Sunday, January 30, 2011

Peking Duck at Tri-Village - Irvine


It was at a dinner with my esteemed OC Weekly colleagues when I realized I'd been going at it all wrong. The assumption I previously held was that I had to go to the Chinese food Mecca of San Gabriel Valley to get a proper Peking duck. I did just this a few months ago, making the pilgrimage to the much lauded Duck House in Monterey Park where I ate the dish and concluded that duck skin is a tease. After it all, I said I'd rather have the skull-rattling crunch of roasted pork skin, thanks.

On that post I wrote the following as my conclusion:

"Compare them to a Chinese roasted pig, or Filipino lechon, and the water fowl skin seems like a lightweight. It's like O'Douls next to a pint of Guinness. A Lay's chip next to a Kettle Brand. William Baldwin next to Alec Baldwin. You get the idea."

Then I had the duck from Tri-Village** in Irvine. And finally, I'd found what I'd been looking for, and to think it was here within arm's reach and a less than 10-minute drive all along.

Since that evening and every evening I've had this duck, I've decided that this will be the bird I'll be putting up against all others. To my friends who live the San Gabriel Valley, I'll say, ours is better than yours.

To look at the shaved skin in its crispy, caramel-colored shards, you could mistake them for sheets of spun sugar candy--shiny, translucent and ever so brittle. And to taste them is to conclude that duck skin IS candy. This was far and away better than anything I had previously.

If you want to order this duck, you must plan ahead and call it in at least two hours in advance of your arrival. It will cost you somewhere around $30 for the bird, a few bucks more for the soup they'll make from the rest of the carcass.

But what you receive is a ritual that respects the bird as more than just a meal. Eating Peking duck at Tri-Village feels like an event.

Compare this to The Duck House in Monterey Park and it's almost like night and day. Since The Duck House is in the business of turning out duck after duck, you never see your bird before it's sliced up and turned into a plate of skin and meat. It could be any other dish, really. You are then charged with wrapping your own duck crepes.

When Tri-Village brings out the duck you requested, whole and glistening, they'll allow you to inspect it before they do the carving. And the service doesn't end there. They will assemble your duck tacos for you table-side, taking round after round of the pliant crepe-like tortillas, painting them with a swipe of a special Hoisin-like sauce, placing some shaved curls of scallion, a few flecks of that flavorful and crunchy skin, scraps of meat, and finally rolling each one into lengthy cigars, one after another, each equally portioned so that every bite is as delectable as the last.

After you eat one, and the one after that, you'll come to the same realization I made earlier. By the time the soup comes, you're sold. This murky, soul-soothing simmer of the meat-stripped bones is equal to the majesty of the dish that preceded it. Bowl after bowl, you'll slurp clear noodles and sip a broth that reaffirms the best things in life are those that simple and close by.

Tri-Village
14121 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620
(949) 857-8833

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Bistro Anju - Laguna Niguel

**Note: Please read the update regarding the change in ownership in the comments section.

14 Comments:

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Greg said...

actually, you should've paid another $6 to $8 (I forget, it's been a while since I've been to Tri Village) and get the "3 eats" for the duck. So, that's skin (plus some meat) for the wrap, carcass for the soup, and meat stir-fryed with leeks. Now that's some good eating.

But yes, Tri-Village is a very underrated Chinese restaurant in Irvine. Quite possibly because of its location.

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Very cool discovery and something new to try! Keep stuff like this coming!

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Sounds like a Chinese restaurant that's worth the look in the OC! The service seems just like in Hong Kong's fancier restaurants, very professional and showy.

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

wow, this has win written all over it! Have yet to try Tri, I no longer have a verifiable excuse not to...

 
At 7:11 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Good grief I haven't had duck like this for awhile and finding one that serve it with the thin crepe is impossible.

 
At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long ago did you go? The Yelp reviews make it sound like things have gone downhill with the new management.

 
At 3:43 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

All,

Thanks to Anonymous, it has come to my attention that Tri-Village might have changed ownership since the last time I visited (it is well known that the original owners went off to start Asian Tapas on Sand Canyon in 2007).

The first trip I made to Tri-Village in its second incarnation was in October, the next sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Checking the liquor license records confirms there was a change in ownership sometime in the past two months.

http://www.abc.ca.gov/datport/LQSDBALst.asp?DBA=%27TRI%25VILLAGE%27

Thus, please take this review with a grain of salt, as you might not have the same experience I did.

This, of course, means I will have to go back and try them again.

I did, however, check that they do still serve Peking Duck for the same price I paid. I hope the chef is the same genius who prepared the duck a few months ago.

 
At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to go way back in 2008 when it asks for 24 hours reservation. In fact, at one lunch, a friend of mine was late and the chef and the maître d' were literally threatening us to either let them serve the duck or they'll serve it to another table less it passed it's prime time window (it would have been too crispy). All of my friends that we invited love it. Heck, my mother in law likes it and she doesn't like duck.

Alas, then I heard it went downhill so I stopped coming. A friend went there and said that it didn't require reservation and it was not carved table side anymore. It sounded from your review that it went back to great again. Except that I might have missed the window since it changed ownership again. Grrr.....

This is the best one I have in US. I haven't tried the Monterey Park Duck House but I have tried a few including Peking Duck in Palo Alto. Now I am not sure Duck House is worth the trip. Fyi, I also have tried Peking Duck in Hong Kong a long time ago but I cannot actually make a comparison since I can't remember.

 
At 8:54 PM, Blogger Marie said...

Uhh, I have never wanted to go to Irvine so badly. Looks so good.

 
At 9:03 PM, Blogger caninecologne said...

man, that looks so good - i've had duck skin before but never like that (in wraps). my mouth is watering as i type this!

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

OK Elmo, the votes are in
You need to go back in for the sake of the Team!

 
At 1:55 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

This *WAS* also the best one I've had. I need to go back soon. I really do!

Marie,

I'm almost sure the Peking duck hasn't changed...but I'm keeping my finger crossed, especially if you're going to come down before I get to eat this again.

caninecologne,

This is the way to have it...if it still looks like this!

christoofat,

The team has spoken!

 
At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm moving to the area. Question... I tend to gravitate to "American" Chinese places - the stuff I grew up with back in Chicago. Big, fat egg rolls (not spring rolls). Kung Pao. Hot & Sour. Egg Drop. The basics. Not fusion/chain like a P.F. Chang or Panda Express, but not authentic like Sam Woo either. I'm a white meat chicken guy. A bit squeamish for tendon or bones. I know there's a ton of restaurants over by 99 Ranch Market. Do you know of anything in Jeffrey/5 area that fits the bill? Maybe even the Spectrum. My best friend is Chinese and she laughs at me ("You want places that cater to white people"), but... I like what I like. I know you've tried everything. Is there hope for me? Thanks.

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

You'd probably be pleased at trying out places like Yen Ching in Orange (http://www.yenchingoc.com/). I've never been, but my American friends swear by it. It's old school from the 70s Chinese. Though even here I don't think they serve those fat egg rolls that you Yanks eat with duck sauce. Good luck and let me know .

 

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