Saturday, September 27, 2008

Opening Night: Peking Duck at the new Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) (Monterey Park)

Duck. A glorious, delicious Duck dish at any restaurant would turn me into an instant regular! :) Besides Duck Confit, my other favorite preparation for Duck would have to be Peking Duck (Beijing Kao Ya). Unfortunately, L.A. lost its best Peking Duck specialist years ago, with the closing of Quan Ju De. In the interim, Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) in San Gabriel has been the only Peking Duck specialist in the region for a while now. While it's nowhere near as good as Quan Ju De, it has its moments, and provides a competent version of the glorious Peking Duck dish.

Last night, Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) opened a new branch on Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, with all new chefs. Always on the lookout for the potential of a great Peking Duck, I enlisted my 'dachi Jotaru to see if they could exceed the original branch and bring L.A. a great, authentic Peking Duck.

We arrived 10 minutes early, and were promptly seated. The new Lu Ding Ji took over the space formerly occupied by Gourmet Delight, on the corner of Atlantic and Harding, and they remodeled it nicely. It's a lot cleaner and brighter now, but it lacks the nice, dark wood traditional decor of the original San Gabriel location. The Duck House requires a 1 hour advanced order for Peking Duck (which we had made), so our order for Peking Duck arrived promptly after seating.

Glancing over the menu, the new Duck House retains most of the items from its original San Gabriel location, but sadly leaves a few items off the menu, such as Cumin Lamb, but adds some other creations by their new chefs. The new Duck House features a new chef from Taiwan and one chef from Beijing according to our waitress, which added to my hope that they would elevate Peking Duck in L.A.

At Lu Ding Ji, you can choose to order Peking Duck one of three ways: "Yi Chi" is the main Peking Duck dish; "Liang Chi" is Peking Duck served Two Ways (main Peking Duck, and your choice to have some of the Duck Meat sauteed with Bean Sprouts; or have it cooked into a Duck Bone Soup); and "San Chi" is Peking Duck served Three Ways (main Peking Duck, Duck Meat sauteed with Bean Sprouts, and the Duck Bone Soup). We opted for just the Peking Duck this time (at the San Gabriel location, the other extra preparations aren't worth it - the Bean Sprouts Duck is rather bland and too simple, and the Duck Bone Soup was also lacking).

Our order of Peking Duck (Beijing Kao Ya) arrived with a nice plate of freshly-sliced Green Onions and Cucumbers, as well as Tian Mian Jiang (Sweet Bean Sauce), and a stack of Heh Yeh Bing (Thin "Pancakes" made from Flour, resembling an ultra-thin Tortilla).

(For those new to Peking Duck, here's a quick pictorial on how to eat it (^_~)): Take one of the Heh Yeh Bing and dab a bit of the Sweet Bean Sauce (it's pretty sweet and potent, so take note).

Add a bit of the Green Onions and Shredded Cucumbers:

And add in a few pieces of the crispy Peking Duck Skin (you can add some of the Duck Meat as well if you like). Wrap up both sides and enjoy. :) (Note, you can also switch the last two steps, adding the Duck first and then the Green Onions after.)

The Peking Duck Skin looked great, so we had high hopes. I took a bite...

No crispiness (well, a slight crispiness at best). :( The Skin was a little too saturated with oil and dense and slightly tough (not "bad" or "horrible," but just not what an excellent Peking Duck should be like). It was certainly better than most preparations around town, but it was short of the original San Gabriel location, and well short of Quan Ju De.

They at least had a proper separation of Skin and Meat (many Peking Duck preparations around town will leave layers of fat or meat with the skin), and thankfully there wasn't any piece of the Peking Duck Skin that had a chunk of Duck Fat hanging on it.

The actual Peking Duck Meat was tender and moist, not overcooked at all, which was nice.

We ordered two other unique dishes. The first one arrived soon after the Duck: Jin Sha Hsiao Pai Gu (Chef's Special Deep Fried Pork Ribs with Garlic). The "Jin Sha" style dishes are something that the original San Gabriel location featured prominently on their menu, and was a favorite of many of my Chinese Cuisine Hounds.

Upon first glance, it looks similar to "Salt & Pepper" (Jiao Yen) preparation, but looking closer, and it does indeed resemble its name: "Jin Sha" literally means "Gold Sand," and each piece of Pork Rib is covered in this type of "breading" and mix of spices. It's much lighter than it looks, and the Garlic and spices that they use leaves the palate with a fragrant, pleasing taste, much less salty than the "Salt & Pepper" style preparation. Unfortunately, the Jin Sha Ribs were too chewy, not cooked long enough (they were cooked to well-done (fine), but not cooked long enough to soften the Pork and break it down to a more tender state).

The other dish we tried was from their Konnyaku (Konjac) menu: Hong Shao Doh Fu Ju Ruo Yu Pian (Fish Fillet, Tofu and Konnyaku Stew). Konnyaku is a healthy, high-in-fiber jelly made from the plant of the same name, and I try to sample different preparations of it when it's offered on a menu.

As I was taking some to my plate, I couldn't see any Konnyaku at first, but then I realized that the Konnyaku in this dish were the tiny little *shreds* in the dish (resembling Shredded Ginger). At the San Gabriel branch, they gave nicely-portioned *full slices* of Konnyaku. Here, it was in tiny little shredded pieces, and they gave too little: It was mostly Tofu and some Fish Slices. As a result, what you were left with was a rather basic version of "Fish & Tofu in Brown Sauce." It was rather mundane, with a simple Soy Sauce base.

For its Opening Night, Duck House's service was adequate. We had to get our server's attention multiple times to get refills on the Hot Tea (the complementary Tea was sadly made with a cheap, instant Tea Bag, instead of wonderfully fragrant Green Tea Leaves + Muo Li Hua (Jasmine Flowers) offered at the San Gabriel branch). Our total came out to be ~$35 per person (including tax and tip) (and we had plenty of leftovers).

The new Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) in Monterey Park prominently bills itself as "The Best Peking Duck in Town," but it sadly falls short of that goal. The Peking Duck itself is adequate, but their new chefs have to straighten out the lack of crispness to the Peking Duck Skin, as well as problems with their other dishes from the kitchen (e.g., tough Pork Ribs). At least their manager was very eager to hear our feedback, and I brought up each of the issues we had last night. The manager admitted that the two new chefs were still experimenting and developing the right cooking style for the Peking Duck, which left me puzzled: They are a branch of the San Gabriel original. They have access to the chef of the original location, so at the very least, they could've matched the San Gabriel branch's quality, but they didn't. I suppose if one considers "Monterey Park" the "Town" that's referred to in their motto, then they're actually right. But for me, "Town" equals all of L.A. / O.C., and currently, the original San Gabriel Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) is still the best, until another Quan Ju De comes around (please, please, pretty please! :) to really bring great Peking Duck back to L.A.

Rating: 6.8 (out of 10.0)

Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) (Monterey Park)
501 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Tel: (626) 284-3227

Hours: 7 Days A Week, [Lunch] 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
[Dinner] 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.


Charlie Fu said...

The Peking duck at Elite isn't too shabby, crispy skin and not too oily. They dont use the large "tortilla" style wraps but "Man To".

Sad to see Gourmet Deli go!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for the tip. I've tried the Peking Duck at Elite and it's ~OK for "Roast Duck" (Cantonese style), but their method of preparing the Duck actually is a different style than authentic Peking Duck.

I've also had mixed results at Elite w/ their Duck. Last time we went, it was just bad (shockingly so). It tasted slightly old, really gamy, and the skin wasn't crispy at all (more like Sam Woo style). We were surprised. (The first time we tried it at Elite, last year(?), it was better, but still not actual Peking Duck preparation.)

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your blog!! You really know what you are talking about and are able to put into words in a precise way. Thank you for sharing your culinary experience and looking forward to many more mouth watering photos and write-ups.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi 33,

Thanx! :) I just try to write about places I've been to and hope someone finds it useful.

Charlie Fu said...

i dont think any place in So cal does "real peking duck tho" No space.. definitely don't have the space here at DUck House either.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Charlie,

Agreed. The only place that had it was the old Quan Ju De, but I haven't had anything close to that since.

Right Way to Eat said...

Hi Exile Kiss,

I'm going here tonight. Wish me luck!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pepsi Monster,

Good luck. :) Hope they've improved their skin a bit. But I actually went back since their opening night, and their skin was about the same as before. :( Hopefully it's gotten better.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting you mentioned Quan Ju De. Mr Song, the person that owned Gourmet Delight, use to own Quan Ju De in Monterey Park...

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for the interesting info. If you happen to know Mr. Song, I'm curious if he would consider trying to open up Quan Ju De again. Despite the economic recession, I think today's So Cal population would embrace an authentic specialist from Beijing like Quan Ju De in a heartbeat. :)

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