Da Dong (Tuanjiehu) Roast Duck Restaurant

>> Thursday, April 14, 2011

Date of Dining: 3/24/2011
Location: 北京Beijing朝阳区团结湖路3号 邮政编码
Tuanjiehu Beikou, Dongsanhuan Lu, Bldg. 3
Price: Varies, Duck is approx $35 USD

The Quick Bit
+ Exceptional Roast Duck
+ Creative Modernized Menu
+ Good Plating
+ Use of Modernist Cuisine techniques
Δ The seating could have been more organized
Δ Could have been more flexible in meat temperatures
Δ Service could be improved

Photo of the Dining room
Since my plane arrived "early" to Beijing, I was able to have the first night be free for exploration. We met up one of my Mom's college friends who volunteered to show us some of Beijing. He said that Beijing cuisine is known for three things: spicy hot pot, xha jiang mein, and (of course) peking duck. I would be remiss to say that I'm not a big noodle fan, and I've had much more luck with Taiwanese hot pot sauces than the ones from China, so I decided that if there was only 1 great meal in Beijing, it would have to be peking duck. A quick search of the English chow forums showed that the "best" peking duck in Beijing would be had either at Made in China or Da Dong. Since Made in China seemed to be $$$$$, it was a simply decision to try and go to Da Dong.

One of my friends told me that you don't make reservations at places in China; this may still hold true for small places, but for larger establishments it definitely helps to call ahead. Of course sometimes it's hard to tell if a place is small or large from reading about them, but I'd say it's better to call ahead and see if they are available. The thing to realize about reservations in China is that there are basically two waiting lists; the one for walk-ins and the one for reservations. Traditionally the seating is handled by alternating one party from each list, so even if you do call ahead, don't expect to be seated immediately upon arrival. As previously stated, we didn't have a reservation and were informed we would have to wait 1 hour.

Like many successful Chinese restaurants, Da Dong started as a single restaurant but has since opened many locations. We happened to visit the original location (although I didn't know it at the time). Apparently other locations are larger and we may have had less of a wait. After waiting 90 minutes, we were finally seated.
Da Dong Menu
The menu for Da Dong was well-made and had plenty of food porn photos included. The menu we received included a lot of English to explain about how some of the dishes came to fruition.

Smoked and Braised Local Fish
I forgot the name of this dish, but it came out first. The fish appeared to be smoked as there was a nice smoky finish to the flavor of the meat. It was then braised in a rich soy sauce to give it a slightly sweet finish. Overall this dish was a great appetizer to the rest of the meal. Additionally, the fish was cooked in such a way that the bones could be eaten as well, so there was no need to pick away small tiny bones.
Sauteed Bean Sprot
A staple for any Chinese meal is to order the seasonal house vegetable in a stir fry. We decided to get the bean sprout. This bean sprout was cooked with exceptional wok skill so that there was a lot of that wok hei effect imparted into the vegetable.
Chef Dong's Braised Eggplant
As I stated previously, I'm not a big fan of eggplant, but my Mom adores it, so we went ahead and ordered this dish. This dish is a braised eggplant that is infused with soy and the fragrance of Chinese flowers. It is garnished with roasted garlic that is eaten along with the eggplant. I tried a piece of eggplant, which was okay alone, but when I tried it with the roasted garlic, I actually enjoyed the dish. The garlic provided a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the eggplant.
wonton dish initially
Action Shot of the broth being poured into the wonton
Shrimp and Pork Wonton Dish
These were a pork and shrimp wonton soup where the soup is poured tableside. The greens were mung bean sprouts, and I don't think the flowers were edible. These wontons were prepared exceptionally. The wrapper was prepared fresh and the pork and shrimp mixture had a good balance and texture. The wontons were steamed prior to plating. The broth was a hearty "bone" broth most likely braised for hours with pork bones and then strained to give a clean finish. I enjoyed that the broth was poured tableside as it prevented the wonton from getting soggy.
Boston Lobster Noodle
These noodles were made from the meat of a lobster, most likely by using pureeing the lobster meat and then adding xantham gum and piping them out. The noodles were completely lobster taste with a very nice chewy noodle texture. The noodle was accompanied by two dipping sauces; a grilled shallot based sauce and the xha jiang (black bean) sauce. I preferred the shallot-based dipping sauce, but the xha jiang sauce was very good as well. The reason the xha jiang sauce didn't work really well with the lobster was that the black bean flavor masks the sweetness of the lobster meat, so it would have been better with regular noodles.
Beef with Green Lemon and Sea Salt
For the beef course, a chef came tableside and cooked the beef for us. As you can see from the photo, the quality of the beef was very high as the meat had very nice marbling throughout. I was very excited about this dish until the chef asked what temperature we wanted the beef. For anyone not familiar with Chinese beef cooking temperates, there's basically a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is raw and 10 is well done. Seeing the marbling in the beef, I thought I'd go ahead and ask for medium rare (usually 3 to 4), but the chef was appalled at my suggestion of undercooking the beef and said that he could only do 7 or 8. Reluctantly I agreed to the 7, but suggested that cooking it less would be acceptable.

I'm guessing there's a little more pink in the photo that what is usually served, but I ended up enjoying the dish immensely. The beef is cooked in the pan without any seasoning other than it's own natural fat as the fat melts. the meat is then plated on a plate of salt mixed with green lemon zest. When taking a serving, one dips the meat in the salt on the plate to achieve the desired amount.

Cooking the beef in it's own fat allowed the beef to get the fatty finish in beef that I enjoy. I did try a piece of beef without any salt and it was very disappointing, but by dipping the beef in the salt, all the natural beef flavors were enhanced and enjoyable. The green lemon zest in the salt added a nice finish as well as it simultaneously added the hint of acidic freshness and a small hint of sour bitterness.

Peking Duck:
DaDong "SuperLean" Roast Duck
Despite the many successful dishes, my mouth was watering with anticipation as I saw the chef roll out the trolley with our Peking duck. At Da Dong, there are three ways to eat the duck: just the skin, the "traditional" rice paper wrap, and the sesame bun wrap. The waitress decided to show us the three methods.
Peking Duck Condiment Plate
Just Skin method for eating Peking duck
In the skin method, the peking duck skin is dipped in sugar and then eaten. While this sounds somewhat scandalous, this approach actually works very well because the duck skin at Da Dong is so lean and crispy. Eating the duck skin with the sugar is one of those things that is just so wrong that it becomes right. The sugar mixed with the crispy skin and fat of the duck seems like a ticket to an early grave, but the combination was immensely enjoyable.
Traditional Method for eating Peking duck
In the traditional method, the rice paper wrap is layed on a plate. One dips duck meat into the hoisin sauce and then spreads it inside the rice paper before setting down the meat. Then some sliced scallions are added and the rice paper is folded like a small burrito.

The peking duck was very enjoyable using the traditional approach as well. The hoisin sauce complements the duck very well, and the scallions add the hint of acidic freshness to contrast the sweetness of the sauce and the fattiness of the duck. 

When we asked the waitress why there were so many ways to eat the Peking duck, she said that Da Dong first came up with the just skin method. However, because it was so successful many other "unscrupulous" restaurants violated "chef law" and copied them. This was very easy to do because all you have to do is have some crispy duck skin and dip it in sugar. Because of this, Da Dong invented a third way to enjoy Peking duck, which should also be the best way.
Sesame Bun method for eating Peking duck
In the third method for enjoying Peking duck, some hallow sesame puffs are brought out. Inside the sesame puff, one still uses the duck meat to add some hoisin sauce, but the "rest" of the garnishes in the garnish plate are also added including the garlic, cucumber, radish, pickles, and preserved vegetables.

Although one has to add more duck meat for counterpoint, I did enjoy the third method the most. The mix of the different garnishes added the most contrast in flavors, and the sourness of the pickles and preserved vegetables was very pleasant to the palette.
Duck Bone Soup
As one purchases the entire duck, following the carving of the duck, the bones are taken into the kitchen where they are cooked to create a duck bone soup. The white color comes from a bit of milk that is added to the broth. The broth is indeed very rich and my guess is that instead of cooking your particular duck carcass, the kitchen probably uses bones from the previous night to prepare the next night's soup. 
Sugarcoated Fruits Dandelion
For dessert, we had the "dandelion" fruit. This dish is basically some fruit that is coated in sugar, allowed to cool and then spun in a cotton candy wrap to resemble a dandelion. The fruit in my dandelion was tamarind, which was a very nice surprise for me since I had never had it before as an actual fruit. Additionally, I was tempted by many small street vendors selling the tamarind on the stick that I could never actually buy in the future, so it was good that I was able to eat the tamarind here to get that temptation out of the way. This dish was very fun and creative and it was a nice way to end the meal even though it wasn't mindblowing in flavor.
Fruit Plate
As is customary with Chinese restaurants, they did bring out one more fruit plate with the bill. The fruit seemed a little early in the season and weren't particularly ripe.

With its creative menu, good plating, and use of modern techniques in Chinese cooking, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal at Da Dong. There were a few problems with waiting to get a table and the service was mediocre at best, but I'll let that go as a cultural difference. For anyone visiting Beijing looking for a slightly upscale, but still affordable place to eat Peking duck, I'd easily recommend Da Dong. There were many more menu items that we didn't even explore. If I ever return to Beijing, I'll be sure to pay another visit to Da Dong.

All in all, this experience is enough for me to award Da Dong with the Megabyte Award


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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