Monday I joined a friend for lunch at the new branch of Beijing Restaurant on Irving Street that opened last month. We picked it thanks to Pandora’s post with the menu information for the Peking Duck, $38.95, three courses.
I called around 11:30A that morning to check to see if we needed to order the duck in advance. The female voice on the phone said that there was enough time to fire one for a lunch order.
“Part A, House Made Duck Soup”
Arriving as the second duck course, the soup was my favorite course. The stock was richer than other versions, a milky yet rather light-textured concoction of boiled bones, Napa cabbage, and glass noodles. I suspect that rather than just using the bones from just our duck’s carcass, the soup started from a duck stock base.
“Part B, Slice[d] Duck with hand made pancake (8 pancakes, including dipping sauce, cucumber, shredded green onion)”
This is the first of three preps to be served. At first I was a bit concerned that we’d missed out on most of the promised skin and duck meat, but soon another plateful of slices came out. We were also skeptical that the thin, papery pancakes were “handmade”, so we asked. The owner says they "fix" each pancake so that they're identical and uniform in size. The sauce is based on genuine tian mian jiang with some additional ingredients rather than the hoisin sauce served at Cantonese restaurants. The cucumbers and green onions were freshly cut with precision.
Quite a homely presentation, the surface of the duck had too many prickly pin feathers. Ranging from mahogany to golden brown, the skin looked beautiful but was rather limp for a freshly roasted duck. Some pieces still had more fat under the skin than I like to see. However, the meat was more flavorful and juicier than typical. Asking the owner about it, she explained to us that unlike the traditional, plain roasting, the Peking duck here is seasoned on the inside to give it more flavor. I do like her innovation but the kitchen needs to work on the skin. The thin pancakes were a little disappointing as well, turning rubbery and tough as they cooled down.
“Part C, Salt and Pepper Duck”
The course I was most curious about was the salt and pepper preparation. After harvesting their skin and most of the meat, the boney parts (e.g., thigh and rib cage) were battered and deep-fried. Nice seasoning on the batter too, but this was too thick and greasy. For something as rich as duck meat, a lighter coating would be better. Then again, maybe these salty, fried bits would be more enjoyable with a beer in a sports bar.
I did ask if we could take a look at the special duck roasting oven. Next time, she said, and elaborated that this is a modern oven and not that interesting to see. It’s only been in use for a couple weeks and maybe the operator and oven need more time to get to know each other. I also wondered if more advance notice might yield a better roasting job. For now, the Peking duck at Five Happiness is superior. Yet, I hope that chowhounds will continue to file duck progress reports from the new Beijing Restaurant.
3925 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122