Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mr. Wu cuts up!

Mr. Wu was a real cut-up. He brought our duck to the table draped with thin Chinese crepes. Behind him came our waitress carrying a large tray with a platter and cover to which she transferred the crepes. She laid out a cereal bowl of plum sauce and a small platter of scallions. Mr. Wu gave us a big toothy smile, lifted his long square knife and began to disassemble the duck starting with the skin. He had beautiful smooth hands, unwrinkled and unfreckled. A lifetime of immersion in duck fat will do that.

The restaurant, the Peking Gourmet Inn is located in a strip mall in Arlington, VA along with an Asian grocery store, a couple of shop front professionals - lawyers, a dentist; and a store selling Iranian trinkets.  Once the door swings open you can smell the duck as you read the testimonials from local, national and international restaurant reviewers lining the foyer. Luckily we snagged a small table for two - five minutes later we'd have waited an hour.

Richard has told me about this restaurant every time we have duck. We order it here and there, mostly in Asia and while I've usually liked what we've gotten, he always fondly recollects the Peking Gourmet Inn.
At last I got to try it.

The small entryway opens onto a very large space; it's grown and grown over the years and occupies half the mall. Rows and rows of photographs of generals, politicians and actors smile down on you from the walls as you enjoy your duck. The place has been a favorite of presidents, foreign leaders and everyday folks. We sat next to a wall of generals...the "scrambled eggs" on their chests a wonder to behold. Every president since Reagan has eaten there - a special seating arrangement is available to accommodate groups with security details.              

The joint was jumping on Monday night crowded with all manner of people; groups in their twenties with t-shirts, ball caps and flip-flops; many tables of families - 'Happy Birthday' would break out once in a while;  several tables were filled with people dressed in foreign costumes. Duck after duck floated by over our heads carried aloft level and secure. Tables are very close together and aisle ways narrow which requires an alert and graceful waitstaff. Energy level in the place was very high - they achieved this the natural way which happens in busy Chinese restaurants. After years of working in foodservice I'm convinced this energy level is an aura of success hanging in the air, created by hard work, concentration and the knowledge that the cash register is ringing. Contemporary restaurateurs think they are achieving this by installing  Radio Shack quality speakers and spewing out the noise pollution that passes for music in so many restaurants today. The noise makes people edgy and uncomfortable - I think it ultimately drains the staff instead of energizing them.

Wu continued with the excellent dissection job. He'd cut a small piece of skin and scrape it free of fat, murmuring just under his breath about putting the fat on the side. Quickly the skin was removed and lined up on the platter edge followed by the perfectly cooked duck - cooked so that the meat fell off the bone but not a bit dry. Wu stepped aside, gave us one more grin and disappeared into the maw of the kitchen. Somehow the duck and pancakes stayed warm as we ate; even the scallions were uniquely fresh and chiffonaded into perfect lacy shreds. I read somewhere that they have a farm in the country where they grow scallions, leeks and garlic shoots all of which are used in various dishes.

Wu left us the bones to gnaw at the end and we squabbled a little about who would get which bone. After we finished every single morsel, I could have eaten another duck, but I didn't say anything to Richard who would probably have ordered the whole show again. Better to leave a little yearning for the next time.


  1. it's just about lunchtime and i'm salivating reading your post about the peking duck. Nice to be able to have it in that special restaurant. I'll have to add that one to my list. Nancy

  2. Yes, bring some home next time for the rest of us!

  3. Oh Helen, I felt like I was there at mr. Wu's restaurant, enjoying the duck with you. :)