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.
14121 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620
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Bistro Anju - Laguna Niguel
**Note: Please read the update regarding the change in ownership in the comments section.