Seeking out the best Beijing (or Peking) style duck in Beijing, China is like asking a group of New Yorkers where to find Manhattan’s best pizza. Currently, the most buzzed-about restaurants serving up Beijing’s namesake duck are Quanjude, Dadong and Made in China.
I chose Dadong. The restaurant currently has three locations, and it’s universally agreed upon that “Number 2”, or the Nanxingcang branch in Dongsi Shitiaio, has the best duck. The original location is more typically Chinese, and Number 3 in a shopping center has the best interior design. Located on the site of a former granary, the Dongsi location is also the restaurant’s most popular branch.
Joined by my new foodie friend Ane, a manager at Beijing’s ultra-stylish Hotel G, we hail a cab over to the packed restaurant. With a no-reservations policy for small tables, one of Dadong’s big draws is the free (unlimited!) wine while waiting to be seated.
We opt for a seat at the bar instead. Through a room-length glass barrier you can watch the open kitchen where ducks hang from the ceiling by the dozens until they’re plucked down by chefs in white toques. Dadong is famous for its lean duck, achieved by a method of hanging the roast duck upside down, allowing the fat to drip away.
Two beers later, our table is ready. We walk upstairs, passing through a yellow-lit hall lined with private dining rooms, a common sight in upscale Chinese eateries. The sprawling dining room is backlit, ultra-modern and filled with groups of businessmen.
The menu is enough of a reason to go to Dadong. Image-heavy, like many in China, this menu is more of a giant foodie coffee table photo book. I could’ve easily spent hours flipping through page after page of colorful dishes. Everything looks delicious: vegetables, truffles, seafood, and meat. Determined to split a whole duck, we refrain from ordering the entire menu. Dadong is the type of place where you should invite ten of your closest friends to share a dinner.
We did manage to order a (recommended by Time Out: Beijing) roasted eggplant as a starter. The dish is sublime. The eggplant is sweet, tender and swimming in a sauce of freshly roasted garlic.
Soon it’s time for the main event. Gleaming white dishes of condiments are placed in front of us. Each dish contains hoisin sauce, sliced radish, scallions, fresh garlic, sugar, and various tapenades.
The duck is rolled out on a stainless steel cart with dramatic flourish and presented whole.
A chef carefully slices thin strips of the cripsy, carmel colored skin. As he carves the duck, a waitress presents us with two small strips of the skin. She demonstrates with chopsticks, how to dip the crispy skin into a small pile of sugar - duck candy! The next fun foodie surprise: warm, hollowed sesame buns. Following another example, we smear the interior of the buns with roasted garlic and stuff them with duck meat.
By this time, the chef had carved the whole duck, placing each half on our two serving platters.
Again, the waitress demonstrates the correct way to lift each thin, steaming pancake onto our plates.
Using one chopstick, she smears hoisin sauce onto the pancake, filling it with duck meat, crispy skin and scallions. With one fluid motion of the chopsticks, she flips the edges of the pancake inward, folding it around the duck into a perfectly rendered pouch. I knew mine wouldn’t look like that. I follow her lead to the best of my abilities, adopting my own methods, and manage to assemble a delicious duck wrap.
On one plate, we discover the duck’s head and neck. Though I’ve been served duck tongue on more than one occasion in New York City, I have zero experience with duck face. I’d seen it on various picture menus around Beijing as an entree — three heads seem to make a meal-sized serving. I wanted to dig in, but had to work out logistically how to go about it. The solution: just take a giant bite, chew the edible meat and spit out the bones. This method seems to work with quite a few dishes in China, so I go for it. The duck head is amazing, just crispy skin and rich, flavorful meat.
After the meal, we are served fresh grapes, presented on a bed of dry ice.
We’re also each given a small glass of sweet corn-flavored ice cream.
Getting the check proves both amusing and somewhat tricky.
At a Chinese restaurant — traditionally and culturally — the head of the table (usually male) faces the door. The closest friends/VIP at the table are seated at his right and left sides. The rest of the table is seated according to importance. Apparently we caused some confusion (and perhaps some mild stress) because we were two women eating together. Also, there was no clear “head of the table.” Two different waitresses approached us with the bill in hand, but steered away when there was no obvious solution to presenting it. Eventually the bill is placed on the rollaway duck tray next to the table.
There’s nothing not to love about Beijing roast duck. Dining at Dadong Number 2 was a full-on, theatrical culinary experience from beginning to end.
2010 Mileage Total: 59079