New beginnings at Da Dong
Updated: 2011-01-24 09:31
By Ye Jun (China Daily)
Chef Dong Zhenxiang continues to stride along confidently with his new takes on classic dishes. Ye Jun takes a first bite at the new menu.
Eating at Da Dong Peking Roast Duck Restaurant is always a pleasure, especially when chef-owner Dong Zhenxiang leads a team of nine chefs to cook for you. This was the year-end appreciation dinner at Da Dong's Nanxincang branch, and it was a meal that summed up what was and what is to be.
Dong was one of the first to plan his menu according to season, and this meal is no different.
It was printed on a rice-paper scroll, with Chinese painting in the background and a couplet before each item on the menu.
The first appetizer, "winter fun", was a deep-fried cracker with sesame paste, a roll of spicy marinated cabbage, and a kebab of cubed beef soaked in Sichuan-style spicy chili oil.
Simple as it was, it was typical of how Da Dong plans and presents dishes, with the recipe always rooted in tradition but presented with a creativity that is undoubtedly updated.
Another appetizer is a lively take on foie gras, frozen and shaved like very smooth ice cream that melts on the tongue. It is served with the very Chinese pairing of lotus root and candied osmanthus.
The Shandong classic of state banquets, squid roe soup with black pepper, is served in a coffee cup with whipped foam on top, cappuccino-style, Da Dong's nod to the fusion cuisine of El Bulli and Californian influences.
The main courses were equally astonishing, including the rice with truffle and abalone that was first presented at the Tuanjiehu branch, and perfected at Nanxincang. It was an irresistible mix of seafood, fungus and rice. Chef Dong also added steamed "iron pole" yam, which he recently discovered in Henan, another acknowledgement to today's health-conscious gourmet.
Sauted crab roe and milt with egg custard is a crab-lover's dream come true. This is classic Suzhou
cuisine, and the dish involves sauting the roe and milt with shallot and ginger in pork fat, before a libation of traditional Chinese yellow rice wine. I had detected a seafood aftertaste in previous encounters, but it's gone now, purged by the chef's constant refinement.
A pomegranate salad was the palate cleanser - followed by a rustic shredded green turnip in a clear soup and served with skinned cherry tomatoes. It is unexpected, but with hindsight, it made a lot of sense because the Chinese believe turnip aids the flow of energy in the body, and it serves to whet the appetite for more.
The restaurant's signature Peking duck deserves center stage, and it is an improved bird with skin that is even more crispy, flesh that is even more tender and with that perfect balance of flavor and aroma.
For Spring Festival gatherings, there are few places better than eating at Da Dong.
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