Chuan Lu Garden – Orlando, FL

Sometimes you self-advocate to an actuality which causes a questioning in your ability to tell good from great. There are far too few noodle shops in Central Florida. No debate there. Yet, there are fewer still who actually offer homemade versions of their namesake, and few do it at high levels of expertise. By few I mean one.

Chuan Lu Garden, a no frills, microscopic jewel, is perched directly at center stage of Orlando’s Asian food version of Main st. I had to ask myself, “Is it great on its own merits or is it great to me because there’s no other Northern Chinese noodle show in town?” Well, let’s look at the facts. They insist on making all of their hand pulled noodles in the back, just through the swinging doors leading to a furiously busy kitchen. This review may be short, but it doesn’t take long to highlight the value of a handmade product. I ordered just two things, hardly enough to form a complete picture of a restaurant in most cases. However, based on the high levels of craft found in each of these items, I feel confident enough to give it our stamp of approval. If you’re wondering how to tell if something is made by man or machine, I have an easy test. Look for imperfections. If you receive an order of six dumplings, and no two look the same, (except maybe at Din Tai Fung) you’re in good hands. If your siu mai are identical, you’ve got knockoff purses on your hands. Dumplings are like snowflakes. No two are alike.

Chuan Lu spread 1

As for the noodles, not only are they made in-house, they’re perfectly tender with just enough bounce, due to the reaction of sodium bicarbonate and flour. I ordered my noodles as one should in a place that specializes in Northern Chinese and Szechuan provincial delights; fermented black bean sauce mixed with minced pork, scallion, cilantro and cucumber. In most places you’ll find it called Zhajiangmian. It’s difficult for mt heart to praise a place so highly when I can literally look out the front window of Chuan Lu Garden and see the building that houses Ming’s Bistro, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Orlando. The good news is that these two don’t really compete head to head. Northern Chinese cuisine has very specific characteristics, stemming largely from the climate. This food was made to warm up your insides during the harsh winter. Luckily it has the added benefit of obliterating my debilitating pollen induced head congestion.

Chuan Lu spread 2

This proved to be the case in my second visit when I insisted we re-order the Zhajiangmian so my compadres could sample the springy noodles. We also asked our waitress for her favorite dish on the menu. After a little coaxing she graciously admitted her preference for cumin lamb, strips of tender lamb shoulder, wok seared with onions, leeks, lemongrass and a generous handful of chilies. The most powerful flavor was the potent Szechuan peppercorn. These berries aren’t used in many other cuisines that I’ve seen. They’re flavor is aggressive, asserting itself above all others the second it hits each of you 10 thousand or flavor rescepticles. The peppercorns cause a strange buzzing sensation in the mouth. They aren’t spicy hot per se. No, instead they enhanced the rest of the dish with the most welcome strangeness. The other dish that must be noted on the second visit was a different kind of dumpling called steamed juicy pork bun. They remind me of a cross between a soup dumpling and baked pork buns, with a layer of crispy crepe batter circulating on the bottom. Its the only place I’ve ever had them so they are a must!

Chuan Lu spread 3

Amidst the many quality restaurants in this area of Orlando, it can be a chore to stand out. I’ve seen so many good enough type restaurants in this corridor fold because they just weren’t good enough to cut the tight battle raging on Mills and Colonial. Chuan Lu Garden offers something truly special and easily warrants return visits. At the very least it should make it on your list for a multicultural Colonial Drive food crawl!

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Blackbrick – Miami, FL

I think it’s high time we got back to our roots here at Eat a Duck. I mean it’s been what, TWO posts since we featured dim sum around here! Well not to worry, we’d never let the dumplings disappear for long, and neither will Richard Hales, chef and owner of Blackbrick, Miami’s sorely needed dim sum mecca. Chef Hales, best known for the popular Korean joint, Sakaya Kitchen and its mobile counterpart, Dim Ssam a GoGo, clearly saw the gap in Miami’s dining landscape. Until now, finding truly great dim sum was a chore at best, and nearly impossible at worst.

Sure, you’ve got Mr. Chow on Miami Beach, but who wants to drop $13 on a plate of siu mai? Alternatively you could make the trek out to Tropical dim sum on Sundays for one of the only dim sum cart services I’m aware of, but neither of these options are ideal. What Miami needed was a centrally located spot, within a few minutes drive and preferably near other like-minded restaurants for obvious food crawl possibilities! Chef Hales found the perfect spot, nestled right in between the design district and Wynwood, two of the hottest neighborhoods in town.

Blackbrick spread 1

At first glance, the large Target shopping center where Blackbrick is located may seem like another bland, prefabricated Florida “village”. Clearly though, someone did their homework. Instead of bringing in the typical corporate restaurants like Brio, P.F. Changs and Cheesecake Factory, they opted for independent, local talent. Granted, there’s still a Five Guys and a World of Beer, but for the most part, the dining options in Midtown are something to be excited about.

Blackbrick is one of the places warranting the most excitement, not only for the crew of Eat a Duck, but for food lovers around the country, even being nominated for Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America. The reason behind the buzz is no secret, as Blackbrick combines tradition and creativity seamlessly.

Blackbrick dim sum

Their dim sum selection, while not exhaustive, is of a quality you won’t find anywhere else. Each item is cooked to order, so while the wait may be more than some veteran dim sum-o-philes are used to, the resulting flavor makes it all worth it. The wrappers of the har gow and pork siu mai are perfectly cooked, tender and toothsome. The fillings are equally well executed. The shrimp and scallop dumplings are fresh, leaving none of the low-tide aftertaste some lesser establishments might offer.

A couple of instant favorites are the fried pork cheek dumplings (pictured in the first spread) with its succulent filling and drizzle of slightly sweet sauce, and the jade Peking duck dumpling, an idea which I’m upset I haven’t found until now. Both of these manage to find their way to my table during each visit. Do we have any bao fans? Blackbrick makes a mean steamed bbq pork char siu bao with that wonderfully sweet meat filling. A couple of these for breakfast would start any day off right.

Blackbrick spread 2

But Blackbrick isn’t simply a dumpling house. Looking for some comfort food, why not take a look at their selection of fantastic fried rice that will expand your opinion of what the dish can be. Not content to match your neighborhood Chinese take out joint, Chef Hales spikes his rice with things like rock shrimp, lobster tail and duck. Another exciting option pairs bacon with kim chi made by sister restaurant Sakaya Kitchen.

The Chinese brunch, once dominated by dim sum alone is now joined by a bevy of options including a breakfast fried rice of sausage, eggs and country potato, shrimp and grits made with cornmeal congee, bacon and a poached egg, and my personal favorite Chinese fried chicken and fortune cookie waffle with a scallion, ginger maple syrup. Don’t forget the salt and pepper tots! Here they’re prepared simply with peppers and onion, achieving a level of spice that gets your brow moist but keeps you coming back for more.

My favorite dish however, might be Blackbrick’s take on Dandan Mian, a Sichuan dish usually consisting of a spicy, chili oil tinged sauce, minced pork and scallions. Here it resembles a Chinese version of ragu alla bolognese. This is one of those dishes I could eat for the rest of my life and be a happy man. Chef Hales chose bucatini, a stout noodle that can stand up to the mountain of fiery pork and scallions.

Blackbrick spread

After a half-dozen visits to Blackbrick, it’s solidified itself in my pantheon of go-to Miami restaurants. Over the past few years, the food scene in there has grown by leaps and bounds, leaving behind the tired, stodgy cuisine of the late 1990s and early 2000’s in favor of a vibrant blend of traditional fare, executed well and bold new creations destined to become classics. Blackbrick is indicative of this trend and stands among the leaders of great dining establishments in South Florida.

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EAD Weekly Recap No. 1

Every day Eat a duck is trying to find the best food possible no matter where we are. We cook more often than we eat out that is for sure. Yet, when we dine away from home you can bet we want it to be memorable. So we’re trying something new. A weekly review of all the best stuffs we devoured, from the benefit dinner we attended in Seminole Heights, to the road side taco truck near the drive in theatre in Lakeland and everything in between, all wrapped into a single post. We’ll keep it concise for everyone with short attention spans. There will be lots of great photos with restaurant or recipe info included whenever possible, so you’ll know exactly where we went. If you guys are favorable to it, we’ll keep it going. Be sure to post your comments and also follow us on Instagram for all our latest photo updates. Here’s our first attempt!

Culinary Heights spreadConcord Coffee spreadEAD threesomeEAD Weeklyl spreadChuan Lu Garden spreadEAD Weekly spread 2

Momofuku Noodle Bar – New York City, NY

Waiting in line is rarely enjoyable. I know from experience how baffling it can be for some to fathom that you’d ever choose to wait, and for something as simple as food no less. Somehow though, certain places continuously attract throngs of people to form incredibly long lines with the hope of securing a meal. There’s a soup kitchen/first world problems joke in there somewhere, but I’ll let that one lie.

Momofuku Logo

I ran into this situation recently in New York. It was getting close to dinner time and, as is usually the case, I’d procrastinated and failed to procure a reservation. It’s Saturday around 5 pm, we have to make it to Governor’s Island in a few hours for a show, hey why don’t we try to get into Momofuku! Brilliant.

Momfuku crowd

We arrived at quarter past to a line of more than 30 people eagerly waiting for the doors to open like so many suburban garage sale hunters. Not long after we assumed our place at the back of the line, we were approached by a German tourist and his family. “So is this place worth the wait?”, he asked, “these people certainly seem to think so”, I replied with a gesture to the patient crowd in front of us. Apparently that answer was enough for him to stick around, good man.

If you manage to pass through the doors, and if your party is small enough, you may be seated at the bar. I highly recommend this if you have any say at all, as the entertainment value of watching the chefs assemble the various dishes of the moment is worth the wait alone. We managed to catch a beautiful bowl of shrimp and grits being plated with military precision right before our eyes.

After my recent experience with shrimp and grits on our Orlando crawl, I wish I would’ve ordered it here, but I have no regrets. My choice of buns, in the shiitake and shrimp variety were more than satisfying. The former dressed simply with hoisin, scallion and shreds of cucumber was like a vegetarian Peking Duck. The latter topped a seared shrimp patty with spicy mayo, tart pickled red onion and crisp iceberg (I’m not usually a fan, but it worked here, well-played Mr. Chang).

Momofuku apps

Not to be overlooked were the pig tails which give you everything you want in a pork product. Fatty, gooey flavor packed cartilage hanging precariously off shards of crisped flesh.  A humble sprinkling of scallion and chili is enough to highlight the taste and wake up the tongue. The small bowl of pickled Asian pear helped to calm the spice with a little sweetness. Little did I know how much I’d miss those soothing pears as the next two dishes whipped my little gaijin behind.

Momofuku chilled spicy noodles

This bowl here, it’s sneaky. Do not be fooled by the word “chilled”. There’s nothing chilled about this dish except for the temperature of the noodles and maybe the nonchalant manner of the waitress as she places it in front of you knowing full well what you’re in for.

The chilled spicy noodle bowl is one of those dishes that lures you in with addicting flavors, sweet glazed cashews and savory bits of Sichuan sausage. You feel a small burn starting in the back of your throat, but it won’t stop you from greedily shoveling more of that taste into your mouth. But the burn keeps building with each bite, and not even the perfectly fresh spinach can quench the inferno that’s engulfing your insides…and yet, you return to the noodle siren as it calls you back again and again, no regrets.

Momofuku rice cakes

There’s a saying about fighting fire with fire. I can tell you, it doesn’t apply to food, as ordering a spicy dish and following it up with an even hotter one, is ill advised. Momofuku’s rice cakes are like little Japanese gnocchi from hell. They arrive piping hot and drenched in an angry red chili sauce that will turn your tongue to ash. Ok so it’s not quite that hot, but popping a couple of these guys in your mouth while it’s still in re-entry from the atomic noodles is not a smart idea. David Chang doesn’t mess around, he’s managed to balance the flavor and spice so carefully so that you won’t be able to stop eating it no matter how much you wish you could. Pro tip, do not order these two dishes back to back, but definitely do order them.

For all the hype, Momofuku delivered a meal that met, and at times exceeded my expectations. This is simply Asian fare done right, and if you appreciate that sort of thing, a 45 min wait is no big deal. I look forward to visiting Chef Chang’s nearby hideaway, Momofuku Ko, but there are no cameras allowed, so no post for you!

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Bar Primi – New York City, NY

If you know my colleague Logan, you’ve likely encountered his wealth of knowledge on everything from film to foie gras, books to brioche, he’s a veritable Logipedia of information when it comes to arts, entertainment and food. I, on the other hand, while possibly dabbling in a wider breadth of topics, have just enough knowledge to start a conversation and quickly use up every interesting tidbit I’ve got in the bank.

There is one topic I’ve always had a firm grasp of, the ritual that is the traditional Italian supper. Antipasti, primi, secondi e contorni, insalata, formaggi, dolce, caffé e digestivo. I’ve embarked on this journey countless times in my 20+ year tenure as a Italophile, and I’ve always felt a certain affinity toward the primo piatto, especially when pasta is involved.

Well it seems Locanda Verde creator Andrew Carmellini and I share a similar passion, as his new restaurant, Bar Primi, puts the focus squarely on this hallowed dish. I can think of few chefs I’d rather have at the helm of a pasta-centric joint than Mr. Carmellini, who’s practically got pomodoro running in his veins.

Bar Primi logo

The Lobe (aka Sara) and I arrived hungry at Bar Primi after a grabbing a quick round of antipasti at Doughnut Plant. We crossed Joey Ramone Way, making sure to pay our respects, and entered the house that pasta built.

Bar Primi sign and setting

 We were early, so they were still serving brunch. We started off with a wonderful bruschetta with fresh ricotta and figs. More often than not, the best Italian food is the simplest, and that proves true here as it took less than five ingredients to impress. The ricotta on display is not the typical sad white paste found in many a potluck lasagna. No, this is the real stuff, straight from Salvatore in Brooklyn, creamy and vibrant with subtle grassy flavor. The cheese takes its rightful spot as the star of the dish, with perfectly ripe fig segments playing Johnny to the ricotta’s Joey.

Bar Primi bruschetta

Two handsome bowls of pasta arrived soon after we had lapped up the last ricotta laced crumb. As it was still brunch, we opted to start with a breakfast spaghetti of kale, pancetta and a poached egg. Breaking open a runny yolk and watching it cascade down homemade noodles never gets old. It coats everything in a thick gloss, helped along by the rendered fat from the pancetta. I longed for some caramelized onions to lend sweetness to the rich affair, but with noodles so perfectly al dente, I was hard pressed to complain.

Bar Primi breakfast spaghetti

The macaroni with Jersey corn, shiitake and scallion left me wanting for nothing. Again with the masterfully prepared pasta, surrounded by perfectly balanced flavors. Sweetness from the corn, offset by succulent and rich shiitakes all under a soft dusting of nutty parm. There just wasn’t enough in the bowl to satisfy.

Bar Primi pasta

Being the pasta fiend that I am, I had high hopes for Bar Primi. Chef Carmellini and the rest of the staff delivered on all fronts. In the vast sea of delicious Italian eats that is Manhattan, Bar Primi manages to shine by keeping things simple, both with ingredients and preparation. This is a must visit for any noodle noshing pastaholic. I only wish I could’ve made it to Locanda Verde on this visit, but there’s always next time!

Namu Gaji – San Francisco, CA

Have you ever experienced the worrisome feeling that if you don’t get something (usually food), while you have the chance, you just might die?

Everyone has an inner child, that slightly spoiled sliver of our mind that manifests itself when we’re faced with a strong yearning. I felt such a yearning recently during a trip to San Francisco. The source of my lust was Namu Gaji, a small Korean establishment at the corner of 18th and Dolores, just down the street from Tartine Bakery in the Mission.

Namu Gaji spread

Eater has become an oft used resource of mine for finding new and delicious destinations (what about Yelp you might ask…well here’s a hint). I found Namu Gaji mentioned there not once, but twice, as a place to be held in high regard. One of the many reasons are their time-specific menu items that are only available during certain parts of the day and sometimes on weekends. One of these is the KFC. We here at Eat a Duck have learned that when a restaurant deems it necessary to announce the limited supply of some extremely popular item, you’d better be the first in line, because a double down on deliciousness is in order.

We arrived in San Francisco from Palo Alto the morning after a wedding with a mere 36 hours of eating available to us. Hardly a lot of time, but in a city so magnificent, you can cover a lot of ground fast. While Jimmy was indisposed with his groomsmen duties, I hunkered down in the hotel room carefully planning our unrestrained campaign. I couldn’t get Namu Gaji out of my mind, every conversation Jimmy and I had during the wedding weekend centered on where we were going to be eating, and I made sure to pepper Namu Gaji’s name in there liberally. “I hear Namu Gaji is nice this time of year…Jimmy, did you know Namu Gaji is open for brunch?…Jimmy… Namu Gaji?”.

My persistent pestering paid off as we added Namu to the itinerary with the goal to arrive as soon as the doors opened. We ended up arriving 15 minutes after opening, and scampered toward the door like two teens who’s pubertal urges drove them toward the entry gates of a Color Me Badd concert ca. 1993. There was already a crowd of people lined up along the glass wall, happily slurping up bibim and ramyun soup out of oversized clay pots. They were so big and full of scalding broth the cast of Friends would have difficult handling them. At every other table, we spied beautiful people corralling fat, slippery noodles and morsels of the chopped 4505 SF hot dog that bobbed on the surface of the Ramyun. We had to order. Only then did we see, when served, there was also a delicately oblong panko fried soft egg peeking out of the broth, presenting itself in a request to be devoured.

Namu Gaji Ramyun

By this time, the meal had been ordered and our amuse of one “real” Korean taco, with beef bulgogi, rice and a couple of different kimchee arrived all wrapped up in a nice dark green nori “shell”. We made quick work of the taco, admiring the flavorful combination of the beef and its contrasting kimchee mates. Coming in at around 3 1/2 bites each, they’re the perfect size to get the synapses firing. After this morsel, all that stood between us and the heralded KFC was time. It should be noted at this point, the restaurant had been open for about 25 minutes and every table was now full with more people crowding the order counter.

Namu Gaji the %22real%22 Korean taco

The space is the perfect size, tiny. Any smaller and it’d be claustrophobic, any bigger and the energy might not fill the room. You can smell the dishes near you and it’s intoxicating. We had no idea what to expect when our main arrived. I read KFC (which stands for Korean fried chicken) expecting simply a better version of what I already knew.

It came in a checked paper lined basket with fixins on the side. I couldn’t tell what the accoutrements were at first aside from the pile of pickled daikon and a small cup of gravy. I had a hard time picking up the freaking chicken as it was so freaking hot my fingerprints almost burned off. I had to throw it down at least three times as the temperature was hovering around thermonuclear. This proved to be both rewarding and perilous. Subsequent attempts to pick up the angry bird left a residue of sticky glaze on my digits that I greedily lapped up like a victorious lion. It gave me a chance to taste what all the fuss was about. The only downside was that waiting is hard. A lovely coleslaw with kimchee and kewpie mayo grabbed Jimmy and wouldn’t let go, or was it the other way around? Ah yes, it was Jimmy who greedily wouldn’t share the slaw, as it was probably the only symbol of  roughage he ate all day.

Namu Gaji %22KFC%22

When cool down time was over, Jimmy and I ripped into the thigh and breast portions, discovering how wonderfully crisp and fragile the “batter” turned out to be. The chicken itself was incredibly moist, the result of what had to have been a lengthy brine or marinade procedure. The dashi gravy was the figurative icing on the cake, to what was the single best dish I had that day. Full of nearly every flavor descriptor I can throw out there, this gravy had it all. From land, sea and air, each had their own element to make up this one perfect bite.

I couldn’t have been happier with the meal, as I keep thinking about not only the KFC, but the experience in general. It was a fast meal but a great one. I took a lot away from the dishes and hope to use them to my advantage in my kitchen as it has affected my food philosophy greatly. More and more we find cooks looking to feature their rich culture, using what I would consider classic American comfort food to bridge the gap. Namu Gaji does this to a superlative degree, better than almost anyone else out there.

Namu Gaji on Urbanspoon

Anise Global Gastrobar – Tampa, FL

It’s hard to imagine a logical person asking for anything better than those little puffy globular fatty pork filled clam shells known as bao. The Stinky Bunz food truck goes above and beyond when it comes to serving the wonderfully steamy, lovingly handcrafted pockets of goodness. With a sparkle in my eye glimmering brighter than the David Yurman summer collection, I tried my first bao at the aforementioned Stinky Bunz, at the first sanctioned monthly food truck rally in my sleepy city. The next time around I eagerly anticipated giving the bao my full attention. Sadly, they didn’t come back. I found out that the truck had taken an indefinite hiatus. It was then that sadness gnawed at my heart as my soul was swallowed up in a baoless void. My body violently seized function as a tempestuous sorrow knocked me down to my knees, much like Eu·ro·aq′ui·lo, the great storm of biblical proportions.

Stinky Bunz Truck

What more could I do than wait things out? I wrote down my vitals on my arm as one does in times of natural disaster. Name, address, favorite taqueria. You know, the essentials.

Flash forward to the near present. a good friend of mine kindly requested my help finding a venue for her brother and sister in-laws anniversary dinner.

The prerequisites were the following:

  • great menu both in the food and drink department
  • a place that adults could go for a night away from the kids, as well as a place that doesn’t make you want to leave after an hour
  • and the most challenging of all,  to find a place no one had ever been to, as the Central Florida area has been quiet in the new restaurant department.

I began doing the research and was coming up empty. The seemingly insurmountable task almost had me down for the count, until I saw it, “Coming soon, Anise Global Gastrobar”. I saw those words in a post online and had to check it out. I admit, the name is a mouthful but it appeared, based on name alone, that this place might meet my needs, wants and Bacchanalian desires.

Anise Logo & Interior

Scrolling. Menu. Click. Full Dining. Click. Scrolling. “Stinky Bunz”. That read with an eerie familiarity. Kind of like that one place I used to know. Was I in the food version of the epic blockbuster “The Number 23”? Through hungry, squinting eyes, I read “inspired by our food truck”. I picked up the phone, dialed up my friend, gave her the details and a grand party was had. (Editors Note: I wasn’t even invited to the party that I basically birthed.)

Then it was my turn. Little time had passed before my wife and I were once again looking for the perfect place for a dinner date. Anise was the first place that came to mind. My wife usually likes eating on the lighter side, but sometimes, when the planets align, she craves food of the deep-fried persuasion. As I read the entire menu with the grace and style of Eric Carmen, she began to swoon at some of the items. Truffled tater tots, duck confit lettuce wraps, baked goat cheese, and of course the trademarked Stinky Bunz.

We actually started the meal with the tots. There’s something about the molecular makeup of a tater tot that science cannot explain. Don’t you ever compare them with french fries, dont do it. When you pair the Picasso-like structure of perfectly crisp tots, combined with a liberal shower of truffle essence, then provide a lemony aioli as my paint for this canvas, the results are like art in a basket. The tots got the ol’ supershot basketball treatment. It was a race to see how many we could devour in 60 seconds. I scored a swisheroo for two while the wife earned a free play.

Truffled Tater Tots

I chose the duck confit lettuce wraps as my first true solo endeavor as she went with a steaming bowl of Korean Jap Chae. The lettuce wraps were a great way to start the Asian portion of the meal. The shredded duck cooked in its own fat and slathered with hoisin inside the lettuce wraps, included fresh herbs, pickled daikon and lots of sliced raw jalapeno. I welcome heat when it’s balanced, which this was. Mainly due in part to the bright citrus dressing that played as the sauce. It not only cut the heat but also served to cut the richness of from the confit de canard.

Duck Confit Lettuce Wraps & Korean Jap Chae

Shortly after pulling the curtain on the last wrap, my wife’s Jap Chae arrived. So, you can get this stuff completely vegetarian or with chicken or whatever and it will be just fine. But, my suggestion is to go for gold and get it with a couple hunky slices of grilled beef tenderloin cooked rare, like purple rare. The flavor profile for this somewhat simple dish is vast. I can’t accurately describe the fireworks display exploding in my wife’s brain as she devoured the noodle bowl. What I can say without pause that she has become a Jap Chae hound ever since, seeking and destroying all possible opposition in her path. I’ve never seen such dedication.

The bunz arrived. Three to an order and all with different fillings. I always eat in a way that rewards potential. Meaning, the dish that sounds the best to me, if I have the choice, will always be the last consumed. It was a fitting conclusion as the stinky bunz made it to the table far later than all the others. The first one grabbed was the Chinese BBQ pork shoulder with radish. I could tell right away this was the same style as I had many months ago at the food truck rally. Sweet, sticky and rich, similar to the flavors of the duck I enjoyed earlier. I’m glad I got that out of the way. More pork in the form of the belly was my second attempt in my Tour de Bao. Again, similar flavors with a few differing characteristics. The fatty pork did well to compliment all the freshness that surrounded it. With the addition of a slab of wonderful kimchi, it became clear how well the food was seasoned. I wanted no more than what was presented to me, but I had one Bun to go.

Stinky Bunz

Finally, with a heave and a hurl I grabbed the last parcel, catapulting it toward my face. I closed my eyes and quietly began singing in my head “I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve got this feelin’ that won’t subside. I look at you and I fantasize. You’re mine tonight. Now I’ve got you in my sights…With these hungry eyes.” Crispy red curried chicken with a gargantuan cucumber slice, drenched in this bright white creamy coconut yogurt sauce was the last bite I would have. Fittingly it was the best. I could venture a guess at which 5-10 ethnic regions this one bite originated from, but I prefer to enjoy the mystery. The global part of Anise is the most telling. The food isn’t based on Chinese or Korean or Indian or even Taiwanese. They take a little piece of this and extract out a small sampling of that , making something tasty and worldly. You need to try this place. If for no other reason than to hear my voice serenading you with every bite you take.

Hakkasan – Miami Beach, FL

I don’t know what’s going on at the Fontainebleau hotel, but I like it. Whoever is in charge of food, drink and hospitality deserves a raise, if they aren’t already being paid handsomely. First Scarpetta delivers an eye-opening Italian spread, and now Hakkasan, their in-house purveyor of traditional Chinese cuisine, knocks it out of the park. Two for two ain’t bad folks.

hakkasan-logo1

When comparing high-end Chinese eateries, I use Mr. Chow as a measuring stick. Both New York locations, as well as the one in the W on Miami Beach, are outstanding. The Hakkasan brand has long been known as a heavy hitter in the Chinese ring, both London outposts have earned Michelin stars. Naturally my expectations for Florida’s own Hakkasan were high. I’ll spare you the suspense, my expectations were met and then exceeded, not only by the food, which was outstanding, but the decor, ambiance and especially the impeccable service. I felt like Don Draper in my favorite New York hangout minus the smoke and infidelity.

But this is Eat a Duck, and unlike my esteemed colleague who is unmatched when it comes to spinning an intriguing pre-review yarn, I’m an anti-Lorax, I’ll let the food speak for itself. At first glance, the menu looks to be in lock step with tradition, until you notice some luxurious interlopers. Sure the typical standbys are here, Peking and roast duck, dumplings etc., only at Hakkasan they pair these items with Petrossian caviar, foie gras and black truffles. Some might say those ingredients are cliché, a simple gimmick to lure dummies with too many greenbacks. I assure you, there are no gimmicks here, the crew at Hakkasan wields their flavors with care and respect. Not once did the gourmet additions take away from the traditional soul of the dish, on the contrary, they only served to enhance it.

We began with an order of duck rolls and foie gras Shanghai dumplings. Neither looked particularly fancy, which was a good sign, the chefs didn’t feel the need to impress with flash, they let the flavors do all the work. The duck rolls were moist and tender, with flecks of green onion interspersed among the fowl. Fried to a crunchy perfection, the wrappers picked up globs of tangy hoisin, delivering a satisfying crunch before your teeth hit the meat. It was basically fried Peking duck to go. Somebody open a drive-thru where I can pick these up after a night of heavy drinking!

Foie gras dumplings & duck rollsAs I said before, the foie gras only enhanced the already silky flavor of the dumplings. There was just enough foie to feel it on the tongue and detect its buttery flavor. It added a whole other dimension to an otherwise ordinary, though incredibly delicious dumpling.

Scintillating conversation made the time between courses fly by, and soon our entrées had arrived. Spicy assam prawns in a baby coconut had almost a Polynesian look to it. The broth was savory with a glowing heat that lingered on your lips. Little doughy puffs allowed the ever satisfying dunk, soak and slurp ritual that begged to be performed. The stir-fried Chilean sea bass was out of control. We’ve never really discussed the black cod miso from Nobu in any detail, (which must mean it’s time to visit again) but this dish was like having a bowl filled with it. Each slab of fish flaked away to reveal pearly flesh, sweet as could be. They were lightly tossed in a sanpei sauce, a mixture of soy, rice wine and black sesame oil that gave the fish an attractive sheen without crossing the line to gloppy syrup you find at most Chinese joints.

Hakkasan Miami spread

A handsome plate of hand pulled noodles tossed with wild mushrooms and a whole other side order of mushrooms arrived to the exclamation, “mushroom party!”. I’m a sucker for a good plate of noodles, and this was a great plate of noodles. The medley of mushrooms made this a most comforting dish, something I’d love to eat when it’s cold outside and I’m feeling a little sniffly. The main event for me though, was the black truffle roasted duck. Have you ever heard of a more appetizing dish? I can just hear the chefs who thought this up, “roast duck, how can we make it better?…”, a rookie line cook raises his hand and mumbles “…truffles?”. Yeah that’s how it happened. It was genius. The broth gave off an aroma so full of truffle essence that they could charge for that alone. Thankfully they actually include the food as well. As with each dish before, the duck was cooked perfectly, crispy skin glazed with five spice and truffle, tender meat luxuriating in the broth, and if that wasn’t enough, large slices of fresh black truffle on top.

Black Truffle Roasted Duck

Dessert is not a course usually enjoyed at many Chinese restaurants I’ve visited. But I just couldn’t pass it up, seeing how fantastic the meal had been up to this point. Lately I’ve been distancing myself from chocolate options as more refreshing and tropical items lure me with their siren song. Tonight it was a mango custard with grapefruit, calamansi and coconut sorbet. It was bright and tangy and hit you right in the back of your jaw. The tiny globs of concentrated mango added shiny bursts of flavor that were gently mellowed by the sorbet. I believe the calamansi was nitro frozen and sprinkled like bacon bits. The grapefruit slices added a welcome bitter note, without overpowering the natural sweetness of the mango.

Mango Custard with Grapefruit Calamansi and Coconut Sorbet

Meals like this are rare, where every dish is a winner and no complaints. I may sound like a brown noser (it’s only hoisin don’t worry) but sometimes restaurants just get it right. The Miami branch of Hakkasan may not have a Michelin star of its own, but that doesn’t take away from the amazing cuisine they’re producing nightly. I’m looking forward to returning soon to sample their dim sum service that they offer at lunchtime on the weekends. Lord knows Miami is in dire need of it. Until next time!

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon