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Duck, Duck, Goose... 

Fowl play

Wednesday, Jul 21 1999
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Photo by Anne Fishbein

888

This terrifically elegant restaurant specializes in Chiu Chow seafood, the cooking of the ethnic Chinese who migrated from China to Southeast Asia dozens of generations ago: crunchy "crab balls," i.e. tofu-skin-wrapped dumplings of fresh crabmeat and taro, and fish noodles, lumpish strands of homemade chewy linguine with leeks and slivers of fish -- smoky, sweet and a little salty. (One soup, served in a bubbling chafing dish, holds a whole perch gently poached in the heat of broth sharp with the flavor of Chinese celery and herbs, tart with sour plum.) Neither is fowl scanted at 888. A thick, peppery shredded-duck soup has almost the flavor of a classic hot-and-sour soup but made vivid with the occasional blast of muskiness from dried orange peel; duck-and-sour-plum soup has a slightly high, slightly sweet poultry/fruit taste that is almost like a blast from a Thanksgiving dinner. The menu's most astonishing dish may be Chiu Chow­style braised goose, a specialty of the restaurant: neat slices of white meat and dark arranged in a heap, garnished with strips of fried bean curd served with a dipping sauce somewhat like a fruity Chinese vinaigrette -- probably even worth its cost: $20 per half-order. 8450 Valley Blvd., Suite 121, Rosemead; (626) 573-1888. Open daily 9 a.m.­3 p.m. and 5­10 p.m. Full bar. Guarded lot parking. CB, DC, MC, V.

 

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Lucky Deli

Certain alleys in Chinatown are alive with the glorious high aroma of garlic, star anise and charring, sugary poultry drippings that usually signifies ducks in the oven. (When the breeze is right, you can smell ducks on the wind as far away as City Hall.) And Cantonese roast duck -- not Peking duck, not pi-pa duck, not salty simmered duck -- may be the most popular duck dish in Chinatown. And the best Cantonese roast duck in Chinatown, a sweet, garlicky bird, tinged with char, as smoke-ruddy as great barbecue and somehow both chewy and filled with juice, comes from Lucky Deli, which encompasses both the actual delicatessen and the extremely basic café next door. This place has been in Chinatown so long that it tends to be taken for granted, but with duck roasting, as with so many things, sometimes the old-fashioned ways are best. 706 N. Broadway, Chinatown; (213) 625-7847. Open daily 8 a.m.­8 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $5­$10. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. Cash only.

 

Nice Time Deli

If this splendid Taiwanese noodle shop served nothing but Chiu Chow­style goose-meat soup noodles -- firm round pasta in a smoky goose broth, tender white slices of goose -- it would still be worth the drive. It may be the single tastiest bowl of noodles in San Gabriel Square, the one-stop, two-story Chinatown that may be the best-smelling mall in America -- no small beer. But there is also the Taiwanese fishcake-porkball soup called check-a noodle, and oysters fried with egg, and squid sautéed with thin strands of Chinese celery. Pork biko, involving spicy shreds of pork tossed with black beans and pieces of succulent, profoundly bitter Chinese melon, is unlike anything you've ever tasted before; strange, but oddly compelling, not unlike a straight shot of some unfamiliar Italian liqueur. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 209, San Gabriel; (626) 288-0149. Lunch for two, food only, $5­$12. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.

 

Quanjude

Quanjude's Beijing duck is so remarkably superior to the Beijing ducks you might have grown up eating that the effect is not unlike taking a first bite of first-class toro sushi after a lifetime of StarKist on Wonder Bread. If you are not Chinese, a waiter will probably come over to show you how to eat this smoked delicacy, how to smear a paper-thin wheat pancake with a bit of the house's bean sauce, top it with the white of a scallion, chopstick up a piece or two of the duck skin, and roll it up into a kind of elegant taco. The skin is crisp, giving way under your teeth like the glaze on a crème brûlée; the sweetness of the bean sauce amplifies the duck's unctuousness like the glaze on a Virginia ham; the sharpness of the scallion cuts through the sweet richness, bringing the whole dish into balance. It's worth a trip to Beijing, let alone Rosemead. 8450 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead; (626) 280-2378. Open daily 11:30 a.m.­2 p.m. and 5:30­9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, about $26. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. MC, V.

 

Sanamluang

The crown prince of Thai noodle shops and as brightly lit as a Burger King, Sanamluang may be the busiest place in east Hollywood. For duck hunters, there is an extremely good version of the traditional combination cha-po, duck and crunchy bits of deep-fried belly pork, served with rice and fish sauce; and a salad made with slivers of Chinese roast duck can be fine. Best of all, though, is the extraordinary General's noodle soup: thin egg noodles, penetratingly garlicky, garnished with bits of duck, barbecued pork, crumbles of ground pork, a couple of shrimp and a teaspoon of sugar, either dry or submerged in a clean, clear broth that may be the most soothing thing possible at the end of the night, especially enlivened with a few slices of the vinegared Thai chiles from the little jar on the table. 5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 660-8006. Other locations at 12980 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, and 1648 Indian Hill Blvd., Pomona. Open daily 9 a.m.­4 a.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12­$18. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.

 

Zest

The basic unit of Cantonese dining in Los Angeles seems to be the barbecue joint, and it is scarcely possible to drive three blocks on any major thoroughfare in Chinatown or Monterey Park without seeing a window or two filled with the characteristic conga line of impaled pigs, lacquered ducks, simmered intestines and salted chicken. At Zest, a bright, sprawling restaurant near the eastern edge of Alhambra and one of the hundred-odd Hong Kong­style barbecue places in the San Gabriel Valley, the barbecue is first-rate: the meaty barbecued duck complexly gamy, flesh tight and chewy, slightly smoky, touched with a stinging, salty marinade. Its strong taste approaches that of a wild mallard. 2505 Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 281-9968. Open Sun.­Thurs. 8 a.m.­10 p.m. and Fri.­Sat. 8 a.m.­11 p.m. $3.95 lunch specials. Dinner for two, food only, $12­$22, more with live seafood. Beer and wine. Takeout and delivery. Lot parking. MC, V.

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