Din­ing where smoke is wel­come

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By MIKE PETERS michaelpeters@chi­nadaily.com.cn

There was a time when I was as likely to put a frog in my beer as to add wa­ter­melon. That time, in fact, was pretty much my whole life — un­til yes­ter­day.

But as I re­laxed at a sunny side­walk ta­ble out­side the Big Smoke, en­joy­ing the light tang of cooked meat in the air, some­thing strange hap­pened. I was scan­ning the sea­sonal beers of­fered on draft, and the wa­ter­melon sum­mer wheat sounded kinda good.

In fact, it sounded bet­ter than it was — Smoke on the Beech, a mel­low am­ber ale with a hint of cit­rus, made me much hap­pier when it was time for a sec­ond round. But I was glad I sam­pled both — each light and sa­vory, and each a nice side­kick for a big plate of ribs.

In China, the ul­ti­mate test of bar­be­cue might be “How good is the lamb on a stick?” In Amer­ica, a bar­be­cue palace is of­ten judged by its ribs, which get star billing on the menu our server at the Big Smoke presents.

The kitchen here comes through in spades: As smoky as the restau­rant’s name prom­ises, served with a fine sa­vory sauce on the side with just an edge of sweet­ness. In a bow to to­day’s tastes for healthy eat­ing, the ribs are quite lean, but still fall­ing-offthe-bone ten­der.

On pre­vi­ous vis­its we’ve gone in­side, where a brick-ware­house am­biance is snug and cozy. This is no hole-in-the-wall bar­be­cue joint — for­get the smoky wooden shacks of Dixie, where bar­be­cue is served wrapped in pa­per. There is a spec­trum of well-pre­pared Western dishes and a hip but not in-your-face decor.

A nice ar­ray of ap­pe­tiz­ers al­lows for am­ple snack­ing over drinks, and a sum­mer salad of grilled zuc­chini mated with charred fen­nel is a don’t-miss starter. Roasted root veg­gies were an un­ex­pected of­fer­ing among sides in sum­mer­time, and it may be the sur­prise that made it work for us. Or maybe we’re suck­ers for caramelized beets in any sea­son.

Seafood is an un­ex­pected win­ner on the menu. Bour­bon-soused grilled prawns, served with a thick aoli, make get­ting your fin­gers sticky a real plea­sure. But the stud from the sea is the clam­bake, a feast of shell­fish for one or a more-than-ad­e­quate ap­pe­tizer for three or four. It’s so fill­ing and happy-mak­ing that we al­most re­gret­ted or­der­ing the grilled scal­lops, too. But who could lament the ar­rival of those fat, suc­cu­lent beau­ties?

The restau­rant’s name is man­i­fest in two of the menu’s best-sell­ers. The eight-hour wood-fired pig is a ten­der mass of mus­cle with crackly bits of skin. The braised lamb shank cooks for a to­tal of seven hours and each fork­ful is al­most silky on the tongue.

The Big Smoke shares space with a broth­erly ten­ant, Cap­i­tal Brew­ing, and we can see the gleam­ing beer vats that pro­vide craft brews like the cur­rently tapped Fly­ing Fist IPA and Smoke on the Beech for the host restau­rant as well as Cap­i­tal’s other clients.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion works in a way that Gin­ger Rogers and Fred As­taire might have en­vied, giv­ing even more en­ergy to an al­ready lively side street near Bei­jing Work­ers’ Sta­dium.

Bour­bon prawns is a seafood star on the menu.

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