Beijing countdown number one: Da Dong
I’ve decided that since I’m leaving tomorrow morning (!) and there are a lot of restaurants that I didn’t mention that I’ve eaten at, that I would do a sort of countdown as a goodbye to Beijing.
I’ll start with the fanciest, which is a famous Peking Duck restaurant called Da Dong. There are several branches all over Beijing, but they’re known for impeccable presentation and a more subtle, refined approach to Chinese cooking. They’ve also recently added a “lowfat duck” to their menu, which is a much leaner alternative to the more traditional fatty Peking Duck.
We went there for an extremely late lunch a couple weeks ago, and the huge restaurant was almost empty. We decided not to order duck at all, but since dishes could be ordered in individual portions, to each order something we wanted and get some other dishes to share. This is what we got:
I chose the scallops with sweet corn, which were perfectly cooked, but in fact turned out to be the least successful out of all our dishes. They had been coated in egg yolk, which added nothing but a sandy mouthfeel and extra cholesterol. They were garnished with a sprig of mint, kidney beans, and a swipe of green sauce (cilantro sauce?). However, it has to be said that the sweetness of corn and scallops go together perfectly.
My dad ordered oxtail with peas, carrots, cilantro, anise, and 5 spice powder.
My mom ordered a sampling of all duck parts: the liver, webs (feet), and breast, which had been boiled in rice wine dregs with tree ears. Unfortunately, this was just a bit too adventurous for her.
To share, we ordered three FANTASTIC dishes. We started off with an amaranth and mushroom broth with roasted garlic clothes that added an amazingly robust aroma. It managed to be light and satisfying at the same time.
My personal favorite (or not… it’s so hard to decide) was the eggplant, which was deceptively simple. It had been simmered to tender shreds with anise and five spice, roasted garlic, and a sprig of rosemary. Because the flavors were similar to that of my dad’s oxtail and other traditional meat dishes, the soft, almost fatty texture really made it taste like meat. While in the West we look down on fatty meat, the Chinese relish it.
Because I’m a pumpkin fiend (if I could eat pumpkin every day for the rest of my life I would be happy), we ordered the roasted cod in steamed pumpkin. While the cod itself was flavored similarly to the eggplant and oxtail, it was the combination of the fish and pumpkin that was truly outstanding. This was because the cod was soft and salty, whereas the pumpkin was durable and mild, yet managed to absorb all the flavors of the sauce. I must have eaten half the pumpkin by myself.
For dessert, we were sent out a simple fruit platter surrounded by dry ice.
As you can see, we usually prefer simple, homestyle Chinese cooking, but I never realized how worth it the fancier places are sometimes.