I’m not a picky eater. I have but a handful of ingredients or items that I really don’t care for and will avoid eating (e.g. lima beans). Beyond that, I’m pretty much game for whatever. But I think a lot of people hate a particular ingredient or dish because they had it prepared incorrectly or badly. Certain items are also just hard to prepare and one is more likely to encounter a bad preparation than a good one. Duck is one such ingredient. I know a lot of people who hate it, claiming it’s too fatty, chewy, and difficult to eat. I would probably have counted myself in that group until five or six years ago, when a friend took me to a proper Peking duck dinner in New York’s Chinatown. I have not looked at duck the same way since.
When I’d heard from Anna of a good Peking duck place in Chicago, I got very excited. It took me a while to round up a sufficiently large enough group. (In my opinion, this is an outing best experienced in a larger group, family style.) I found five people (including two who claimed at the outset that they would not eat duck) and we headed over to Sun Wah BBQ.
We went for the whole Peking duck dinner option. Phase 1 was the duck carved table side, along with sauce and garnishes. We got two orders (one is definitely not enough) of the “pancakes” to eat with the duck. The pancakes here are more like steamed buns, hot, soft, and pillowy. Although the duck was the main event, we ordered a few entrees for the group, in part because we had duck haters at the table and in part because we were curious to see how the kitchen handled more standard Chinese restaurant fare. We got a stir-fried Chinese broccoli, a sweet and sour chicken, and a plate of pan fried spareribs with hot peppers that our server recommended to us. All the entrees were good but the duck with the pancakes was definitely the star. The skin was wonderfully crisp and the duck well roasted. The duck haters seeing our reactions, eventually got curious and tried some. Boom. Instant converts.
Phase 2 involved a rather unremarkable duck soup made with some of the leftover duck. It tasted similar to a pho broth. My one quibble with it was the temperature. I like my soups nice and hot and this one was a bit tepid. Rounding out the meal with Phase 3, however, was a nice plate of duck fried rice and it was delicious! The Korean side of me was also quite pleased to see no part of this meal going to waste. And the price! We all had our fill (four guys, two girls) and the bill (with tip) came out to a mere $13/person.
A few other things of note. Service was extremely slow (even taking into account that I tend to cut ethnic restaurants a lot of slack in this department) and this is NOT the sort of place I would recommend to someone who has a set amount of time to eat. I would also highly recommend reservations. We had an early dinner (5:30) and probably could’ve gotten away without having one but by the time we left (close to 8:00) there was a sizable line and the restaurant was packed. The restaurant recently moved into a new space. It’s a bit unassuming from the street and we were all surprised to see how well lit and spacious it was inside.
All in all, a great experience. I’ll definitely be going back, particularly to convert more friends to eating duck.
Sun Wah BBQ: 5041 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL