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!

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.

Food as Art: Ping Pong

Restaurant: Ping Pong

Location: 900 7th Street NW. District of Columbia 20001. 202-506-3740

Date: Dec 01, 2010

Cuisine: Chinese Dim Sum


I’ve been going to Dim Sum for thirty-odd years, and it’s long been one of my favorite cuisines. Basically, this follows from the “law of appetizers,” which reads: “appetizers are always better than the main course.” Dim Sum is all “appetizers.” Ping Pong represents a modernization of the traditional Dim Sum concept. There are no carts, everything is made fresh to order, and there are modern variants on traditional favorites. Most of this is good, and they did a great job. The only downside is that it’s about twice as expensive as a hole-in-the-wall traditional place. However, particularly if you have a vegetarian in the party (traditional Dim Sim is nigh on impossible to appreciate as a vegetarian), it can be worth it.

The menu and our order. I like this “check your order” type menu, like an old school sushi menu.

Jasmine tea, the way they do it in China. The ball expands.

Into a pretty flower. Ping Pong has a very extensive drink menu, alchoholic and non.

Sauces are essential at Dim Sum. These are two kind of chilies. They had good soy, vinegar, etc. The odd missing one, which we asked for, but they didn’t have, was Chinese mustard. I love Chinese mustard.

Baked pork puff. This is a standard, and they did a great job of it. The pastry was buttery, and the pork sweet.

Here is an example of a welcome “modernization.” A vegetable puff. Same dough, but inside was honey-roasted vegetables. These did a pretty good approximation.

Vegetarian spring rolls, with a very nice sweet and sour sauce.

Spare ribs. Ultra soft (and fatty), with a very nice sweet flavor.

Asian leaf and three mushroom salad.

Crispy hoisin duck rolls. Tasty. Who could tell what was inside, but it had a nice meatiness to it. Like a duck taquito.

The tower of steamers begin to arrive. I personally love the steamed dumplings best of all. In China I had a 64 course Tang Dynasty style Dim Sum meal that was one of the best meals of my life.

Classic lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice. An excellent example of the species. The rice is mixed with pork, chicken etc.

Crabmeat and prawn, what’s not to like. Also very hot! They are steamed after all.

Classic Pork Shu Mai. I made the mistake of getting greedy on these and could barely taste them as I seared off my tongue. What I did taste seemed good.

This is a bunch of seafood and vegetable cooked on a griddle. A sort of Chinese seafood sausage. They call it a seafood cake. My father and I ordered these at random from an entirely non-English speaking greasy griddle at a rooftop restaurant in Shaimen China. These were better.

“Crab, shrimp, and scallop, carrot pastry.” These were great too, with the shell almost like a fresh ravioli.

Jumbo shrimp and coriander dumplings. Light and succulent. The coriander mixed it up a little.

Spicy pork dumplings. I loved these, and they have a significant kick. Basically ground pork spiced with Schezuan peppers. In Western China we would get these at hotel breakfasts.

Classic “Har Gau,” or shrimp in a light translucent pastry. Yum, but I missed the mustard.

Vegetable and beans in black bean sauce over coconut rice. Kinda light a high end weight watchers dinner.

Another example of a modernized lightened classic. Vegetable steamed bun, with sauteed vegetables and fresh baby corn. Really good. Almost as good as the pork version.

Spinach and mushroom pan fried dumpling, in crispy wheat flour pastry. Almost like meat.

Spicy Basil, rice noodles and chili. Interesting flavors.

My favorite of the meal, “black prawn, garlic and shrimp, black squid ink pastry.” There was a succulent sweetness that complimented the shrimp brilliantly.

The decor too is modernized as compared to your traditional place.

I was impressed with Ping Pong. On average the dishes were fresher than you get in the typical cart driven place, and the introduction of new flavors was very subtly but nicely done. I particularly appreciated having really well done vegetarian versions of classics. Bravo!