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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Annals of Chinese

This past weekend I found myself leaning against a gigantic poster of John McEnroe while eating duck.  I'm not sure which was more intriguing - the poster or the duck.

Of course, as some may have deduced, I was at Momofuku Ssam, one of David Chang's Asian-inspired establishments. I shall not get into the genesis and development of the Momofuku Empire here.  Suffice it to say - having only been to Noodle Bar and Ssam - I respect it with qualifications, and feel like it's probably overrated.

Now, the duck.

I find duck mysterious.  The flavor can be rich and seductive in a way that is hard to describe.  It can also be horribly hard to eat.  Indeed, I wonder if the intoxicating nature of duck is amplified by its elusiveness.

Almost a year ago, my sources tell me, Ssam began serving duck.  Some of these same sources also told me that the Momofuku duck was excellent.  Considering that I enjoy excellent things, I made the executive decision to ascertain the quality of this most peculiar of fowls.

The Rotisserie Duck comes with a portion of breast meat - no bones to mess with - atop nicely cooked rice and some watercress.  I also opted for a chive pancake.  Oh, and there was some shredded duck meat beneath the plump breast meat, as well.

The duck, taken on its own merits - as in just the duck, no sauces, without the pancake, etc. - was good.  Yes, I just used the word 'good.'  It wasn't mind blowing.  It had the consistency of a country ham, another staple on the menu, which made me wonder if indeed I had been brought a pig and not a duck.  Alas, it was a duck.

Adding various sauces and the pancake, it was a more than serviceable meal.  One sauce in particular, made of duck fat and loads of ginger, was more than good.  The brightness of the ginger cut the richness of the duck fat in an epic symphony.

(I am so ashamed I just used the word "brightness" to describe ginger, in much the same way "brightness" is used to describe tomato sauce.  I am also somewhat ashamed that I said the ginger "cut" the richness of the duck fat.  Food writers often use this term, "cut," to describe something acidic or fresh-tasting that contrasts with a fat or oil.  For some odd reason it gets the point across, but I'll be damned if I don't find it an irritating verb)

In conclusion, I am tired, and tired of writing this.  Momofuku provided an enjoyable meal, but was it that excellent?  I don't believe so.  I believe it was good.  Pretty good.   A reason to celebrate and thank the gods?  I don't believe so.