Monday, July 4, 2011

Looking for Duck in Chinatown

Reliability. In the restaurant biz. There’s something to be said about a restaurant that you can rely on.  Especially if that something you rely upon is a particular dish that you want to be good each and every time you order it. When I was working "the line" at a hot downtown restaurant back in the mid-90s, that was something that was drilled into my head by the chef/owner over and over.  Make the dish the same way every time. That's what the customer comes back for - the same damn dish again and again.

In NYC’s Chinatown, there is just such a place. Strangely, or perhaps not so much, it’s eponymously named after its most famous dish, Peking Duck.  Now, you have to understand; I eat in Chinatown – a lot.  Most of it’s C and below level stuff, though I do have some faves (can you say Great NY Noodletown?). We live in Chinatown and I often get annoyed by Chinatown and its profusion of crappy restaurants using the cheapest raw materials they can find.  But I love Peking Duck House.

Now, you have to understand that Peking Duck isn’t one of those dishes that you can just “throw together” or “whip up” at home. It involves inflation of the duck's skin, scalding with boiling water, hanging, dripping, roasting, pancake making – basically,  it's just too damn much work. This ain’t no 30-minute meal, if you get my drift.

So enter Peking Duck House. It has been in business for over 25 years at 28 Mott St. in NYC (there’s also a midtown location), and I recently reacquainted myself with the place, after a long hiatus, when a friend wanted to go out for…guess what?

So off we went, 3 or 4 of us from the building.  And all I can say is this place totally rocks - at least for the Peking Duck.  I’m not responsible for the rest of your order.  Remember, the whole of Chinatown is fairly mediocre; the whys of that are a subject for another post (lousy cooks, shitty ingredients – you be the judge).

The way the menu at Peking Duck House is set up, they try to trick you into ordering a lot more food, for a lot more money, than you really need.  The “special house dinner,” or the “Peking Duck dinner” are just money grabbers, so do as I do.  Order a whole Peking duck, a couple of apps – say pickled cabbage and mock dock made from tofu skin, a safe vegetable dish (forget about stuff like snow pea leaves – not gonna happen) and another stir fry and you’ll easily have enough food for 4 people.  And it’ll end up a lot cheaper than the dinners they put together for you.

What emerges from the kitchen around 15 or 20 minutes later is a thing of beauty. All glistening, drippy, and mahogany. Of course they show it to you, and then a guy with really good cleaver skills expertly cuts the meat and skin off the bone, till all that’s left is the carcass.  A few times I’ve ask for the carcass to go, and get some strange and annoyed looks, but that’s duck soup…and here’s our duck, all cut up and ready to go…
Then it’s all up to you, brushing your pancake with hoisin sauce, getting the right percentage of meat vs. skin, adding the scallion flourish, the rolling up of the package and taking that first bite of one of the still great dishes in Chinatown.


  1. That's where we went 2 weeks ago with my brother, sister in law and Garys mom, for Gary's b-day lunch. We ordered exactly that way, and had a fabulous meal. Then we went up Mulberry Street for cannoli. he amazing thing is that we did all of that without asking you for a recommendation!

  2. @Robynn -that's not that amazing; that's smart.

  3. Reading this made me wish I was there right now! Thanks, Mitch.