Mark’s Duck House

Restaurant: Mark’s Duck House

Location:  6184 Arlington Blvd # A, Falls Church, VA 22044  703-532-2125

Date: April 23, 2011

Cuisine: Cantonese Chinese

Rating: Very very good cantonese.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

This seeming hole in the wall in Falls Church Virginia features some of the best Cantonese food I’ve had in the states. So much so that wine guru (and foodie) Robert Parker is constantly eating (and tasting) here.

You can spot an authentic Chinese restaurant by the unassuming facade.

The minimalist decor.

The menu of sketchy meat cuts unsuited to white-bread American taste.

And the rack of roast ducks!

This was a late night family dinner, so Chinese beer seemed to suite the mood.

I’ve loved hot and sour soup since I was a kid, and this is an exemplary example. Basically perfect.

Classic Har Gow, little shrimp dumplings wrapped in rice pastry. Delectable too, as good as at various Dim Sum joints like Ping Pong, The Palace, or Xino.

They even have their own special sweet and vinegary soy for them.

And the deadly hot chili oil.

But there is one real reason why one goes to a restaurant named “Mark’s Duck House.” The pecking duck! Crispy roast whole duck is carved off the bone and brought to the table.

With the traditional scallions.


And my all time favorite, the plum sauce. This stuff has a sweet and tangy quality typical of Chinese cuisine that I just can’t get enough of.

All of the ingredients are combined in a pancake.

And then rolled into a burrito like shape. This is a delectable mix of textures and flavors. The rich duck meat, the crispy skin, the hot dripping fat off the duck, the tangy sauce, the scallions, the dry texture of the pancake. Yum! And this is as good a duck as I’ve had in the states. We wen’t to a place in Bejing a couple years back where we had three whole ducks each done a slightly different way and flayed at the table by a master carver who could have had a part in Kill Bill. That was some serious duck, and slightly better. Still, you don’t have to go all the way to China for great duck like this.

Lobster, causeway style, in crispy garlic, chillies, and chives. I’d never had this exact dish before, but it was wonderful. The closest I’ve had was at a Chinese friends 20-some course wedding banquet where the lobster was sauteed in a ginger garlic sauce. This version is dry (more or less), a little bit hot, and vary garlicky. But damn good!


Sauteed chive blossoms in oil and garlic. We asked the waiter for a vegetable recommend and out came this seasonal dish. Chive blossoms. I didn’t even know there was such a thing, and it looks like a big pile of chives. It turned out to be one of my favorite Chinese vegetable dishes in the states. Again in China I had some crazy good stuff, including one or two great all vegetable meals, but these were nice and garlicky again, piping hot.

Mark’s Duck House never fails to disappoint, but the menu is gigantic and potentially perilous. There are like 12 pages of densely packed dishes. Abalone, sea cucumbers, shark fin, you name it. One time a couple years ago we ordered oysters in garlic and ginger sauce and got this plate with three monstrous oyster beasts we nicknamed the “Grenades.” Each was about the size of a World War II weapon of the same name. Just the meat of the oyster, the size of a grenade!

More Modern Dim Sum

Restaurant: Xino [1, 2]

Location: 395 Santa Monica Pl, Ste 308, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 755-6220

Date: April 1, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Dim sum

Rating: Ordered lighter this time for a delicious and reasonable meal.

 

Another gorgeous 78 degree LA day, with that perfect mix of warm and ocean moisture in the air. So we headed back to Xino, one of the new promenade restaurants with a huge roof deck and somewhat modernized Dim Sum. For my first review, click here. Our first time we had a few issues all of which we managed to avoid here. We had ordered too much food, as the individual dishes, despite being dirt cheap, are fairly large. There’s also a lot of fried stuff on the menu, so if you want a bit lighter, order carefully. Still, it’s all tasty.

Xino has a really nice deck. You can see the couch-style booths in the background too.

Again we ordered straight from the extremely reasonable Dim Sum menu. This is all Hong Kong style small plates. There are no carts, but it’s made to order. This time we made sure to specify in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that they needed to bring out the dishes slowly (last time they hit us with 11-12 simultaneously!). They brought them one at a time today and it was no problem.

Notice also that the fried section is much larger than the steamed section, and that the specialties are also mostly fried. They’re good, but you have to know what you’re getting. We tried to order only a couple fried things.

Condiments. Chinese mustard, hot sauce, and soy sauce behind.

“Shrimp Dumpling ‘Ha Gow‘ Shrimp, Bamboo sShoots, Rice Wrap.” Classic Cantonese dumplings. Good examples of the type.


“Shanghai Dumpling, Pork, Ginger, garlic, Vinegar & Ginger.” These are basically the classic soup dumplings, but very good examples of the type, and nicely served with the vinegar in the little cups so that they don’t break apart on the steamer. Wow!

“Crispy Chili Calamari, Jalapeno Vinaigrette.” These were seriously tasty. The fry was heavy, but deliciously and a bit sweet, as was the jalapeno sauce. In some ways almost like a desert, but yummy.

“Salt & Pepper Soft Shelled Crab, fresh chili, spring onion, toasted garlic.” This is Xino’s take on the classic (chinese) lightly friend shrimp. The traditional version has a bit less fry, but requires you to peel the shell to eat them. These have been pre-shelled which is nice. Certainly tasty, and good with both the mustard and the jalapeno sauce above.

“Shrimp & Chives potstickers, shrimp bamboo shoots, chives.” These were nice, a bit lighter than the classic pork potsticker (which they also make).

“Pork Siu Mai, Pork, Shrimp, Shitake, carrots, Egg Wrap.” Another typical dim sum dish, executed very well.

“Seafood Spinach Dumpling, shrimp, spinach, bamboo shoots, rice wrap.” These slightly green fellows are a little different. There was a lot of shrimp in there, but it did taste slightly fishy. Not bad, but the pairing with the spinach also was just slightly funny. Personally, I think these would be awesome with basil instead, or even a bit of pesto — but that’s modern me.

“Baked Pork Buns, sweet pork in glazed flaky baked bun.” These were a slightly new take on the classic that really worked. The sweet red BBQ pork inside was very typical, but what was different was the crispy light AND SWEET outer shell. It reminded me of a Beard Papa cookie shell!

This is a photo of the pastry cookie shell from Beard Papa, it wasn’t at Xino, but it was awfully similar to the pork bun! Still, the pork bun really worked. Sweet on sweet, with a nice interplay of crunch/flaky with the gooey meat.

“Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice, ‘Lo Mai Gai’ egg, chinese sausage, dried shrimp.”

Examine the goodies inside. Good, although the more traditional Palace (review here) has a very slightly tastier version.

Not only is the food good, but look at the price! $47 (with tax) for all that food! I think Xino might be even cheaper than the traditional Dim Sum in the area!

For another Xino meal CLICK HERE.

For a review of traditional west side Dim Sum, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Modern Dim sum in Santa Monica

Restaurant: Xino [1, 2]

Location: 395 Santa Monica PlSte 308Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 755-6220

Date: February 7, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Dim sum

Rating: A little heavy, but I’m glad to have some more good dim sum on the westside.

 

Xino is another of the new Santa Monica Place restaurants. I detail the whole deal with the new mall and it’s transformation in my Zengo review.

This one is more or less Chinese, but a sort of modern Chinese, and at lunch they serve real dim sum!

View from the patio. Lunch, on a monday, February. 79 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

My brother presents the dim sum menu. This place is a lot like Ping Pong (REVIEW HERE), the modernized  dim sum I went to in Washington DC. It doesn’t have the traditional cart format, like The Palace (REVIEW HERE). This has advantages and disadvantages. The carts allow more control over the pace of the meal, but made to order is fresher.

Chinese mustard, chili, there was also soy and various sauces served with different dishes.

“Chili Spare Riblets, Sweet Chili Sauce, Asian Slaw.” These were pretty meaty, but fried up like orange beef. Gratuitous, but pretty darn tasty.

“Shrimp and Mango Dumpling, Ground shrimp, mango, firecracker sauce.” Crunchy wanton fried, tasty shrimp and mango inside, and a zesty soil garlic scallion sauce. What’s not to like.

“Shrimp Dumpling ‘Ha Gow‘ Shrimp, Bamboo sShoots, Rice Wrap.” Classic Cantonese dumplings. Good examples of the type.

“Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp, black bean sauce.”

Crab Rangoon, Cream Cheese, Sweet Vinegar Reduction.” Not the totally typical rangoon, at least the sauce. Good though, and more filling than most examples. The sweetness of the sauce went nicely with the fry and the cheese.

“Kung Pao Chicken Lollipop, Sweet and Tangy, Crushed Cashews.” This was my least favorite dish, not that it was bad, but it was a little heavy, like hot wings crossed with that nut crusted chicken you sometimes get on the airplane. Very fried.

“Salt and Pepper Soft Shelled Crab, Fresh Chili, Spring Onion, Toasted Garlic.” This was some good crab. The only problem was that it cooled so fast. Basically, fried soft-shell. Nothing wrong with that.

“Candied Walnuts & Honeyed Prawns, Orange Zest & Frisee.” This is a variant of the classic prawn, walnuts in the sweet mayo sauce. This one is lighter, zestier, very yummy.

“Shanghai Dumpling, Pork, Ginger, garlic, Vinegar & Ginger.” These are basically the classic soup dumplings, but very good examples of the type, and nicely served with the vinegar in the little cups so that they don’t break apart on the steamer. Wow!

“Lobster Potstickers, shrimp, pan fried crisp.” These were some pretty awesome potstickers, typical on the outside, nice yummy lobster on the inside.

“Pork Siu Mai, Pork, Shrimp, Shitake, carrots, Egg Wrap.” Another typical dim sum dish, executed very well.

“Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice, ‘Lo Mai Gai’ egg, chinese sausage, dried shrimp.”

Open the little packet of joy.

Examine the goodies inside. Also an excellent example of type, one of the best I’ve had.

Cool couches and booths on the patio. Pretty slick spot. And the food was pretty tasty, and reasonable. The above feast was only $66 including tax! What makes the real difference here is that they have a real Hong Kong dim sum chef — so despite the corporate trappings and location, and the slightly jazzed up variants, this is some solid dim sum.

For a second Xino review, click here.

Christmas is for Dim Sum

Restaurant: The Palace

Location: 11701 Wilshire Blvd, Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA.  310-979-3377.

Date: Dec 25, 2010

Cuisine: Chinese Dimsum

 

As we don’t celebrate Christmas, and very few restaurants are open, Chinese is a long standing tradition. These days we go to Dim Sum. For those of you who have lived in a culinary hole for the last couple decades, Dim Sum is a Cantonese brunch tradition in which tasty little delectables are served on carts. Dim Sum is hard to find on the westside, and this particular place recently changed owners and names. It’s actually slightly better in its current incarnation, although they may offer less items at current. This is a pretty traditional or classic implementation of the cuisine. Last month I reviewed Ping Pong in Washington DC which offered a more expensive but updated variant.

This, for example, is the “fried stuff” cart.

And this young lady is organizing some of the “steamed stuff” carts.

There are condiments too. Vinegar, Chinese mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, and tea — which isn’t really a condiment but is certainly present at every Chinese meal I’ve ever had.

We don’t go in so much for the fried, but these are shrimp and scallop rolls with sesame seeds.

Shrimp and scallop dumplings (pounded rice batter) with cilantro.

Vegetarian dumplings shaped like Hamantash.

One of my favorites — and readily available. Pork shumai.

Another classic, Har Gow. These are shrimp pockets. They are very light. Dim Sum is also often VERY hot in a physical sense. Seared oral tissue is a significant hazard.

Shrimp, scallop, and some other green.

Shrimp and scallop. You may notice a trend.

Curried shrimp balls. This is shrimp chopped up, reconstituted, and covered in curry sauce.

Tofo stuffed with vegetables. Surprisingly tasty.

Another classic, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf.

Inside is a blob of rice filled with various bits of meat, vegetable, and egg.

These are pork “crepes” (ripe noodles). As I’ve been eating Dim Sum for over 30 years, as kids we used to call this “slime” (we meant it as a compliment). It has a jiggly consistency. I still love it. They come in various “flavors,” this one being “pork slime.” “Shrimp slime” is also ver popular. The sauce is a somewhat sweet soy.

Steamed pork buns. These fluffy rice flower buns are stuffed with a red tinted BBQ pork. Essentially they are BBQ pork sandwiches.

For desert pineapple bun. These buttery pastries are stuffed with a very yolky egg custard.

Same place, new sign. This is solid Dim Sum. I’ve certainly had better, but in LA you have to travel pretty far east for amazing Dim Sum. The current chef also makes some really really good “soup dumplings,” but they ran out on Christmas eve and none were available. We were crushed. Four of us also pigged out (or maybe shrimped out) for $67.