The first sign that we probably should have changed for dinner was probably the valet stand. The next was when we walked into a huge, pristine and bright entryway with a show kitchen full of ducks roasting and a long bar.
When Dan had asked if we could go for duck our first night in Beijing, I told him their was a place Lonely Planet recommended a couple of blocks from where we were staying and that it didn't say anything about needing a reservation or having to wait.
It was Thursday night. We had to wait but only about ten minutes before we were ushered up a staircase that gave a perfect view of the restaurant's light fixtures that were trying to be modern art. Through some hallways and then into another huge room, this one was dim, with glowing light cut outs on the walls and a movie about the restaurant and the chef projected on one wall on loop. After a 5am wake up for our flight and a day spent walking all over Beijing, this club meets fine dining atmosphere is not quite what we're prepared for.
"Well, at least we're not the worst dressed?" I offered, gesturing to a table of patrons in sweatpants.
We're seated at a table which we think would be large for the four people for which it's meant and is comically gigantic for the two of us.
"What do we get?"
"Well, a whole duck probably. And some vegetable sides?"
The menu is much larger and includes more fusion than I expected. We settle on a duck with toppings, roast cauliflower with pork belly and a pea dish. Cauliflower and peas are both hard to come by in Korea and prohibitively expensive when you can find them.
We sit and drink our sparkling water and beer, watching the ducks get carved at the tables around us while the woman in the video sexily eats a braised sea cucumber over and over again.
Our cauliflower comes out first. We got the smaller portion and it's still pretty substantial. There's no serving spoon. We wait a beat but when no spoon or other dish arrives, after a brief discussion about what's appropriate, we dig in with our own utensils. After all, in Korea, even at Western restaurants, food tends to come out whenever it's done, we're starving and who knows when the next thing is coming?! Just as we've finished serving ourselves, the waiter comes over with a serving spoon and a disapproving glance before he puts our peas on the table. Then the duck cart is rolled over. Oops.
I still get a couple of bites of cauliflower in while the duck is carved. It's delicious. Gingery and garlicky. Even though the menu had said the cauliflower was roasted, the dish it reminded me of the most was dry sauteed string beans, and immediately begin thinking about how I can recreate this at home once I get my hands on some cauliflower.
The duck is carved with more speed than my camera can capture. Once there was one plate of it on the table, another server came and began assembling pancakes for each of us. Before he started mine he took a piece of the crisp duck skin, dipped it in coarse sugar, put it on my plate and gestured for me to eat it. I popped it into my mouth. Pure heaven. I watched carefully as he assembled our pancakes, dipping duck into various sauces, folding in different cuts, adding leaks to one and cucumber and melon to another. The wraps he gives us are exquisite. Then we're left on our own to dip and wrap our duck as we see fit.
Our table which once seemed comically large is now filled with multiple plates of duck, two dishes of duck garnishes, our huge portion of cauliflower, side plates with peas and a steamer basket of pancakes. I find myself half standing when I reach for things on the far side of the table.
"This duck is delicious but also this cauliflower! How are we supposed to eat the peas?"
"I don't know," I admit while watching the table next to us also struggle with eating peas with chopsticks.
The peas were served on a spoon with a hooked handle resting on a plate. In the US I would've assumed we were to pick up the spoon, but I try that and notice something has been used to stick it to the plate. I struggle through, alternating between chopsticks and a fork. The peas are fine, but they're no cauliflower.
At first I think we've ordered way too much food, but after a few minutes of the kind of silence that only happens when you are both really hungry and the food is really good, a significant amount of our whole duck has disappeared.
Next a plate of jujubes in some sort of dry ice presentation have to find room on the table, followed by what is maybe a palate cleanser or amuse bouche of very sweet strawberry sorbet. We're still busily working on our duck. I choose to prioritize space in my stomach for cauliflower over the overly sweet sorbet.
Finally, we are sated. I've watched other tables get their leftovers packed up to go and I'm excited that we'll have such good food for our Great Wall picnic the next day. We manage to get a waiters attention and with some hand gestures indicate that we're ready to pay and be packed up. After the waiter swipes our card, another woman comes over and begins to deftly pack our leftovers into a compartmentalized tupperware. Eventually she gets to the jujubes and asks us something in Chinese. We thinks she's asking if we want them packed so we nod.
Instead she slices the flesh of one of the jujubes away from the seed and hands it to me. I eat it. Then she does the same for Dan. Then she asks us another question we don't understand that we think is maybe her asking if we like them. So we nod again, thinking now she'll pack them up. But she doesn't. She smiles and walks away leaving the empty bag and the jujubes on the table. We eat a couple more because it seems like the thing to do, but when she doesn't come back, we pack them ourselves and put them with the tupperware in the supplied small, sturdy shopping bag and head home.
We get back to our room and Dan gets a message from a friend's sister "you should go to DaDong roast duck, but be careful, sometimes they give bad ducks to tourists".
If that was the bad duck, I think I might actually die from too much deliciousness if I had the good.
(I came pretty close to that anyways, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't a bad duck)