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Opening Night: Peking Duck at the new Duck House (Lu Ding Ji) (Monterey Park) [Review] w/ Pics!

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(Formatted with All Pictures here:
http://exilekiss.blogspot.com/2008/09...)

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.

www.pearlcatering.com

 
 
 
 
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  1. Exile, How DO you find the time??

    Nice writeup. A 6.8 duck is better than no duck, so I will be trying it soon. The kitchen may still be "feeling its oats" right now...

    1 Reply
    1. re: J.L.

      Hi J.L.,

      Thanks. :) Yah, definitely the kitchen is just feeling things out right now. It just seems like if someone was going to open a restaurant, they'd take the time to do some "test runs" first (inviting friends and family of the restaurant to test the service and kitchen output). And they could've at least tapped the San Gabriel original location's chef for getting the duck preparation up to par.

      I hope the restaurant finds its legs soon and strives to surpass the original.

    2. Adding Chow Link:

      -----
      Duck House (Lu Ding Ji)
      501 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

      1. Thanks for the review. It does seem that they need to get some kinks worked out of the system. When you wrote that the skin is not crispy, is it because there is too much fat still present, or is there some other cause?

        1 Reply
        1. re: raytamsgv

          Hi raytamsgv,

          Thanks. I believe it's due to their cooking process more than anything (there wasn't too very much fat at all stuck on the skin (good thing)). It tasted really saturated with oil, and lacked the crispness and crispiness that should be with Peking Duck.

        2. That's really too bad.... we drove past yesterday and saw the smoke billowing out from a chimney, which immedately drew us in for a closer look. Elegant interior with piano music tinkling in the background. But we couldn't get any info as to whether they made beijing duck in the authentic way (with the special oven, the fruit wood, etc.) We had duck at the original 100+ year old Quanjude location in Beijing and it was leagues beyond anything here.... tableside carving, super crispy skin, meat sultry and deeply smokey. LDG is really just a shadow of this greatness.

          Mr Taster

          20 Replies
          1. re: Mr Taster

            Hi Mr Taster,

            It's definitely unfortunate right now, but we'll see what happens over time. Taste-wise, I didn't notice any hints of using a special fruit wood... nothing like Quan Ju De. (That's really cool that you got to eat at Quan Ju De's original Beijing location. :)

            1. re: exilekiss

              I'm so sad that I never made it to Quanjude when it was here in Rosemead... what a loss for all Chowhounds.

              In those days, I was still gaining my Chowhound chops-- I simply didn't even know to look for it. By the time I had worn in my Chowhound shoes well enough to even know the difference between roast duck and peking duck, Quanjude was gone.

              Here's some pics and vids from our time there in June, 2006

              http://www.travelpod.com/travelblogph...

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Hi Mr Taster,

                Excellent photos, thanks for sharing! :)

                Yah, even when I went to Quan Ju De here in L.A., I was also barely appreciating just how glorious the food was. I was only able to eat at Quan Ju De (L.A.) about 4 times before it closed. :( Here's to hoping a new one opens soon in L.A.

                1. re: exilekiss

                  FYI, we went to the original Lu Din Gee for Peking Duck tonight.... in fact this is the first time we've had it post-Beijing (we had it a couple of times prior to our travels). Thoroughly disappointing... dry, flavorless meat. Skin crispy but not enough so. I do love the spicy konnyaku salad, though.

                  By the way, if you know of any place in LA that sells this cabbage smothered with sinus blasting mustard that would put Philippes to shame, I'd love to know.... http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo...

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Thanks for the report on the original location in San Gabriel, Mr Taster. Very sad (I hadn't been there in about ~1+ years).

                    Do you remember what that mustard was called? I'll keep a lookout for it, or ask my Chinese Cuisine Hounds. :)

            2. re: Mr Taster

              Even more remarkable, the orig Beijing Quanjude seems to serve about a billion of China's 2 billion people every day. LDG is still the best game in town &, if you'll pardon the heresy, an overall better experience than the late Quanjude was.

              1. re: Mr Grub

                How in the world could Lu Din Gee be a better experience than the former Rosemead Quanjude? Are you talking in terms of service or ambiance? (Both of which e are incidental to me. I care only about the duck.) What was so wrong with Quanjude that it went under?

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  The Grubs' visits to Quanjude were wildly inconsistent in every way. Foodwise, the meat varied from succulent to jerky-like; the ever-so-important skin from crispy-crunchy-flavor-packed to flaccid & flavorless. Service, likewise, varied from attentive to MIA. While LDG's duck does seem to need more air to achieve the desired skin crispness, its flavor is consistently excellent, as is the service.

                  1. re: Mr Grub

                    Last night's duck was cold and dry, skin crispy but too fatty. Not a lick of smokey flavor in the meat. Utterly sub-par.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Grub

                      Hi Mr Grub,

                      Sorry to hear about your experience w/ the late QJD. In all my visits I guess I was lucky, but we never had an issue with the food. It was amazing Peking Duck! But we did have issue with the Service 2 of the 4 times (needing to get their attention, etc.).

                      The original San Gabriel Lu Ding Ji / LDG was decent, but it wasn't as good, IMHO. And I haven't been in over a year, but after Mr Taster's latest report yesterday, it sounds like it was either a bad batch of Duck, or they've gotten worse / lost their chef?

                      1. re: exilekiss

                        I wonder if this had anything to do with it.

                        We ordered the duck at 7:00pm, for an 8pm arrival.

                        We arrived at 7:55pm and ordered some extra dishes (spicy konnyaku salad, green onion pancake, stir fried A-vegetable)

                        All the other orders came out first, and we didn't receive the duck until about 8:20-8:25. When it arrived, the duck meat was room temperature, even slightly cool.

                        Should we have told them we were arriving at 8:30 instead, so the duck might have been fresher?

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          I have eaten there close to a dozen times, and they always serve the duck first, before the other dishes we ordered when we arrived.

                          The only difference I had with you was, I always ordered way ahead of my arrival. Sometimes, a week, a day, or half a day of my reservation.

                          My guess is somebody dropped the ball for not getting the duck to you in time, if all they need was an hour advanced notice. Was the restaurant busy ?

                          Hope you will enjoy it next time.

                          1. re: jotfoodie

                            The restaurant was pretty full, though not packed. Only the big 10-12 person lazy susan tables were open. Service overall was not very good... we were ignored much of the time, so much so that the lady in charge had to yell at the service staff (in Chinese). Fortunately my wife is a native Mandarin speaker, so we got the whole scoop :)

                            Mr Taster

                          2. re: Mr Taster

                            Hi Mr Taster,

                            Well at the new Monterey Park location, our Peking Duck was room temperature / lukewarm (and we pre-ordered the Duck the day before). My last visit to the San Gabriel branch was also lukewarm / room temperature (that was also a 1-2 day advance order).

                          3. re: exilekiss

                            In the interest of full disclosure, our last few visits to Quanjude were when it was in its death throes. Those meals were accompanied by an amusing, if disconcerting, floor show of Ramsey-esque screaming in the kitchen & folkloric stomping about by the front of the house.

                            Our LDG duck meat was served slightly warm; the skin, a bit hotter. Tasty, tho. Mighty tasty.

                            1. re: Mr Grub

                              To Mr Grub, exilekiss and anyone else who sampled the duck meat at Quanjude, did the meat have a deep, rich smokiness to it? Even in Beijing, the smokiness of Quanjude's bird made it stand head over heels above the other Peking duck places we tried (Made in China and Liqin)

                              Were I to do it all over again, I'd have gone back to Quanjude all 3 times.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                Hi Mr Taster,

                                It's been a while, but from what I remember, there was definitely a nice aroma, pleasant smokiness that I've not had at any other Peking Duck restaurant in So Cal since. We went to QJD when it first opened and while it was still good. I miss QJD. :(

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  When Quanjude's duck was on, it did -- like the Beijing original -- have a smokiness to it. To our palates, however, the smokiness -- esp at the orig -- deepened the duckmeat flavor rather than actually imparting a smoky taste.

                          4. re: Mr Taster

                            it went through two changes before going under (Q-J-D) ultimately this was before the net explosion and you couldn't get many people who didn't live in the SGV to brave the traffic to go there.
                            As well, the Taiwanese and Hong/kong/southern communities of chinese here didn't patronize it that much. in its last incarnation, the restaurant made concessions by including banquets that featured abaloneand shark fin that woudl remind those folks that this was a fancy meal.
                            There wasn't the understanding or familiarity wtih a banquet money that featured 6 cold duck appetzers and eight dishes each prepared a different way ( hearth-roasted, fire-seared, braised ina bain-marie, dep-fried, stir-fried, sauteed in a thick sauce, - boiled, and a dish of duck tongues, sole and pine nuts for a pun on dragon (sole - longli tongue - merciful ( pine nuts - song REN). anyway, that's how it was. I still have pictures somewhere of the beautiful garnsihses and platings for the banquet menu - real loss.

                            1. re: Jerome

                              Hi Jerome,

                              Thanks for reviving the good memories of QJD. I still remember a few of those other dishes you mention and am saddened I missed out on the others!

                              I definitely agree that the time is ripe for QuanJuDe to reopen in L.A. it would be a major hit.

                      2. Has anyone been here since last year? I need to book a table for a birthday party. We'd like peking duck.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: tissue

                          Hi tissue,

                          I went again about... 4-5 months ago, since some friends wanted to try it. It was still the same as Opening Night.

                          Note that it's not "horrible" Peking Duck by any means, but after having something really good, it puts things in perspective. I don't think it would ruin a birthday party or anything, unless most people attending the birthday were Peking Duck aficionados.

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            You speak the truth, exilekiss... I used ot be a fan of Lu Din Gee's Peking Duck (the pre-Duck House incarnation). Then I went traveling in Asia for 7 months and had the duck at the Qianmen Quanjude in for my birthday in 2006. There was a depth of flavor, a rich, comforting smokiness in both the meat and the perfectly crispy skin that the I've yet to find elsewhere (including at other duck places in Beijing, like Liqin and Made in China). Subsequent visits to LDG have left me feeling cold and flat (much like the duck was presented to us).

                            I am truly spoiled for all other ducks.

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              looking at this thread again, i'm so saddened by the loss of the Rosemead QuanJuDe.
                              If there are spies from the PLA here, get them to REOPEN it.

                              ah - the cold duck tongues in aspic, the soy cooked gizzards (cold) the mustard webs, the braised dishes as well as the roast duck, the hollow rolls (kong xin bing, not the shao bing)...
                              man it was good.

                              1. re: Jerome

                                Don't you wonder what happened to the specialty duck roasting oven that the Rosemead Quanjude used? Was it sent back to Baijing? Disassembled into its component parts and sold for scrap? Certainly Lu Din Gee/Duck House doesn't have it!

                                Mr Taster

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  bianyifang has a specialty roasting oven. The secret of quanjude style is thati'ts basically an open hearth with burning wood below. It looked like a big fireplace.
                                  health department always had a problem with the oven/hearth.
                                  too bad.

                                  1. re: Jerome

                                    Yeah, that's the style I saw at Liqin and Made in China... at MIC we literally sat steps away from the hearth so we watched the whole show

                                    http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo...

                                    And here's the spread:
                                    http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo...

                                    If Duck House doesn't have an oven like this, then how are they roasting the duck? Did Lu Din Gee have this oven as well?

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      very few places outside beijing use an open hearth. I dont htink you'll find in hong kong. you'll just find an oven and a roasting pan.

                                      Bianyifang uses a clsoed oven. They use straw rather than fruit wood for a fast high intensity flame and they fill the duck with soup or liquid which keeps the interior from drying out. It's a different duck preparation and both are called beijing kaoya - peking (roast) duck.
                                      http://www.mybeijingchina.com/beijing...
                                      i dont' know how much to trust the page - fifth year of Xianfeng is 1854-5. but there it is...
                                      picture and more basic discussion at
                                      http://www.beijing-china-guide.com/bi...