National Peking Duck Day, Saturday, January 18th, is right around the corner and restaurants across the city are showcasing the bird, famed for its crackly potato-chip crisp skin and juicy tender meat.
Despite the duck’s origins in Beijing, its namesake holiday is thoroughly American. No one back in the duck’s home town celebrates the iconic dish on any specific day although it’s a city attraction that’s been a banquet favorite since appearing on the Ming Dynasty court’s imperial menu centuries ago.
But this is America and high-end Chinese restaurants throughout the U.S.A will be pulling out all the stops with their glamorous duck presentations-- including the $288 beauty garnished with Tsar Nicoulai caviar at the star-populated Michelin-starred hot spot, Hakkasan, in Beverly Hills.
Because the bird is almost always served family style in its entirety the holiday is a great excuse for gathering like-minded duck loving friends to celebrate. Reservations for the labor-intensive production are an absolute must.
Read on for a few of our favorite places to celebrate the day.
AT this glamorous Sunset Boulevard venue, Chef Tyson Wong, Iron Chef America alum who classically-trained under Michelin-starred chefs in France, does the traditional preparation.
Before the glossy-skinned bird is presented tableside it goes through a complicated process to make that famed skin lusciously sweet and crispy. Wong hangs Pekin breed ducks for eight hours in a refrigerator where the birds are constantly blown with cold air. The duck is crisped in a blazing hot oven hanging vertically so the fat drips away from the golden lacquered skin. Finally a long slow roasting brings out the favor of the juicy meat.
Brought to your table, it’s served with delicate grilled and steamed porbien wheat crepes. You use these to wrap the crisp skin with sweet plum sauce, scallion shreds and julienne cucumber for what must be one of the town’s most luxurious burritos. After that the meat is devoured in similar fashion.
Chi Lin is located at 9201 Sunset Blvd. (310)278-2068.
You can celebrate the day in style 24 floors above the Los Angeles skyline surrounded by a panoramic view of the city where famed Chef Puck presents Luck Duck Day. Offering a three course Peking duck-centered meal, he’s donating a portion of the profits to Meals on Wheels which provides needy seniors with complimentary meals.
The duck itself, which takes three days of preparation, was named one of the best restaurant dishes by Food & Wine magazine in 2011.
Carved at the table, the meat and skin are served along with steamed Chinese buns which you can fill with accompanying scallions, pickled daikon and hoisin sauce.
The meal ends with chocolate-dipped fortune cookies which hold a note explaining your contribution’s effect on the work done by Meals on wheels.
Reservations for the 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Lucky Duck promotion may be made at 213-743- 8824. WP24 is in the Ritz Carleton Hotel 900 W. Olympic Blvd.
For a more modestly priced duck extravaganza we like to recommend Duck House in Monterey Park which went under its Taiwanese name Lu Din Gee in its former San Gabriel location. But the small, elegant restaurant has found an enormous following among Asian and non-Asians alike and now uses a more widely recognized English name.
Aside from serving some of the best and most well priced Peking duck in town it offers the bird in many other forms: stewed, shredded, stir fried and in soup.
To get in the full holiday spirit, you might want to start your meal with appetizers of five-spiced duck wings and feet or a platter full of duck tongues.
The main event is offered at three price points. For $35.95, the whole duck comes to the table cut into chunks surrounded by pieces of golden-crisp skin and the traditional shredded scallion and cucumber accompaniments plus hoisin sauce and a dozen Mandarin pancakes for wrapping.
The $45.95 version is followed by a stir fry of duck meat with bean sprouts and vegetables or an enormous bowl of duck bone soup. For $52.95 you get both.
Although duck is the obvious mainstay here, owner Katherine Fan is known for her light elegant cooking largely based on her evolved version Taiwanese favorites such as cumin lamb, minced shrimp in lettuce cups and baked cod in miso sauce.
Duck House, 501 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, 626-284-3227.