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My Tuesday Project: Oakland Chinatown Duck Noodle Soup Roundup

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Sometimes I’m too tired to think about what I want for lunch (that’s how I ended up eating over a hundred banh mi in my first year at my current job), so I started this little project to give me direction on Tuesdays. Why Tuesdays? Because Mondays are for pho bo kho (#26 at Pho Hoa Lao), of course.

The original plan was to have duck noodle soup at every place in Chinatown with ducks hanging in the windows. Turns out not every place does it – but most do.

I was actually a little surprised at the amount of variation between bowls, especially with broths (ranging from canned-tasting chicken broth to a stock that tasted exactly like one I’d made at home using roast duck carcasses) and vegetables (no two bowls came with the same vegetable). Some places had only rice noodles, but most either came with a default skinny wheat noodle, or were willing to substitute them for rice noodles (I have a strong preference for wheat noodles with roast duck).

Soup noodles can be inconsistent – a friend of mine was surprised that I liked Ying Kee so much, as he’d had mostly disappointingly flabby-skinned duck there – although I noticed halfway through the Project that he prizes crisp skin and lack of subcutaneous fat, while I don’t mind a bit of fat, but prize tenderness and flavor of meat. The highly regarded New Gold Medal lost points with me for having tough duck, but I only tried one bowl there and it’s very possible that it was an off day.

Gum Wah was the winner - good duck (tender, came off the bone easily, no subcutaneous fat), skinny wheat noodles (excellent springy texture), flavorful broth (tasted like it came from roasted duck carcasses), with a stalk or two of perfectly cooked gai lan.

Ying Kee came in a surprising second (I’d once ordered a roast duck for take out and found it excessively salty) - good duck (tender, came off the bone easily, some subcutaneous fat but skin was non-flabby), slightly soft noodles, rich broth (I thought it was a combo of chicken and duck), bok choy
Note: The noodles and bok choy were a la carte ($1.90 and $.95 respectively), bringing the total cost to over $7 – I wasn’t keeping track, but I think this was the most expensive bowl. However, the portion was one of the largest.

Gum Kuo – wildly inconsistent, even within a single bowl. The first piece of duck I had was the best piece I’ve had out of any bowl to date. Then I had one that was way too salty. Then one that wasn’t salty enough. Then one that was all fat. They were consistently tender, at least. Noodles were good, no veg, fairly rich chicken (and maybe some duck) broth.

New Gold Medal: flavorful but tough duck (some subcutaneous fat), skinny wheat noodles (excellent springy texture), chicken broth, romaine lettuce

Note: I really liked a home-style dish of scrambled egg with bitter melon on rice ordered by one of my friends at New Gold Medal. The squash was barely bitter, super silky, really delicious.

Café 88: strong star anise flavor in the duck, slightly tough meat, no subcutaneous fat. The standard noodle is lai fun (rice noodles the thickness of skinny spaghetti) – on my second trip, I asked for wheat noodles and was given a fairly skimpy portion. They were also a little overcooked. Excellent duck broth, no vegetables. This is the only place that serves the duck on a separate plate from the broth and noodles.

Best Taste – tough duck (with some subcut fat), slightly soft rice noodles, canned tasting chicken broth, cabbage. The least inspiring of the bunch.

Big Dish and Sun Hing both have ducks hanging in the windows but do not offer a noodle soup option.

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New Gold Medal
389 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

Gum Kuo Restaurant
388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

Best Taste Restaurant
814 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

Ming Yuen Island Cafe
388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

Gum Wah
345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

Ying Kee Noodle House
387 9th Street, Oakland, CA

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  1. Wow, nice writeup. I think I've only had duck noodle soup at Gum Wah, maybe once at Gum Kuo. Nice to know Gum Wah is one of the best. It's a literal hole in the wall, but I think I like that about the place. I like the pan fried noodles there as well.

    1. Have you tired Viet Huong (spelling?) on Franklin between 7th and 8th? I've not been there for a while, but in my memory its duck noodle soup was superlative.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Michael Rodriguez

        Vien Huong

        -----
        Vien Huong
        712 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

        1. re: Michael Rodriguez

          Ooh! No, I have not. I thought I'd covered every place in Chinatown, but I never go on that block. Thanks - it will go on my list.

          1. re: daveena

            Well, if you're focused on "hanging" roast ducks exclusively, VH is out of the running. I believe its duck specialty is Teochew style poached in master sauce. But still a worthy lunch!

            -----
            Vien Huong
            712 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

        2. Thanks for the report! Too hot right now for duck noodles, but great tips for the fall/winter.

          1. Great write-up, thanks!

            1. Nice writeup is right! Do you know if Peony does duck soup as a followup to their Peiking (sp?) duck? I've had soup this way only once at Hunan Restaurant on ECR in Los Altos. After we ordered Peiking duck, they offered soup made from the carcass for an additional $5. Much as I love peiking duck, I liked the soup even more.

              12 Replies
              1. re: samse

                I haven't had Peking Duck at Peony - is it good there?

                I'm trying to remember where else I've had the duck followed by the soup, and I can't remember - it might not have been in the Bay Area. Does anyone know if Great China in Berkeley does it?

                1. re: daveena

                  I had the Peking Duck including soup at King Tsin on Solano a million years ago. Okay, not a million, but close to 30, which is approximately a million in restaurant years.

                  About those wheat noodles... are those the crinkly yellow ones? Because I don't like those, at least, not in soup. I prefer wider noodles, or if thin, then rice noodles.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    They are crinkly, and very skinny. Most are beige - I don't think they have egg - cooked correctly, they have a nice, elastic snap. Maybe "wiry" would be the best descriptor. I've never seen this kind of noodle in a stir-fry - I've only seen them in noodle soups.

                    I like some soups with rice noodles, and some with wheat - for some reason, I strongly prefer wheat in roast duck soups. I think maybe because even the tenderest duck has a bit of a chew, and the ideal duck has a bit of crispness to the skin, so I like the noodle to have some snap to match it texturally. I like rice noodles with softer, stewed toppings. Luckily for you, almost everyone also offers the soup with lai fen (skinny rice noodles).

                  2. re: daveena

                    Great China does a mean steamed whole fish, then wisks away the bones and clinging fish bits and brings back a steaming tureen of flavorful soup.

                    1. re: daveena

                      There's a place in El Cerrito on San Pablo--Little Hong Kong. They serve Peking duck the traditional way, in three courses--skin, meat, then soup. The soup is just wonderful, though it's not duck noodle soup.

                      1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                        How is the duck? I am hesitant to go there because of the people I know who go there regularly.

                        1. re: wally

                          The duck is very good. It lacks the fruitwood flavor of Peking duck prepared in Beijing, but that aside it is very flavorful. The people I know who go there regularly are Shanghainese, not Beijingers. But they know good food.

                          1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                            The people I know who go there are definitely not Chinese at all and are almost anti-chowhounds. Thank you for this.

                      2. re: daveena

                        I've been taken to Peony by my Chinese friends only a few times. I love the way they carved the duck skin at the table with so little meat - as opposed to other places that included more of the meat. The ratio of skin to meat along with the thickness/thinness of the bun really makes a difference to me. They served the meat as a next course with "crepes" and plum sauce. I just wish I had known enough at the time to ask about the soup

                        My Chinese friends in the restaurant biz highly recommend the Peking duck at Great Wall. Sorry, I haven't been able to get there yet and cannot tell you if they serve duck soup there.

                        1. re: samse

                          You mean the Peking Duck at Great CHINA, not Great Wall.
                          Great China is at Kittredge in Berkeley.
                          Great Wall is on College in Oakland (at the Berkeley border) and is semi-vegetarian.

                          1. re: Joel

                            Thanks. I'm always getting those two names mixed up.

                          2. re: samse

                            Links:

                            -----
                            Great China Restaurant
                            2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                            Great Wall
                            6247 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                      3. Thanks for the legwork! I had no clue, actually, that there were places that only gave you one noodle or another; I've always been used to straight out requesting mein or fun.

                        I'm not surprised that Gum Wah came out #1 but I'm a tad disappointed. I was hoping you would have uncovered an alternative for me! ;-)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PegS

                          Yeah, I was hoping for an undiscovered gem, too. Oh well.

                          On the plus side, looks like there are all sorts of duck noodle soups I didn't know existed... I suppose I should start a Part II, for all the duck noodle soups in restaurants *without* hanging ducks.

                          Oh, looks like I made the same mistake on this thread as on the other - it should be Yung Kee, not Ying Kee.

                          -----
                          Yung Kee Restaurant
                          888 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

                        2. Great report Daveena, and with the weather cooling a bit, it'll be good to get some duck noodle soup for a quick lunch. Have you tried that new place on 13th I think? Between Webster and Franklin. Think it's call Chef Jim or something. Anyway, no duck noodle just braised beef. But I loved the wheat noodles because they were super thin like angel hair. I'll go back again and probably blog about it soon.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: singleguychef

                            What's the spicing on the beef like? I'll add it to the lunchtime noodle soup rotation...

                            1. re: daveena

                              It had a pretty distinct five-spice flavor to the beef, or at least anise. Not bad, but really loved the super thin noodles. Only wished they gave more of it, it was just a handful. I forgot to mention that I had asked for the beef to be added to it. On the menu they just list won ton noodle soup, so when I first asked for duck and they didn't have it, they recommended the braised beef (or is it braised brisket?).

                          2. Just thought I should add that singleguychef, who contributed to this thread, earlier this year published a blog post reviewing various duck won ton noodle soups in Oakland Chinatown, and he included some appetizing pictures, labeled with aid of image editing software (although he misspells Yung Kee as Yun Kee):

                            http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/201...

                            21 Replies
                            1. re: tpc

                              Hmm... maybe it's time for me to give Cafe 88's version another shot. Thanks for the link!

                              1. re: tpc

                                TPC, thanks for linking to my own duck won ton taste off. I didn't even realize I made that typo in my photo for Yung Kee. BTW, since I did the taste off, the venerable Gum Kuo totally renovated and looks really modern now. I have to go back and see if that's changed their won ton mein!

                                -----
                                Gum Kuo Restaurant
                                388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                1. re: singleguychef

                                  I love duck wonton noodle soup. It seems that daveena prefers the duck wonton noodle soup at Gum Wah, but you seem to prefer Gum Kuo's version. So which one should I go to?

                                  I'm leaning slightly towards daveena's rec only because she's familiar with some Lao noodle soups so her Chinese noodle soup recs should be compatible with my palate.

                                  To anyone else on here, Gum Wah or Gum Kuo for duck wonton noodle soup?

                                  -----
                                  Gum Kuo Restaurant
                                  388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                  Gum Wah
                                  345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                  1. re: yummyrice

                                    Don't forget, singleguychef takes wonton quality into his ratings, while I was ordering plain duck noodle soup - if I remember correctly, sgc's ratings for all the non-wonton components of Gum Wah's were pretty good, but they had mediocre wontons.

                                    -----
                                    Gum Wah
                                    345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                    1. re: daveena

                                      That's a good point. I guess I'll just have to try both places and offer my own reviews, too. =)

                                      1. re: daveena

                                        Daveena, thank you for introducing me to Gum Wah's duck noodle soup. It was absolutely delicious. The duck, the broth, and the noodles were all great. It was a very tasty soup. The broth wasn't bland at all and the duck was oh so yummy and full of flavor!

                                        -----
                                        Gum Wah
                                        345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                      2. re: yummyrice

                                        Yeah, the wontons at Gum Wah are nothing special, but the broth and the noodles are spot-on, to my taste. And the duck itself is excellent.

                                        Meanwhile, I tried New Gold Medal's duck wonton noodle soup recently and thought the wontons were great, but the broth was extremely one-note (really, it tasted like it could have come out of a can) and the duck was just so-so.

                                        I haven't tried Gum Kuo yet.

                                        -----
                                        New Gold Medal
                                        389 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                        Gum Wah
                                        345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                        1. re: yummyrice

                                          Yes, Daveena's right. I had the duck won ton noodles and both places, and the won ton at Gum Wah brought them down although I liked their duck better than Gum Kuo. But also, overall I liked Cafe 88. Have you tried them? Gum Wah is definitely cheaper, but I also get a bit nervous about the setting in terms of cleanliness, while Gum Kuo recently renovated and Cafe 88 is definitely like a Hong Kong cafe.

                                          -----
                                          Gum Kuo Restaurant
                                          388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                          Gum Wah
                                          345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                          1. re: singleguychef

                                            I have to add that eating won ton noodles in Hong Kong recently has spoiled me wanting to eat won ton noodles here. I just know it can't compare and haven't been able to go get a bowl in the Bay Area since my trip in April. I just don't want to spoil my HK memory! ;-)

                                            1. re: singleguychef

                                              Please report back when you do find one that comes in even somewhat close to HK (East Bay preferably). I used to eat Gum Wah won ton noodles when I was a kid. Last couple of times in was in Oak Chinatown, had it at Gum Kuo w/ the chinese donut rice crepe roll.

                                              -----
                                              Gum Kuo Restaurant
                                              388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                              Gum Wah
                                              345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                              1. re: kc72

                                                Gum Wah has Chinese doughnuts too. Personally, I don't care for their wonton as they have too much shrimp for my taste. I do like their duck and don't even try anywhere else in Otown Ctown.

                                                -----
                                                Gum Wah
                                                345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                  Yeah, I've noticed them sitting there, I've only seen the donut rice crepe roll at Gum Kuo and Gold Medal. I'd suspect Cafe 88 might also. Still looking for the best takeout chinese doughnut for the times I want to pick up jook or make it at home. I heard the ones at the place (Sum Yee) next to Cam Huong were good but haven't tried them yet.

                                                  -----
                                                  Cam Huong Cafe
                                                  920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                                  Gum Kuo Restaurant
                                                  388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                    I've also bought pretty decent zhongzi (a.k.a. Chinese tamales) from Gum Wah in the past.

                                                    The only thing I don't like about that place is whenever I have the guy chop me some BBQ meat (to buy by the pound), he always ends up cutting me more than I wanted to buy. Tough to complain when the prices are so reasonable, though!

                                                    -----
                                                    Gum Wah
                                                    345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                                    1. re: abstractpoet

                                                      Yes, there jung is quite good. Not as good as in the past when they had saltier, mealier hom don, but you can't beat all the pork and pork fat and I kind of like the peanuts in there too.

                                                      I have that same problem with getting more meat than I ask for, but they are usually so accomodating that I just take it all. That seems to happen a lot with the roast pork, but it freezes well and will defrost in your boiliing noodle broth.

                                                      I almost always make a stop there on my way home from the Alameda Point Antique Faire and have had very good luck going in when they are just slicing up a new pig. The roast pork, spareribs and the steamed chicken with ginger sauce all shine. Haven't worked up the nerve to sample the dayglo cuttlefish yet.

                                                    2. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                      Too MUCH shrimp?!?

                                                      1. re: sydthekyd

                                                        That's almost as funny as this comment.
                                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/alaina/7...

                                                        1. re: wolfe

                                                          For me there can be too much shrimp and too much foie gras, but never enough too much chocolate, bacon, or butter.

                                                          You're right though, their wonton is almost completely shrimp.

                                                        2. re: sydthekyd

                                                          I prefer wonton with lots of ground pork. I don't care much for their shrimp. Give me pork and water chestnuts.

                                                          Did you ever get that email I sent to an old address of yours I found regarding the deleted post? I had beef in an excellent chili gravy today.

                                                          1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                            Yes, I did get your email, thank you very much. BTW, have you heard anything about Remy's, the new Mexican place that took over from Mario's La Fiesta? Should try it soon, we think.

                                                            -----
                                                            La Fiesta Restaurant
                                                            240 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

                                                            1. re: sydthekyd

                                                              I walked by Wednesday on my way to Rasputin's. They seem to be remodeling.

                                                              Anyway, since mi amiga is across the street from my office, on days when the bill of faire appeals, I get no further on my lunchtime quest. Have already turned on a local restauranteuse. She was getting her car serviced.

                                                          2. re: sydthekyd

                                                            Yes, the way won ton should be made (in the opinion of classical Cantonese mind not that I agree) is equal parts of fresh shrimp, lean pork and fatty pork. Each part giving the final product the proper taste, texture and sweetness (of the shrimp and pork). If I remember correctly all shrimp wonton is Shanghai style wonton.

                                                            Actually I saw a Hong Kong TVB program stating that if pork fat is cut and used properly it can replace the shrimp. I am not sure if I agree but it was so stated.