Dining in Beijing has been in my limited experience a great experience with tons of variety and a seemingly endless supply of reasonably priced, tasty options. In the past I’ve had some fantastic Thai food, inexpensive noodles from a little shop by our office, Szechuan style chicken so hot it numbed my mouth and some less tasty bits of undisclosed animal that I tried but didn’t care for much. You can also find tons of western style food if you have the urge and there is some comfort to finding french toast for breakfast.
This time around we ate a great Korean BBQ place and a Szechuan seafood place, sadly I didn’t have a camera on me other than my phone for these meals and only managed one picture. This is a plate of spicy shrimp, note that at least half this plate was red pepper, garlic, green onion and peppercorns.
The one thing both meals had in common was that they were huge. Lunch and dinner in China is a very social affair and our host insisted on ordering enough to feed and army. We finally had to somewhat forcefully beg for mercy at our second to last lunch and limit the food to dumplings and soup knowing a big dinner was on the way.
That night we went to a Beijing institution, Da Dong Roast Duck. They have a couple locations and we tried out their newest spot, a sprawling two floors of dining rooms that was probably over 20,000 square feet of jam packed tables. Walking in the front door we were faced with the large open kitchen filled with wood fired ovens where the duck is roasted pretty much non-stop.
The chefs were constantly in and out of the oven with a long pole the used to move ducks around within the oven and as in the photo above dip them into fire to ensure a crispy skin. There were six of these ovens and as far as I could tell all of them were jam packed with slowly roasting duck.
As the orders for duck come flying in the pole goes in the oven and then the duck is moved over to a resting rack for a few minutes before all the liquid is drained out into a massive holding tank along with duck carcasses and is used to make stock. The next thing they do is immediately carve off the crispiest bit of the skin so it won’t get soggy then the duck is delivered table side for carving but more on that later.
There was a bit of a wait for a table but they have unlimited free wine while you wait so we had a couple drinks before dinner.
Once we got our table we ordered several dishes and 1/2 a duck for the three of us. Ordering is a challenge only because the menu is massive! It’s around 100 pages of gorgeous food porn in full color, good thing too since it gave us a much better idea of what to order.
The first course, braised cabbage and chestnuts in saffron sauce came out and we dove right in.
It was thick, creamy and amazing; slightly sweet with a rich meaty undertone that we determined was duck stock made from the carcasses of the roasted ducks.
Next up was the house secret recipe, braised eggplant
The eggplant was garlicky with a hing of anise and some soy sauce it was a bit chewy but very good.
For the 3rd course we had some braised Ox Tail. Meaty, rich and melt in your mouth good. It’s like the best pot roast you’ve ever had times 100.
Now for the main event but before the duck arrives we got this curious tray of condiments including garlic, sugar, hoisin, daikon, and pickled carrot.
At this point one of chefs arrived with the duck and proceeded to carve it up in a rather unique way by creating many small slices and arranging them on a plate as we watched.
We proceeded to happily demolish the duck, the skin was crispy but not to crisp with just a thin layer of fat, and dipped in a bit of sugar the skin was like dessert. The duck meat was perhaps a tad on the dry side but very flavorful and personally I would rather that than have a duck dripping with fat and oil.
At this point we were completely stuffed and then they delivered a large pot of fried rice, I didn’t get a photo and only had a bite but it was very good.
Next the delivered some mandarin oranges on a foggy platter of ice and I thought this was a crazy dessert but it was a nice light way to polish off dinner.
Much to my surprise that wasn’t it, the final course was a warm, sweet coconut milk “soup” with sticky rice balls stuffed with sesame with some grapefruit flavored “caviar” on the side.
Completely stuffed at this point we suited up in our arctic cold weather gear and ventured outside for what turned into an hour long Odyssey trying to find a cab in the 20 degree weather but that’s another story…