Two nights ago one of J's friends visited from Shanghai, and he was craving the nice succulent duck that virtually everyone craves after a long hiatus from Beijing. He had eaten Peking duck "hundreds of times" before, in Beijing and elsewhere, but laments that Shanghai has nothing close to what the capital offers. We laid out the options: one of the Quanjude restaurants around his hotel in Wangfujing, or go all out at the swanky Da Dong a short cab ride away. Hoping to get away from the tourist crowd, we jumped in the cab.
Turns out, Da Dong also had loads of tourists that night, including at least 4 or 5 tour groups led by a flag-waving guide. Fortunately, the restaurant's massive size, taking up 2 floors of a block-size tower, means that tour groups get their own rooms, and everyone else eats without being offended by bullhorns or matching baseball caps.
The one thing that Da Dong immediate has going for it is atmosphere. After eating at other duck restaurants around the city that go all out with faux (insert random Chinese dynasty) gaudiness, it was a relief to be in a kaoyadian with good lighting, comfortable modern furniture, and absolutely no mammoth cartoon duck statues by the door.
The wait was 20 minutes or so (on a Monday night), so we amused ourselves by watching the duck kitchen at work. The kitchen is right by the entrance, on full display like a museum exhibit. There are 4 or 5 brick ovens, each fitting 5 ducks at a time. Every 2 minutes or so one of the 20 chefs lined up would pull a duck from the oven, hang it on a rack, drain and wipe it, and prep it for table-side carving. The skin always glistened so beautifully, so temptingly. On the other side of the plexiglass, hungry visitors like us would sit, waiting and drooling.
At least there was free box wine and soda. Or as I like to call them, "shut up and quit nagging the hostess" drinks.
When we finally got seated, we were presented with a 160-page menu, a hard-bound coffee table volume of food porn that puts The French Laundry Cookbook to shame. Each page was devoted to a single menu item, with larger-than-life drool-worthy photos. It's a good thing to flip through when you're not starving and want to order as quickly as possible. The drink menu was separate, in another hard-bound book.
Alas, we persevered. The guys did the ordering, calling out anything that sounded good. For once, I wasn't the one ordering too much. We had spicy cucumbers, spinach with wasabi and mustard, venison with pineapple and garlic sauce, pan-seared prawns, and curried scallops. All were artistically plated, all were delicious.
We watched the chef slice the duck into thin, almost translucent slices. We got our own dishes of scallions, plum sauce, cucumbers. The waitress, either following restaurant protocol or thinking we were newbies, folded the standard wraps for each of us. Then she took tiny sesame buns and put more duck, scallions, and sauce in those. The duck was juicy and smoky with crisp skin, and definitely leaner and less greasy than others I've had.
How the three of us managed to finished all of the above, plus duck bone soup and Singapore Slings, is beyond me. I do know we were the second-to-last table to leave. Now that J and I live in Beijing, Peking duck is one of those things we eat only when out-of-town guests visit. ("The novelty wears out after a while. Now we go out for Mexican food," J told his friend.) It had been almost 4 months since I last had Peking duck, but based on this experience, maybe visitors should come more often.
Related posts on Peking duck:
Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant 北京大董烤鸭店 1-2/F Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsi Shitiao, (southwest of Dongsi Shitiao Bridge) Dongcheng District, Beijing 东城区东四十条甲22号南新仓国际大厦1~2楼(立交桥西南角) 5169-0328