Dear Fellow Hounds:
I just posted this piece to my blog at cowsoutside.com, but since it holds particular interest for those in Westchester, I'm cross-posting it here...Jonathan
Duck Day Afternoon, or, The day I delivered take-in to the Chinese restaurant
Jonathan S. White
About 6 months ago, a new Chinese takeout place opened in Yorktown: China Star, across Commerce Street from Charbucks. In this Northern Westchester culinary tundra, I was surprised to find Hunan Duck on the menu-most Chinese places around here stick to the mainstream stuff: lo mein, egg rolls, pork fried rice, etc. So, more out of duty than high expectation, I ordered the duck.
Well, l must tell you that it was one of the very best crispy ducks I've had, and I make a point of eating duck often. My friend Lothar Tubbesing, owner of Restaurant Lachswehr in Luebeck, the Florence of Northern Germany, tells me that it is a Prussian tradition to eat duck during Lent, because ducks,. by virtue of their swimming, qualify ecclesiastically as fish.
Anyway, back to the Yorktown duck. A week later, I dropped in again, and ordered the duck. the young lady at the counter shared a smile with her father, the chef, as she fired my order. I was invited to eat there, they cleared away the packets of mustard, soy and such to make a place for me to "eat in". I was served a cup of tea, then the duck, most graciously presented, this time garnished with slivered cashews. and the sauce was more honestly Hunan, with a bite.
When asked if I enjoyed it (the licked plate spoke for itself), I said yes and asked the daughter if they sell a lot of duck. "No, you and my father are the only two. It is his favorite dish also".
I am now greeted as Mister Duck when I arrive. The one time I dared to order something else, the look on the chef's face was so forelorn, I quickly added "and the Hunan duck" and took the other dish home. There are some other intriguing dishes on the menu, including "salt squid", but they are for others, not me. I am Mister Duck.
I am very happy to be Mister Duck, for I give the chef, whose name I still do not know, validation and sanction for making a fine, unpopular dish, against better business judgement. For being better than he has to be, for exceeding people's expectations. This guy's devotion to duck is all that stands betwen us and a Sartre-esque fast food future. And frankly, any reason to eat duck is a good one.
So, the other day, I turned the tables on my unnamed friend. I made little latkes, topped them with smoked duck and a dollop of quince preserves, and surrounded them with slices of fresh whey ricotta, and slices of my spontaneous-fermentation farm cheese. On a second dish, I arranged slices of steamed foie gras de canard entier, steamed over porcini, and chilled in a terrine.
I delivered the dishes to China Star, and the daughter explained to the chef that I was bringing him a gift, as thanks for making such good duck. I explained each item, and she translated (including the international hand gesture for gavage). When she was finished, he asked me in immigrant English, "You want me to cook for you?". So daughter took a slice of foie and popped it into her dad's mouth and said what must be Mandarin for "no, silly, it's for you!!!".
Well, the man almost cried. You know how most anglo-sino transactional conversations go: we as a nation are terribly guilty of bad manners to counter-service people, and for some reason, the most churlish behavior is reserved for the Chinese takeout people.
But on that fine snowy Duck Day afternoon, I made a friend, and maybe built a cultural bridge.