Peking Duck Worth Leaving Town For
The idea of San Franciscans skipping town for the singular purpose of eating Chinese food is a little silly ― like Canadians driving to Phoenix to go skiing. From Shanghai soup dumplings to Islamic hot pots, this city's offerings stretch far beyond the battered, sugary sauce-laden Americanized standards and watered-down Pan-Asian options our hometown could muster. We'd like it if a delivery-friendly establishment in our five spice-deficient neighborhood could produce a truly potent hot-and-sour soup capable of trouncing a wicked cold, but otherwise, we have no complaints.
Please don't call it "quack."
Still, on a pit-stop in Palo Alto ― en route from our fair village to San Jose ― we supped at a restaurant worth a minor detour. Peking Duck sits across the street from a Burger King franchise. The bathrooms are accessible via an outdoor pathway. The cooks like to wander out to the parking lot and chew on Marlboros. The outer walls are a faded pink, with scuffed white column patterns. There's a sign, but the name is scarcely legible. It's one of the more hideous-looking exteriors we have ever seen anywhere, and yet, immediately upon walking through the front door, we were excited ― and not just because we like restaurants keen on shelling out ducats for food, not decor.
The primary cause for our elation was the meal in our future: Peking duck, of course, the scruffy joint's namesake. We once knew this asshole who insisted on calling Peking duck "quack," which, for a while, prevented us from ever ordering it. Whenever we'd get a hankering, we'd hear his tuneless voice quacking between our ears. In this case, we succumbed ― largely because our dining companions were 20-year devotees of the restaurant's rendition. Our verdict was a bit telegraphed.
An order ($24; a half runs $12.95) consists of bronzed platelets of bird laid out on a large white platter. The skin crunches louder than a bowl of Rice Krispies; the underside of each shard is tender, silken. We ordered ours with steamed buns so we could make tidy sliders with julienne green onions, cucumber spears, and dollops of hoisin. We gilded the repast with chicken-corn soup, garlicky pea shoots, quick-fried green beans with chile and extra pork, and some fantastic house-made pickles. Then we paid, pulled out of the lot, turned past the Burger King, and flapped on down the road.
Peking Duck 2310 El Camino Real (at Cambridge), Palo Alto, (650) 856-3338