Saturday, June 19, 2010

Zenshutoku, Ginza (全聚徳)


When you're in Beijing, if you say 'Peking Duck', everyone will tell you to go to Zenshutoku (I heard this from the waiter and at least one other source - who actually lived in Beijing - so it must be true). When you're in Ginza, or Shinjuku, you may say Peking Duck with impunity, safe in the knowledge that Zenshutoku has got your back. The Ginza branch is in World Square, which is next to Ginza Core, or just southeast of the crossing (look for the Enoteca 375 and Champagne store. Or Adidas if you're like that.)

The inside is decorated with serious Chinese furniture, they say some are antiques. I often find Chinese decorating styles a bit cold, and this was no exception (the bare block walls are a funny touch for such a high-end restaurant), but in an appealing way. It was funny as well how the maire d' stood at his desk all through dinner, surveying the room - which was largely empty. Maybe Saturday night isn't the busy season for them?

We started with the mixed duck-based cold appetizers. Do not do this. Individually, the pitan (preserved eggs), duck roll (sort of duck ham filled with egg yolk) and duck feet were pretty good (yes, the feet were edible. First time I've ordered and eaten fowl feet. The first time I ordered them I didn't know what I was getting, like this time, but I didn't eat them.). But collectively, and at the price...no reason.

The duck soup, on the other hand, is worth starting with. It's deeply ducky, and the smoky bits of meat are delicious. I think they're leftovers from whole ducks that other people have eaten.

Some time around this time you should be getting into serious duck action. The ducks here seem to be cooked on open fires, which leaves them perfectly crispy in the skin region, and also very smoky.

And the head chef, who hails from the head store in Beijing, will come over to masssacre your personal duck for you personally. Ooh, if you pay extra, or use the gurunavi coupon, they'll sear your name into the skin before serving! Didn't get this treatment. DID get video of the carve and serve.

Peking Duck is very much about process, and here's the process:

First, the chef carves off a choice bit of skin, slices it into strips, and plates it...at which point the maitre d' covers it in sugar. This is meant to emphasize the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the skin, as well as the natural sweetness of the duck (although with all that sugar on, the idea of 'natural sweetness' is out the window). While you're distracted by this morsel, the chef will carve up the rest of your duck (half in our case).

And the maitre d' will get busy rollin' with tha pancakes. You have to buy a pancake set to go with the duck at Zenshutoku, but it then comes with a selection of vegetables and sauce...

Which the maitre d' rolls perfectly for you. Ever try to make your own burritos? You tried to put in too much filling, didn't you? I sure did. Here, it looked like he was over-filling them, what with the meat and the sauce and the onion and the vegetables and the sauce, but he knew his game. This is the first of the two perfect rolls he made before leaving me to my own lumpy, misshapen devices for the remaining two. Terrific duck - let me belabor that 'smoky' point, OK? Never had duck that tasted like that. Good stuff.

All of this makes me a bit nostalgic for Sydney, and BBQ King. One time I organized a big dinner there, 15 or 20 people, and I wanted to get 10 ducks to go with the case of BYO wine that we had brought in. The staff shot me down. Bastards. I still think that was the right thing to do.

And I think it's the right thing to do here too. If I was going again, I would skip the daft appetizer and sink those funds into a second half of duck. That would yield 8 pancakes per person (2 people), and by god if I say I want to eat duck, I want to eat some damn duck! The maitre d' insisted that 4 pancakes would be enough for each of us. Wrong-o.

However I would most certainly advise you to pick up an order of their famous gyoza. In a restaurant where the prices are on the high side (in keeping with the ambience and service, for sure), these boiled dumplings were excellent, and priced about the same as the cheapest you could get elsewhere. Odd, that. Plus the spicy dipping oil was, no lie, the best I can remember. They infused a bit of anise into it, which made a huge difference to me. You can see the quality in the picture I took, which I somehow deleted.

So this is basically cost-no-object duck dining, but it IS very good. The pictures on the menu also really made me want to order other stir-fried / fried items, but the above turned out to be more than enough food. I would think about going back here when I really wanted to eat duck, and use it as a short-ish dinner before going somewhere else in Ginza.

That would be just...well, you know.
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1 comment:

  1. Agreed, excellent...
    The owner's wife used to work for my father-in-law, and as such I've had the pleasure of enjoying their hospitality at the Shinjuku restaurant several times, although I've not yet done the Ginza offering.
    Nice that they allow you to eat the duck you pay for, rather than showing you the whole fowl in all its roast glory before serving ONE roll a person from it when it could easily provide 4-5 as they do at the over-priced, painfully "tasteful" Fureika, Higashi Azabu.

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