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Beijing dining notes - Quanjude

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From my husband's emails home...

Dinner at QianMen QuanJuDe (the one off of Tiananmen square at 32 Qianmen Dajie, not the others. Our Beijing friends called the other branches "the fakes"). Green tea and indifferent Chinese lager. Snow peas in a light clear sauce (duck stock and cornstarch?) - good. Small 3mm square) cubes of duck liver and pine nuts in a cabbage leaf bowl - fantastic presentation, and quite tasty. Y ordered this only for Meg and I - he and JY are not so fond of liver (but are quite amused at the range of things Meg and I will eat). Pork with cilantro - indifferent, and delivered by mistake; we ordered pork with "fish flavoring" -
which was OK, a bit salty. Sweet and sour duck with pineapple, which pretty much sucked - just like you would get in the states. Unknown to us, Y apparently got talked into it by the waiter (I have pretty much stopped listening to waiters in China for exactly this reason), who told him most foreigners dig it. Duck soup - a turbid white broth with cucumber slices floating in it - pleasant and slightly flavorful, but I can think of many more interesting things to do with a duck carcass. Reminiscent of the liquid used to braise the vegetables I raved about a few dinners back - I need to figure out how that was done...

And the piece de resistance: the duck! I _love_ duck... I am _crazy_ for duck. When there is duck on the menu, even though I am often disappointed at the quality of preparation, I frequently can not resist it. I have eaten a lot of duck. The duck I had tonight was unquestionably the best duck I have ever had! After tonight, I will swear off of duck forever - it could never be as good again. Crispy skin bursting with flavor, not at all greasy, a small amount tasty meat... fantastic!

I quite enjoyed the duck on its own, but - if you can believe this - it is even better with the traditional accompaniments. Actually, that should be pretty easy to believe: that is why they are the traditional accompaniments! It is served with plum and or hoisin sauce, 1.5" sections of scallion quartered along the long axis to produce little paper matches, and thin "pancakes". The pancakes are more like a thin tortilla, somewhat chewy. Take some scallion, dip it in the plum sauce, and paint the tortilla (maybe repeat a couple of times). Add a bit more scallion and some bits of duck, and roll up a little duck burrito. Prepare to have
your socks knocked off!

They left the duck head in two symmetrical pieces, bill ripped off, on a separate plate. Being me, I had to give it a try... Neither Y nor JY knew how to best eat it, and to this day, neither do I! I can tell you for sure that the skull bones are not tender enough to succumb pleasantly to mastication. The brain is quite tasty and tender, really the best part. Eye, flesh around the eye socket and a bit of nose are pretty good. There was some tongue I think that was good. Some skin can be
peeled off, and there are some other random bits of flesh, and that is pretty much it. Makes me not quite so sad I didn't get the cold goose head last night... I'd give it another try (I'd like to know how it is ideally done).

And lest I forget... The floor show was totally fun! A guy in a chef's hat and whites and a surgical mask rolls a cart out to the table with the duck on top. Head and beak are snapped off and set aside. A Japanese style cleaver (8" long, 2" wide, straight) is used to slice the skin and a bit of meat off breast, back, and legs in quick, practiced movements. Skin is plated up as it comes off (generally two plates per duck), and put on the table. Head is sliced in half, plated separately, and put on the table. Carcass is wheeled off. If you are local, you can take
the carcass home for residual meat and stock; otherwise you get the thin duck soup mentioned above and I expect subsidize the sweet and sour duck with your meat.

$84 for four people. I think next time I would skip the other meat dishes (not their strong suit) and order more interesting vegetable dishes, and focus on the duck.

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