Logic dictates that if you want to eat the best Peking duck, you need to go to where discriminating palates demand the best out of their Chinese delicacies: The San Gabriel Valley.
And according my discriminating friend Kenny (who lives in SGV), and Jonathan Gold, a guy trusted for his discriminating tastes, the place to get Peking duck is Duck House. Gold lauded it back in 2006 when it was called Lu Din Gee. He rhapsodized that their version was "fragrant wisps of air-dried, roasted skin, rubbed with aromatics, brittle as spun sugar, folded into thin wheat crepes with a dab of fermented bean sauce and a few shreds of scallion, and eaten as a sort of ethereal taco."
So I heeded their tips and found that Duck House is otherwise and essentially a Taiwanese restaurant, serving mostly subtle dishes like shrimp stir-fried with scallops, corn nibblets, and diced translucent jelly called konjac. The latter are slippery bits of starch that are near impossible to pick up with chopsticks. We also tried elastically resilient fried squid balls filled with fish roe. You dip 'em in a sweet and sour sauce, and balance their chewiness and decadance with an order of some sort of veggie.
But of course, there's the duck ($32 and change for the basic model).
First of all, before I go on, I will address the obvious: No, Taiwan isn't known for its Peking duck (duh). But this place doesn't care so much about being geographically accurate. And neither does its customers.
Everyone orders the duck. This despite the fact that the waiters give you dire warnings that the bird takes an hour to prepare. I must tell you, however, that even after they told us and we agreed to wait, the platter came out scarcely minutes after said we wanted it. It's like they knew!
And when it's brought out, the mahogany brown of the skin's wispy crispiness makes your mouth water at the mere sight of it. In the middle of the plate in a neat greyish mound is the duck meat. The whole dish is literally elevated above everything else you might order. The platter is set atop a bowl full of hot water, which I assume is used to prevent the whole thing from congealing and reverting back to the room temperature fattiness from whence it came.
To eat it, you take a crepe-like wrapper they provide (which is not unlike the most delicate flour tortilla you've ever seen) a piece of skin, a piece of meat, shredded scallion and cucumber, and finally a drizzle of their fermented bean sauce, from which most of the flavor comes from. You fold it up, and you do, in fact, eat it like a taco.
Was it the best Peking duck I ever ate? Why yes. But admittedly I haven't eaten that many. Most have been lackluster, chewy things. This was not. The skin is a thin, lovely shimmer of itself, rendered completely of fat and crisp like it was imitating a potato chip. But honestly, I'm a pork skin kind of a guy. I like my animal hides to have some heft, some rock-my-teeth crunch. Duck skin is a tease.
Compare them to a Chinese roasted pig, or Filipino lechon, and the water fowl skin seems like a lightweight. It's like O'Douls next to a pint of Guinness. A Lay's chip next to a Kettle Brand. William Baldwin next to Alec Baldwin. You get the idea.
501 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Duck House (Lu Ding Ji)
501 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754
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