit up in neon through the second storey window. I went through the main entrance, but I must have been a bit too early because the door to Baijiu’s unit was still locked when I got there.

The restaurant’s interior.

After a short wait, the host appeared and let me in. Being the first patron for the night allowed me to really absorb my surroundings. The space is long and fairly narrow with tables to one side and bar seating on the other. High windows provide minimal natural lighting that put the focus on the large floral mural on the parallel wall. Bottles that lined the bar were backlit, so that they gave off a minor glow. All of the tables were set with traditional Chinese wares that felt vintage when placed in contrast to framed black and white images of hip hop artists. Old world versus new school was the vibe.

In the few minutes prior to my friend’s arrival, I decided to order the Baijiu Milk Punch. This 2 ounce cocktail (some go up to 3 ounces) consisted of a mix of Black Seal rum, Cremovo, Chinese soy milk, cream, cinnamon & vanilla syrup and pistachio. It packed enough of a punch to provide a reminder that there was alcohol in it, but it was still a smooth drink with a pleasantly nutty and spicy flavour. My friend opted for one of their Mocktails. In this instance, they created some sort of grapefruit agave concoction that was sweet with a hint of tartness and, overall, it was refreshing.

Red Braised Beef Bao

For our meal, we decided to split a few dishes between us. The quickest out of the kitchen was the Red Braised Beef Bao. The plump taco-like buns were folded to hold the slow cooked Pine Haven pork, pickled shallots, cabbage and shaved Brussels sprouts. On top of that was a thick stripe of soy mayo and sprinkles of black sesame seed. With plenty of succulent meat and a variety of texture, these were delicious, if somewhat messy. I should also note that a standard order comes with only three bao. We added a fourth for $5, to make it easier to split the dish.

Lion’s Head Dumplings

Item number two was the Lion’s Head Dumplings. These were filled with Pine Haven pork, white shrimp, soy, garlic and cabbage. They were served drizzled with a ginger-soy sauce and white sesame seeds scattered atop. I thought the filling was juicy and the sauce had a good balance between the salt and spice. My only qualm was that I thought the dough wrapper was a tad too thick. Thinning that out would help to better define the taste of the pork and shrimp.

Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage

Our trio of share plates was finished with the Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage (it was a toss-up between this and the Korean Brussels Sprouts). This did not disappoint. The combination of confit onion, ginger, egg, soy, chimichurri, dry chili, crunchy shredded cabbage and garlic chips was to die for. I especially loved the heat from the flakes of chili pepper and the crispy garlic chips that truly enhanced what could otherwise have been a pretty blasé dish. What kept it interesting was the fact that there were layers upon layers of flavour with each and every bite.

Instead of calling it a night once those items were polished off, my friend suggested we complete dinner with an order of the Fried Bao Ice Cream Sandwich for dessert. The selection changes, so we asked what was available. The choices that evening were the Cinnamon Toast Crunch or the Cap’n Crunch. Unsure of the one to pick, I asked our server to recommend. Cinnamon Toast Crunch it was.

Fried Bao Ice Cream Sandwich

The ice cream sandwich is a decent size; it’s perfect to split between two people. Remember the bao mentioned previously? Instead of steaming the dough, it is fried until it puffs up like a hamburger bun. Soft on the inside and a deep golden colour with a slightly brittle texture on the outside, the bao is then halved horizontally. Between the two layers was placed a thick slab of cinnamon ice cream with pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal added in for good measure. Sort of like ice cream stuffed into a doughnut, this was a heavenly and indulgent end to the meal.

Surprisingly, Baijiu stayed pretty quiet throughout our time there. Sure, other people showed up by 7pm, but it was by no means full. My worry about it being difficult to get in on any given day without reservations was quashed and I realized that, depending on my schedule, it’ll be easy to pop in whenever I feel the need.

“Baijiu,” in Chinese, actually has a couple of meanings. The exact translation is “white alcohol,” which is quite fitting for a bar. It took me landing on their webpage and reading that Baijiu is pronounced as “Bye Joe” before I clued in to the second connotation of “celebration.” It never occurred to me that the name of the restaurant was this Chinese word I’ve known for so long and that I’ve always associated with the latter definition.

Having dined there now, I can certainly picture Baijiu as a place of gathering and merriment. The food hints at the traditional in terms of presentation, but the flavours are amped up and honed, if that makes any sense. The atmosphere is laid back and, with the venue being so open, it makes it feel very communal. I’d also say that the service we experienced was top notch; the server was incredibly attentive and knowledgeable. On the whole, the owners have done a fantastic job of bringing their vision to life and, as an Edmontonian, I’m more than happy to welcome Baijiu to the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene.

Local restaurants present libations inspired by Edmonton Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia's Libations. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

Lucia’s Libations. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

On April 18, 21 and 23, the Edmonton Opera has brought back a show that hasn’t been seen in this city for nearly 20 years. Lucia di Lammermoor, a Donizetti story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, is an Italian opera set on the gothic moors of Scotland. As the tale goes, Lucia is forced into a loveless marriage by her brother, and as desperation consumes our protagonist, she commits a chilling murder on her wedding night.

The Edmonton Opera, working with Yelp Edmonton, challenged local restaurants to flex their creativity, asking them to come up with a libation inspired by this dark thriller. As Tim Yakimec, Edmonton Opera’s general manager and artistic director, said, “Opera pairs well with many things, food and drink included.” A first-time project for this organization, presenting opera as a cocktail is smart – they can reach a new audience while also building relationships within the culinary community.

Three restaurants stepped up to give their take on this show. &27, BLVD and Mercer Tavern’s bartenders all chose to acknowledge the Scottish landscape through the use of various scotches, adding additional ingredients to marry the other themes of the show.

From now until April 23, you’re invited to patronize these restaurants and encouraged to try each of their specially designed Lucia di Lammermoor influenced cocktails in order to ready yourself for this opera. Or, if you’d like, perhaps you can attempt to whip one up at home using these recipes.

 

Lucia's Loch from &27

Lucia’s Loch from &27. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

&27
10612 82 Avenue
Created by Janice Bochon

Lucia’s Loch

1 oz Kahlua
1 oz Bowmore 12 year
1 oz Lavender simple syrup
2 oz milk

“A drink reminiscent, both visually and flavour-wise, of Scotland’s misty lochs and moors,” Bochon said. “Complemented with the lavender subtle flavour notes as well as its more seductive symbolism of devotion, ardent attachment and distrust.”

 

BLVD-COCKTAIL

Lucia’s Royal Blue Hour on the Moors from BLVD. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

BLVD 
10765 Jasper Avenue
Created by Brendan Brewster

Lucia’s Royal Blue Hour on the Moors

1.5 oz Blue Hour Reposado Tequila
0.5 oz Blue Alize
0.25 oz Campari
0.25 oz Drambuie
0.25 oz fresh lemon juice

Short stir for dilution, double strain into a clean flute, top with Prosecco. Garnish with an edible hibiscus flower, which will act like nucleus points for the carbonation in the Prosecco.

“Made with a highlands Reposado, it has a fine balance between the agave notes, the wood, scotch-smoke and the bittersweet strawberry of the Campari. Kind of like a Rosita meets a Seelbach, burnt,” Brewster explained.

 

mercer-cocktail2

The Fat Lady cocktail from Mercer Tavern. Image courtesy of Edmonton Opera.

Mercer Tavern
10363 104 Street
Created by Taylor Zottl

The Fat Lady cocktail

0.5 oz Dubonnet
0.5 oz Campari
0.5 oz Averna
0.5 oz Glenlivet 12year
1 dash of lemon bitters

Build in glass with all ingredients, Stir for 20 seconds with ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel and the lemon bitters on top.

 

I know that I can’t wait to sample these drink creations over the next two and a half weeks, and will, of course, be posting about them through social media, if I do. So, please be sure to share your experiences via Twitter (@edmontonopera) and Instagram (@edmopera), using the hashtags #eoLucia and #eoMixology; Edmonton Opera can also be found on Facebook.

Here’s hoping to a successful first endeavour for the Edmonton Opera, as I’m certain opera and cocktail fans alike would love to see round two.

For more information about Lucia di Lammermoor, or to purchase tickets, click here.

Edmonton Opera presents Lucia de Lammermoor

Edmonton Opera presents Lucia de Lammermoor

*Please don’t drink and drive. Arrange for a cab or a designated driver.*