I hope everyone had a delicious and fun Thanksgiving Day!
Like past years, the Missus had to work on Thanksgiving, again giving true meaning to what She always says about the day..... "Thanksgiving..... bah, I'm Chinese, I don't have anything to be thankful for!" All in fun of course.... I think. So the weekend before T-Day, we decided to have our own Thanksgiving. We'd always wanted to check out Lu Din Gee, which is now called simply, "Duck House".
Which makes ordering quite easy, right? According to such highly esteemed folks like Pulitzer Prize winning Food Critic Jonathan Gold, and heck even FOY (Friend of Yoso) Elmomonster of Monster Munching (his post on Duck House here), who has hit the big time now writing for OC Weekly, this is place the to go for Peking Duck. But isn't Duck House at it's core a Taiwanese Restaurant? According to another FOY, that's not much of an issue since, "Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese Chain, and they make the best Xiao Long Bao...." (which I actually don't agree with, but I get the point)
And so we ended up at Duck House at just before noon on a Sunday, and snagged one of the very few parking spots in the tiny parking lot out front. The restaurant itself is tiny, and fills up fast. We had ordered our duck, three ways when the Missus made reservations the week before. According to what I've read, you're supposed to call at least an hour ahead if you're ordering Peking Duck, something which made me scratch my head a bit later on. The place fills up quickly; and every table ordered duck. We went whole hog, or perhaps I should say... full fowl, ordering the Duck Three Ways ($49.95).
The first thing to hit the table was a plate of shredded scallion and cucumber. And rather large bowl of sweet bean sauce. Now, having eaten this many times in the US, I've grown accustomed to the usual Hoisin thing. But in Beijing, each major Duck House makes their own sauce, and takes pride in it. It was no different here, as the sauce was much different than any I've had before..... but not necessarily in a good way. The sauce was very salty and beany, and tasted more like Aka Miso. It truly lacked a sweet and fruity component.
When the first course of duck arrived, we made a couple of observations..... first, the skin was pretty light in color, second, that was probably the biggest pile of duck meat I've ever seen in the middle of that plate.
Due to the size of the restaurant, I really didn't expect to have the duck carved at my table..... though that would have been optimum. I can tell you that the meat in the center of the plate was pretty cold, leading me to believe that much of this is done ahead of time. I also must say that this was some of the blandest and dry duck I've had in a while. But honestly, one does not order Peking Duck for the meat, right? It's the skin that makes the dish...... And in this case, the skin was light, greasy (in a good way), and basically melted in your mouth. Still, it was a none starter since it had almost no flavor at all.
The pancakes provided were nice and warm.
But were a bit too thick for me. Filled with a combination of bean paste, skin, meat, and scallion, it did seem that the sum of the parts were better, but everything still lacked flavor. The Missus, having made these pancakes at home had a much better appreciation for them than I did.
Next up was the huge bowl of soup made from the duck bones. Usually one of our favorite things.
We both appreciated the color and velvety texture of the broth. It started developing a "skin" quickly as it cooled. It had been prepared with good technique except for one thing.... it lacked flavor. If there's one dish that captures the soul of the duck, it's the soup made from it's bones. This truly lacked soul, as it tasted mainly of white pepper. To be perfectly fair, as it "ripened" the broth tasted much better....three days down the line the leftover broth started tasting a bit more like what I expected.
Next up was an additional dish we ordered; the Taiwanese BBQ Eel on Sticky Rice ($19.95):
Like the previous dishes, this was a large quantity of food. The glutinous rice was prepared with a soy based sauce, topped with Eel and steamed on lotus leaf. The oils from the Eel had seeped onto the rice, making this a rich dish. The flavor was again a bit lacking as everything tasted like a weak "Unagi sauce" had been poured on it. Secondly, even though everything was placed upon a lotus leaf, we could not taste the the wonderful flavor that lotus leaves add to dishes. The funny thing is, this dish tastes really good with some third party unagi sauce poured on it......
Our third duck dish was duck meat stir fried with bean sprouts.
Now coming from a bean sprout lover..... I'd say this is good. But was it good as part of a fifty dollar dish? Well first, where's the duck meat? The Missus and I were thinking that perhaps using some of the huge quantity of duck meat served on our first plate would actually make a difference..... until we considered how bland that duck meat was. Second, when I first started learning how to use a fire ring I practiced on bean sprouts; and in all honesty, that was just as good. Third, it sure seemed that Duck House was trying to present itself as a more upscale eating establishment.... so why didn't they pick off the root and sprouts?
The Missus and I discussed this meal constantly over the week, as I really didn't want to be exceedingly harsh. I didn't want our disappointment of the overall meal to be unfair. The service we received was as good as can be expected from a understaffed restaurant whose first seating is filled to the max with everyone getting the same thing. Much of the clientele is older and demanding, or in the banquet mentality, but the folks seemed to be trying. And yet the food fell way short. A couple of weeks ago, I tried to arrange a meal here with friends, I wasn't able to get a reservation and we ended up somewhere else. Which I'm now thankful for. In the end, Duck House ain't even close to this:
501 South Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754