Monthly Archives: November 2010

apple compote layer cake with rum icing

C asked me to identify my favorite item at last week’s thanksgiving fest, and after not too much thought, i decided that it had to be the apple compote cake.  it was really just my apple compote cake, dressed up with an italian meringue rum icing and decorated with some acorn shaped caramels.  but somehow, all the components combined together made sense.

plus, the cake slices very well.  it keeps its shape and doesn’t fall flat apart like some other cakes i’ve cut.

Apple Compote Layer Cake with Italian Meringue Rum Icing
(makes a two-tier nine inch round layer cake)

For the Cake
Apple Compote Cake Two recipes, baked separately in two nine-inch round pans
(Note: You may want to make 1-2 cups extra apple compote to use as the middle layer of the cake)
For the Icing
Egg Whites 5 egg whites
Sugar 1/3 cup + 1 cup, measured separately
Water ¾ cup
Butter 4 sticks (1 lb), cubed
Rum 4 tbsp
For the Acorn Caramels
Sugar ½ cup sugar
Butter 1 tbsp
Water 1 tbsp

A.  Bake cake, set aside and let cool.

B.  Make the icing as follows:

  1. Pour egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  You can sprinkle in a bit of cream of tarter for stability.
  2. Start whisking until bubble just start to form.  Pour in 1/3 cup sugar.  Continue to whisk until soft peaks form.
  3. While egg whites are whisking, pour 1 cup sugar into a sauce pan along with the water.  Do not stir the pan.  Dissolve the sugar into the water and let it bubble away until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (which is at 235° F–240° F).
  4. Watch the egg whites while you’re preparing the sugar.  You want soft peaks rather than stiff ones.  You may need to turn the mixer down to its lowest setting if you’ve reached soft peaks before the sugar is ready.
  5. When the egg whites and sugar have reached their desired states,  slowly pour the sugar into the egg whites. Do this by first turning the whisk down to its lowest setting, and carefully pouring the sugar along the sides of the bowl. Do not pour onto the whisk or you may end up with minor burns.
  6. Turn the speed back up to high and continue to whisk until the mixture reaches room temperature.  Might take about 10 minutes.  Don’t worry if your mixture deflates.
  7. When at room temperature, change the whisk to the paddle attachment.  Drop in butter bits at a time, until all is added.
  8. Continue to whip on high until the consistency resembles icing.  Again, this could take up to 10 minutes.
  9. Finally, pour rum into the bowl and stir a few times to make sure it is evenly distributed.
  10. Let the icing chill in the refrigerator for 30-1 hour to let it harden a bit.

C.  Caramel Acorns:

  1. Set acorn molds (i used acorn shaped cookie cutters) on a parchment sheet lined tray.
  2. Pour all ingredients into a small saucepan.
  3. Allow the sugar to dissolve and caramelize (turns a deep golden brown). Do not stir the pan or the sugar will crystallize into a sticky mess.
  4. Pour the caramel into the molds.
  5. Allow it to cool and harden.
  6. When ready, carefully push the acorns out of the mold.  You may want to make a few extras because some might break in the un-molding process.

D.  Assembly:

  1. Set one layer of the cake on top of a cake pan.
  2. Brush it with a bit of simple sugar.
  3. Spread one thin layer of icing on top of the first layer.  Optional: I had some extra apple compote left over and decided to add it as the middle layer.  To do so,  pipe one strip of icing around the outer edge of the cake with a piping bag.  Spread the apple compote (about 1 to 1.5 cups) in an even layer.
  4. Brush the second layer of cake with simple sugar and place the simple sugar brushed side on top of the iced layer.
  5. Spread icing on the rest of the cake.
  6. Decorate with a few caramel acorns and enjoy!


the 2 hour turkey

people descended upon my thanksgiving spread so quickly that i didn’t have the opportunity to take a photo of the entire spread.  i did manage to sneak in strategically to get shots of individual dishes.  i’ll be posting them over the next few days. first, the turkey glamour shots . . .

i always try to find the smallest bird possible.  this year, i got a 10 lb free range turkey from Costco.  i recall paying $23 for the bird.

rather than brining, i do a salt and pepper rub. because of its small size, my turkey will cook in  about 2 hours, giving me plenty of time to use the oven for other things.

here’s what i did . . .

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Turkey
(one 10 lb turkey)

Turkey 1 8-10 lb bird, preferably free range
Salt & Pepper 1-2 tbsp
Olive Oil 1-2 tbsp
Lemons 2, halved
Rosemary 1 bunch
Onions 2 medium sized onions, halved
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425º F
  2. Wash and dry the turkey
  3. Sprinkle salt & pepper on the front and back, as well as inner cavity of the  bird
  4. Drizzle all over with olive oil
  5. Stuff the turkey with lemons, onions and rosemary
  6. Place the dressed bird on a rack set inside a sufficiently large roasting pan
  7. Roast for ~2 hours or until the temperature of the breast meat reached about 160º F
  8. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow the meat to rest

sweet potato bundt cake with rum icing

so . . . i kinda miscalculated the amount of sweet potato a single mutant sized sweet potato would yield (has anyone noticed that they are huuuuuuge this year?), and ended up with a lot of leftovers after i made the filling for my sweet potato tart.  it an effort to make some space in my fridge, i stirred a cup of the stuff into a sweet potato bundt cake.

it’s a bit of a dense cake though moist.  i decided to lighten things up a bit by whipping up a quick rum glaze.

happy day before turkey day!

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with Rum Icing
(9 inch bundt pan, although the cake will only rise 3/4 of the way up)

Butter 1 stick, @ room temp
Sugar ¾ cup
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
Flour 2 cups
Baking powder 1 ½ tsp
Baking soda ½ tsp
Egg 2 large ones
Sour Cream 1 cup
Sweet Potato 1 cup, steamed, peeled, cooled and mashed
Rum Glaze
Confectioners’ Sugar 1 cup
Rum 4 tbsp
  1. Prepare your sweet potato the day before by steaming it until it is soft, removing the skin and mashing it.  Let cool completely.  Or you can just buy the canned version.
  2. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour bundt pan and set aside.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  5. Add egg, vanilla, and sour cream.  Mix until well-combined on medium speed.
  6. Turning the speed down to the lowest setting, pour in dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.
  7. Then, fold in sweet potato with a rubber spatula.
  8. Pour into pan and bake for ~50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. When ready, let stand for 15-20 minutes, then invert and cool on rack.
  10. Make glaze when cake is cooling.  To do so, pour confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of your standmixer with whisk attachemnt.  Then add rum and whisk on medium speed.  You may need to add more or less rum to get it to the consistency of something like “egg nog.”
  11. Pour the glaze over cooled cake.  I used the back of a spoon to help spread the glaze around. The cake is ready to eat when the glaze has set.


a thanksgiving menu

so i finally figured out my thanksgiving menu and it’s looking something like 16 nibbles, dishes and sides, plus 6 desserts.  a little american, a little asian, a bit french and brit.  i then remembered that my mom and aunt are also bringing two dishes each.  perhaps i went a bit over board?

i can’t wait to unload my fridge come thursday.  it’s stuffed to the hilt, so to speak. . .well there you go, now that you’ve seen the inside of my fridge, you know everything there is to know about me!

1. Sesame Puff Sticks
2. Cheese Tray

1. Roasted Turkey
2. 5 Spice Brined Duck
3. Lotus Leaf Steamed Powder Ribs
4. Eli’s Asian Salmon from Ina Garten
5. Garden Fresh Tomato Tart
6. Thai Style Seafood Salad
7. Jap Chae
8. Roasted Sweet Peppers
9. Sauteed French String Beans
10. Beef Wellington
11. Spinach with Black Sesame Sauce
12. Jellyfish and Pickled Radish Salad
13. Hakka Style Stuffed Tofu
14. Basil Chicken Stuffed in a Japanese Pumpkin

1. Fruit Terrine
2. Apple Tarte Tatin
3. Sweet Potato Tart with Pecans
4. Hidemi Sugino’s Financiers
5. Yogurt, Matcha and Azuki Terrine
6. Apple Compote Cake with Rum Buttercream Frosting

apple cider yogurt cake

i love the clinton street baking company down in LES, but i don’t much love the hour plus long wait to get a table.  i had pre-ordered their cookbook and leapt for joy when the ups man dropped it off at my place.  yipee!  they’ve got tons of fabulous recipes inside — everything from their fluffy pancakes and amazing maple butter sauce to their black and white cake and their  to-die-for banana chocolate chunk muffins (yes, i’m that annoying person who goes and orders every last one of those muffins that they’ve got in store).

that said, i really wanted to get my hands on their apple cider muffin recipe, but it wasn’t in the book!  half of me thinks that i’m hallucinating about the apple cider muffins and/or confusing them with another bakery where i sampled the goods…

memory glitches aside, i set about reconstructing the recipe for what i recall as apple cider muffins consumed at what i believe was clinton street bakery. proust would be proud. using their sunshine yogurt muffin recipe as a rough guide, i set off towards the fabled land of apple cider muffins

of course, after i had prepped everything, i realised that i was out of muffin liners, and ended up making the batter into a square cake instead . . . the cake turned out quite moist and i really liked the texture of the glaze  (it’s like the glaze on a donut that’s smooth and then crackles once you bite into it).  if there’s anything i would change for round 2, it would be to pump up the apple flavor.  maybe add some sort of apple essence or something?

Apple Cider Yogurt Cake
(makes 1 eight inch square cake)

Dry Ingredients
Flour 1 ½ cups
Baking Soda ¼ tsp
Baking Powder 1 tsp
Wet Ingredients
Butter ¾ stick (6 tbsp) at room temperature
Sugar ½ cup
Egg 1 large one
Vanilla ½ tsp
Apple Cider ½ cup
Yogurt ½ cup
For the Glaze
Confectioners’ Sugar 1 cup
Apple Cider 4-5 tbsp
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter pan and set aside.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  4. Add egg, vanilla, cider and yogurt.  Mix until well-combined on medium speed.
  5. Then, turning the speed down to the lowest setting, pour in dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.
  6. Give the mixture a few more folds with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is incorporated.
  7. Pour into pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. When ready, let stand for 10 minutes, then invert and cool on rack.
  9. Make glaze when cake is cooling.  To do so, pour confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of your standmixer with whisk attachemnt.  Then add Apple Cider and whisk on medium speed.  You may need to add more or less cider to get it to the consistency of something like “egg nog.”
  10. Pour the glaze over cooled cake.  I used the back of a spoon to help spread the glaze over the top of the cake.  The cake is ready to eat when the glaze has set.
  11. Enjoy a very moist cake!

the hullabaloo on lotus of siam nyc

i was supposed to wait another 2 weeks to before going to lotus of siam with G, but i just couldn’t wait.  hubs and i, well mostly me, have been salivating since the nytimes article came out a few weeks ago celebrating the imminent arrival of what Jonathan Gold regarded a decade ago as the best thai food in the united states.

we didn’t have a reservation but wandered by the restaurant, half thinking that we wouldn’t get a seat.  (i didn’t even bring a camera, but relied on the lens of my mobile phone. apologies in advance for the graininess of the photos).  the maitr’d worked his magic with the reservation system and managed to find us a table.  the main dining room appeared to be 1/3 full.  many more tables filled up after we left around 8:30pm.  it was the 2nd day they started to offer the full a la carte menu, and i think they kept the restaurant at less than full capacity to ease the staff into things.

the configuration of the benches, tables and chairs is comfortable enough.  for once, i didn’t feel like i was being squeezed into a cubby hole.  as a new restaurant, it was pretty clean as well.  that said, the more i looked around the place, the more i got the feeling that the decor was not as well contemplated as it could have been.  they had these strange reddish-orange things on the wall and in vases that looked a bit like feather dusters.  the rest of the furniture was a mix between french brasserie and zen minimalistic japanese design.  i suppose it’s a step-up from the bare boned strip-mall original in vegas.  still, they’ve got stiff stylistic competition from kittichai and  spice market; moreover, with the prices they’re charging, i would have expected them to invest a bit more in transforming the dining room into a real experience.

but enough on the visual elements.  who really cares if the food is amazing? hubs and i started with 3 appetizers:  the crispy rice salad, a green papaya salad, and nam prik hed.  the appetizers were in general outstanding.  i found the green papaya salad to be incredibly flavorful with a great balance between the crunch of the tasted sesame seeds, sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, and the fragrance of fish sauce and fermented shrimp instilled in the papaya shreds.  the crispy rice salad is fantastic as well.  it’s got a great blend of tiny rice crunchies with the savoriness of shallots and freshness of mints.  hubs ordered the nam prik hed — a mushroom dip and northern thai specialty — expressly because the menu warned that it was very spicy.  and indeed it was very spicy, not so spicy that we couldn’t handle it, but a bit too spicy for us to taste anything aside from spiciness.   we were warned . . . after a bit of a wait, our mains finally arrived.  to get straight to the point, the mains were a bit of a let down (or maybe we just haven’t found the right things to order as yet.  there were some curries that looked quite interesting, and i would have liked to try their pad thai as well).  i got the soft shell crab dish over drunken noodles for ~$25. the entree was appetizer sized.  it was one soft shell crab, fried, done up with some herbs and placed over a small handful of flat rice noodles. i think i might have been better off ordering the $15 soft shell crab appetizer instead.  the dish itself was rather tasty, but soft shell crab is one of those ingredients that is difficult to mess up. i dunno, i expected to get more bang for my buck, i suppose.

hubs orders a pork pad krapow — as he does in virtually every thai restaurant we venture into.  the pork slices were a bit tough and there wasn’t nearly enough basil herby goodness.  at $17, i thought it was also a bit over-priced.

i had really high hopes for lotus of siam.  some of which were met (their flavors are spot on), and some of elements i hope they’ll continue to tweak.  who knows, maybe hubs and i just managed to order the wrong items. for now, i think i’ll hop on over to queens to get my thai fix at either srip, chao thai, or ayada…at the very least, i know that if spend $50/person there, i’ll be stuffed silly

Lotus of Siam
24 Fifth Avenue at Ninth Street
Tel: (212) 529-1700
Mon – Thu: 5p- 10:30p
Fri – Sat: 5p – 11p


oatmeal sesame apricot cookie

why hello, leaning tower of cookies!

the list of things i keep saying i’ll eventually get around to doing, like finding the perfect oatmeal cookie recipe,  keeps getting longer and longer.  i finally remembered said item on list, located massive oatmeal stash in kitchen and went to work.  the recipe isn’t quite perfect yet, but i thought it turned out a pretty darn good oatmeal cookie.  it’s more chewy than my prior version,  has got a lot more oatmeal heartiness in it as well, and i’m quite in love with the sesame  laden crunch. i haven’t made up my mind about the apricots yet.  it’s cumbersome to chop them up into little pieces.  maybe currants would work better next time.

i’m jotting down what i did here quickly.  the memory is like a gnat these days.

Oatmeal Sesame and Apricot Cookie
(makes about 24 1.5-2 inch round cookies)

Flour 1.5 cups
Baking Soda 1 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Sugar 1/4 cup
Light Brown Sugar 1 cup
Butter 2 sticks (@ room temp)
Eggs 3  large ones
Vanilla 1 tsp
Sesame 1/2 cup
Oatmeal 2 1/4 cups; i use the quaker’s quick cooking oats
Dried Apricots 1 cup, cut into small chunks
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Cream butter and sugars in the bowl of your standmixer until light and fluffy.
  3. Add in eggs, one at a time.  Beat until well combined.
  4. Add in vanilla.
  5. Turn mixer down to lowest speed and add in flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Mix until a dough just begins to form.
  6. Add in oatmeal, sesame and apricots.  Mix for 30 seconds on lowest speed OR gently fold in with a rubber spatula.
  7. Using an ice cream scooper with a lever, drop the cookies onto the lined baking sheets.
  8. Bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes.  Then, remove from oven and cool on a rack. [They will be a light golden brown, a bit pale]

ispahan yogurt cake

i’m a big fan of mixing berries into yogurt cakes, and the other day, i started wondering about why i haven’t seen lychees incorporated into the batter of baked cakes?  that same day, k got back from toulouse with reports of having spotted ispahan flavored tea in the carrefour…and eureka! i decided to make an ispahan yogurt cake.

before starting, i took a look at pierre herme’s website and located his ispahan cake. the description mentions only  raspberry and rose flavors, no lychee — i wonder why?   if you click on his cake photo, a cross section pops up showing six studs of what appear to be raspberry or rose gelee inside, rather than the fruit directly.  dorie greenspan gives a recipe for pierre herme’s ispahan loaf cake in her latest book, around my french table; though her version uses fresh raspberries rather than the gelee.  i must get my hands on a loaf the next time i’m in paris to figure out what’s going on inside.

at any rate, i decided to make my version with lychees and all.  i thought it came out well for an initial trial experiment — fragrant, exotic.   i’m thinking next time, i might do a version in which the cake is raspberry flavored with rose gelee baked inside instead.

and yes, lychees can be incorporated into cake batter.  they bake quite well, remaining rather plump and moist when protected inside layers of cake.

Ispahan Yogurt Cake v. 1.0
(makes 1 nine inch loaf cake)

Dry Ingredients
Flour 270 g (2 cups)
Sugar 180 g (slightly less than 1 cup)
Baking powder 1 ½ tsp
Baking soda ½ tsp
Wet Ingredients
Eggs 2 large ones
Yogurt 250 ml (1 cup)
Canola Oil 80 ml (1/3 cup)
Rose Syrup 2 tbsp; PH recommends the Monin brand, which can be found online or at many coffee supply shops
Rose Essence 1/2 tsp; i purchased mine at Sur La Table
Fresh Raspberries 1/2 cup
Fresh or Canned Lychees 12-15 lychees (about half a can)
  1. Butter and flour a loaf pan.  Set aside.  Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Place all dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until evenly combined.
  3. Combine all wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
  4. With the mixer set at the lowest speed (you can mix by hand as well), slowly pour in all the wet ingredients.  Beat together until just combined. Do not overmix or else the cake will become chewy.
  5. Pour 1/3 of the batter into cake pan, layer raspberries and lychees into the batter, keeping them away from the edges.  Pour 1/3 of batter above the fruit, and lay down another layer of fruit into the batter.  Finally pour the remaining batter on top to cover all the fruit.
  6. Bake at 350º F for about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  7. Let cool for 10 – 20 minutes before taking the cake out of the pan (you’ll get a fantastic whiff of rose scent when the cake pops out of the pan!)

peking duck in beijing: part 2

[so somehow you endured my rampage on peking duck in beijing and want to read more on said topic, eh (said with canadian accent)?]

we arrived in beijing on an early morning flight, and soon after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, packed ourselves into a taxi hurtling towards east 40th road bridge location of dadong roast duck restaurant.  the restaurant itself was rather curiously ensconced within the newly restored imperial granary.  there was, what appeared to be, a small museum to the side of the restaurant about the granary during the qing era.

a phalanx of valets, maitr’ds and greeters filled the entrance of the restaurant.  once inside the vestibule, we observed a small army of chefs loading, turning and removing perfectly golden peking ducks from the blazing hot brick oven.  the decor of the dining area took me by surprise.  i guess, the last time i went to dadong (albeit different location), i sat at a traditionally decorated chinese restaurant — clean with carved wooden chinese chairs and yellow table cloth.  this newest iteration of dadong featured black and silver as the primary colors. the table cloths were replaced by surfaces done up with a glossy, mirror like finish.  the dragon and chinese symbols remained but more muted than before.   same restaurant, same duck but re-packaged in shiny new garb befitting “nouveau china” and its nouveau riche clientele.

our waitress handed us a massive tome of a menu, weighing close to 5 lbs.  after flipping thru 30-40 pages, we settled on the duck, stir fried  baby snow peas shoots, gong bao shrimp and a small bowl of fried rice.  the menu contained tons of opulent dishes that we didn’t order: abalone, sea cucumbers, crab, etc.  i quite enjoyed the shrimp. the snow peas were well done, though nothing special.  surprisingly, the fried rice came about 30 minutes late and was nothing short of terrible.  fortunately, the duck made up for that mis-step.

the waitress placed the (optional; ~15rmb per person, i think) condiment platter for the duck on our tables.  it contained sugar, pickled vegetables, scallions, cucumbers, hoisin sauce, radishes and fresh ground garlic. we stared at it for about 5 minutes until the master duck chef appeared table-side to carve our duck into perfectly thin, super crisp slices, and then arrange them into a floral pattern on a platter. i wonder how many years of training it takes to become a duck carver?

we had only ordered half a duck, but were unable to finish — no doubt because hubs fell in love with the accompanying pancakes.  he started to eat the pancakes sans duck.  we went through two baskets of pancakes because of his affinity for them.  to this day, if you ask him what dish he enjoyed most in china, he’ll say the peking duck at dadong but really for the pancakes.  me, i liked the duck.  i found the duck flesh tender and the skin amazing light, airy and crispy.  i think we have a good system worked out.  one order of duck.  duck for me; pancakes for him . . .

dadong also serves the duck with shao bing (烧饼; it’s kind of like a flakey and puffy bread dotted with sesame seeds) and a duck broth soup — not pictured.  our bill came to around RMB400-500 for two people, an amount that is a bit exorbitant by local standards but reasonable for the quality of the meal.

the next night we headed over to peking duck, private kitchen (“PDPK”), a new duck restaurant that hadn’t been around the last time i stayed in the capital. PDPK is located in the ground floor of an office complex in the business district. it is much less opulent and over the top compared to da dong.  the restaurant’s chinese name (果果私房烤鸭) refers to the fruit wood used to roast the duck.  and indeed, upon stepping inside the restaurant the heady scent of burning fruit wood swept over us.

the interior of the restaurant is quite dark. it seemed as if each table was barely illuminated by the light from candles warming plates of duck placed on top.  the tables and benches are quite low to the ground, as if to replicate the sensation of being seated on a manchurian kang.

the chef at PDPK has a different style of serving peking duck compared to dadong.  once we placed our order (whole duck only), a small plate containing sugar and thin slices of duck neck skin appeared.  while the duck fat had been drained, the skin tasted much smokier and less airy compared with  dadong — then again duck neck skin does tend to be tougher than skin from the rest of the duck.

our waitress set the main platter of roast duck on top of a candle to keep it warm.  while artfully presented, the chef carved the duck in a manner that featured the duck flesh rather than the duck skin.  the skin had been sliced into thin slivers attached to duck flesh that really didn’t allow me to fully experience the joy of eating crisp duck skin by itself.

like at dadong, we were also served duck broth soup and pancakes.  hubs commented that the pancakes at dadong were thinner and less chewy compared with PDPK.  he liked dadong’s more, but he gobbled up a whole bunch of those wrappers nonetheless.

PDPK is good value for money, and at 99 rmb per duck, it’s the most affordable duck on my list (there are some local places that serve peking duck for 50-70 rmb).  i’d say that their duck on any given day is better than your average duck in beijing, and especially better than peking duck in nyc.

that said, da dong, for now,  still remains tops for peking duck in my book. . .

Da Dong: (大董烤鸭店–东四十条)
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Beijing, China
Open daily 11am-10pm
Tel: 86-10-5169-0328
**there are several other locations in Beijing

Peking Duck, Private Kitchen: (果果私房烤鸭)
Vantone Center, 6A Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
朝阳区朝阳门外大街 6A号万通中心
Open daily 11am-2pm, 5pm-9.30pm
Tel: 86-10-5907 1920

peking duck in beijing: part 1

i promised hubby that we would gorge ourselves on some of the best peking duck on the planet during out trip to china. we would only be in beijing for a day and a half, which would allow us to have two peking duck meals.  i suppose i could have squeezed in a third, but our cholesterol levels at that point might easily have shot into territories even beyond lipitor’s rescue.  a few weeks before i left for the trip to in late august, i started researching the best places to eat peking duck in the capital.  i began by looking for the  “top 10 / best of” lists, and surprisingly,  many of the lists i came across had not been updated in 5 years. given the amount of change that has been taking place in china, i would have expected the top ranks of duck houses to at least include a few new names.

after some digging, i compiled a short list of my own (see below), and decided to pick one old standby, Da Dong,  and one new place, Peking Duck, Private Kitchen to try.

tomato in tribeca’s short list of top peking duck houses (August 2010) — in no particular order and not by any means completely exhaustive:
(* indicates where we actually ended up going)

  1. Quan Ju De: (全聚德) this one has been around forever and was the first duck house i ate at in china about 15 years ago when i believe it was still a state-run affair.  nowadays it’s got franchises galore throughout china, hk and australia. the restaurant is frequently mentioned as being the place for eating duck, though i personally think that their standing has more to do with their storied 130+ year history.  since trying the restaurant 15 years ago, i have never gone back — we were served a duck with 1 inch of duck fat still intact. blubbery and totally inedible. interestingly my beijing friends from back then told me that the fatter duck was considered to be more of a delicacy.  i have to think that in the 15 years since my visit, they’ve managed to roast a leaner duck in accords with modern tastes.  perhaps it’s worth another look.
    Peking Duck: ~220 RMB; although prices vary by location (they used to have a foreign tourist section where prices were much higher than for locals, not sure if they still do).
  2. Made in China: (长安壹号) the restaurant is located inside the grand hyatt hotel in beijing.  it was the hottest peking duck house in town 5 years ago, and the duck, pricey by local standards, was extremely flavorful and tender. i thought about booking there, but got swayed by my old standby, Da Dong, instead.
    Peking Duck: ~250 RMB.
  3. Duck de Chine – 1949: (全鸭季) Y called up her friend in beijing to inquire about the best place for peking duck.  her friend mentioned this place.  apparently the duck is similar to da dong in taste but the place has got a nouveau modern china ambiance.  it’s inside a converted factory space and has an art gallery out front.  will have to try the next time i’m in beijing.
    Update:  Y just wrote me.  Apparently, she just ate dinner there and  thinks Da Dong is still better … that said, she thought their sauce was quite interesting–it had a yin-yang swirl effect…
    Peking Duck: ~188 RMB.
  4. Li Qun Roast Duck: (利群烤鸭店) my friend S dragged me to this place 5 years ago.  you have to go down some dirty alleys before finding this place inside a converted hutong (old style home). S had gone there before and swore that they served the best duck because they used some sort of special fruit type wood to roast their ducks.  i thought the duck was really nothing special, but what really got me was how dirty the place was.  i didn’t get sick or anything but felt rather uncomfortable the whole time there.  not sure if they’ve managed to remodel in the last 5 years. while it’s not the most expensive duck in the city, they’ve jacked up their prices in the last 5 years — no doubt because they were featured in all these tourist books (used to be under 100 RMB per duck, i believe).   sounds like they’ve managed to evolve into a total tourist trap to me.
    Peking Duck: ~190 RMB.
  5. *Da Dong: (大董烤鸭店) i fell in love with this restaurant 5 years ago, and i still love it today. if anything, they’ve managed to get better  with age.  they’ve got several branches around the city.  we went to their newest and ritziest location inside the old imperial granary.  they were never the cheapest duck house in town, and their prices  (especially for other menu items) have increased in the last 5 years. however, i think the quality is worth it.
    Peking Duck: ~200 RMB
  6. *Peking Duck, Private Kitchen: (果果私房烤鸭) great value for money. the duck is similar in flavor to Li Qun, but the place is a lot cleaner, more modern, and the duck a lot cheaper.  prices for other dishes were quite reasonable.  they are not super fancy like Da Dong but they get the job done.
    Peking Duck: 99 RMB

Reviews on Da Dong and Peking Duck, Private Kitchen forthcoming