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Peking Duck House

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Peking Duck House.

Peking Duck House is a restaurant you visit for only one dish. Their own website puts it admirably: “It’s all about the duck!”

I visited the uptown location (236 E 53rd St. between Second & Third Avenues) a couple of months ago, only to find out that my guest didn’t care for duck. He could have saved me a lot of trouble by mentioning that before we went inside—in which case I’d have chosen somewhere else. Mind you, it wasn’t a bad meal as Chinese food goes. But I wanted the duck, and the restaurant doesn’t serve it in portions for one.

Last night I visited the Chinatown branch. My friend said she was longing for Peking Duck, so I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed again. You can order the whole duck for $43, but in my experience it’s too much duck for two diners to polish off. But for $35 a head, you get soup, a plate of appetizers, half of a duck, a second entrée, fried rice, and fresh fruit for dessert. If that sounds like a lot of food—well, it is.

We were happy to have Shrimp Sizzling Rice Soup as an option. The shrimp gave the soup an unexpected crunchiness. Many Chinese restaurants offer just the usual Egg Drop or Hot & Sour soups, either of which is instantly forgotten. But we won’t forget the sizzling shrimp.

An appetizer plate came with a spring roll, a vegetable dumpling, barbecued beef on a skewer, and the highlight: Chopped Chicken and Pinenuts on a bed of fresh lettuce, which you roll up and eat like a taco. This was a new appetizer to me, and I might just go back and get a whole order of it.

As our dinner included only half a Peking Duck, we were deprived of the usual spectacle of tableside carving. Instead, the kitchen brought out two of the housemade pancakes for each of us, already stuffed with duck, scallions, cucumbers, and special sauce. That succulent duck ran rings around the pale imitation of it that I had at Buddakan a few weeks ago.

I’m not a big eater, and I could have gone home full at that point, but a second entrée was coming. We chose the Peking Lobster with ginger and scallions. It was a whole lobster, still in the shell, but cracked and split open for easy access to the meat. I’m afraid we ate very little of it, but not due to any flaw of the dish. (My friend took most of it home.) A generous fresh fruit platter likewise went mostly untouched.

This excellent repast was just $35 a head. Beers were a whopping $3.50 each. I saw wine at some tables, but I was not offered a wine list, even after I asked about it.

While I would happily recommend the food, the service wins no awards. When I arrived, it was a full ten minutes before anyone took a drink order. And don’t expect them to notice if your drink runs out—you have to flag them down. The restaurant is designed to turn tables in a hurry, so once you’ve placed your order, you can expect the courses to come trooping out of the kitchen with military precision. After a 2004 renovation, the décor is slightly better than Chintatown’s Plain Jane standard, but still pretty dull, especially after you get past the first few tables up front. Tables are packed fairly tightly together, although a less-crowded downstairs dining room seems to offer more elbow room.

I didn’t write  a review of my visit to the uptown location, but as I recall the service there was a bit more polished.

Peking Duck House (28 Mott Street between Pell and Mosco Streets, Chinatown)

Food: **
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Fair
Overall: *½

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