Monday, February 20, 2012

Peking Duck Showdown: Chinatown Brasserie vs. Peking Duck House Midtown (food)

Been very busy lately and haven't updated in a while. Hopefully I'll be able to post at a faster pace soon, as there have been quite a few blog-worthy meals. In the meantime, here's a post featuring two restaurants to help me catch up.

Peking duck is an easy dish to love. Crisp skin, rendered fat, tender (for well-done) meat. While the versions here in NYC won't rank with the best in the world, I recently had dinners featuring two of the better versions in the city and thoroughly enjoyed both.

Peking Duck House has two locations. One in Chinatown and one in Midtown in the 50s on the East side. As can be expected, the prices vary between the two outposts, and they're upfront about it on their website. For this meal, we went to the one in Midtown, and I was pleasantly surprised with the food. Considering the abundance of extremely overpriced, ghastly Americanized Chinese restaurants such as Mr. Chow, Mr. K's, Philippe Chow, etc. it was nice to find a place with pretty good food at a comparable level of comfort, decor, and service.

We started with chopped chicken and pine nut lettuce wraps. This was okay and served its purpose. The predominant flavor was that of soy, which is fine in small enough doses.

Next came our whole duck, carved tableside. The skin was nice and crisp, but not the best I've had. What I did like though, was that the carver pulled the meat at the end of each slice, allowing only tender meat to come onto the plate.

The plate of skin and meat. There was still a good amount of meat on the carcass and I don't know what they did with it. The order of Peking duck does not come with any other preparations or duck soup.

The thing I really liked was the expertly-trained server who made perfect wraps for us in a quick and efficient manner. This is a skill that this "old hand" had clearly perfected, much like a server deboning a dover sole tableside at a French restaurant. As mentioned above, the skin was crispy and the meat was tender. There wasn't too much sauce and every wrap was satisfying. The plate of duck resulted in 9 wraps.

Moving on to the entrees, we had a pretty good version of chicken with cashews. The peppers were perfect to give the dish a nice balance.

The Grand Marnier prawns were nice and big, although they seemed especially big due to the specific butterflied shape that they fried them in. The sauce was, very importantly, not too sweet.

One of my favorite things to eat at Chinese restaurants growing up in NYC was pan fried whole flounder. This was a very good version, with a light yet crisp fried exterior giving way to delicate soft flesh.

Overall it was a satisfying meal and a pleasant surprise for the neighborhood. The prices are high, but that is to be expected. At least the food was way better than those even fancier Chinese restaurants that are all over Manhattan.

While I've eaten at Chinatown Brasserie before and enjoyed their dim sum very much, I hadn't tried their Peking Duck before this visit. There were 5 of us and we used Savored to get 30% off the meal including alcohol, which made it a great deal.

We ordered a bunch of dim sum in addition to the duck, and while the normal serving is 4 pieces per order, they were nice enough to let us make it 5 pieces per order.

Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Dumplings

Look at the delicate pockets formed using the dumpling wrapper. This had great texture.

Turnip Cake with XO Sauce
They do a really great version of this, frying both sides to a perfect brown crisp. The XO sauce was flavorful without being greasy, which is a bonus.

Shanghai Soup Dumplings
These were a pretty good version, though the ones I had at Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong were still vastly superior in my opinion.

Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings
Aren't they cute with their little eyes? It's like eating the head off a gummy bear.

Watercress Shrimp and Pork Dumplings

Here was our Peking Duck. The skin was very crisp and it was nice that they served the legs with it.

Spicy Duck and Flowering Chive Wontons
Because you just can't get enough duck, as you will see from the food posts to come after this one.

Curry Black Bass and Avocado Tarts
This was one of the bigger hits of the night. A great and far from traditional combination of flavors and textures, with crisp tart, creamy avocado, and flaky flesh of the fish.

Asparagus and Shrimp in Applewood Bacon

Scallion-Bacon Pancakes with Spicy Hoisin
Because you can also never get enough bacon.

Shrimp, Chinese Chive, and Corn Dumplings
I love Chinese chives, but their pungent flavor is definitely an acquired taste.

Chicken and Shrimp Lollipops

In addition to the duck and dim sum, we each had a $13 cocktail. After the Savored discount, the bill came to $50 each all in. A terrific deal for some very high quality food.

So who wins the showdown between two of NYC's better Peking Duck preparations? The lacquer and crispiness of the skin was superior at Chinatown Brasserie, but I preferred the meat in the Peking Duck House version. But since the skin really plays such a big role in Peking Duck, the vote goes to Chinatown Brasserie. But I still thought Peking Duck House served great food given the neighborhood white tablecloth vibe.


mikes said...

Pete Wells recently said he felt the dim sum at CB had done downhill in terms of quality. How do you feel on this subject?

The Pretender said...

Pete Wells wasn't very specific about what he felt went downhill at CB. There was only one throwaway line about "a second-generation copy of what it used to be".

I personally only go for dim sum and now the duck. Some of the stuff that Pete Wells enjoyed at Red Farm, like the steak, I would just never order. The origin of his palate is also different from mine, as I'm actually Chinese.

If indeed Joe Ng had been hand making most of the dim sum at CB and is no longer doing so, one would expect a decline in quality. I do not know if that is the case, and we did not find anything noticeable of this nature among the dim sum we had there.