Out with the Old, In with the New
The other day I had a Taiwanese treat. On Friday, I took my parents, brother and an aunt to Mainland China to celebrate my mother's birthday. The Viets say it's bad luck to eat duck by yourself. So, at Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, Va., the five of us split one duck and a few other dishes.
I started with the hot and sour soup, which was hearty and thick but not so much to kill my appetite.
The jumbo shrimp was dipped in a tempura-like batter and deep-fried to crisp perfection. I would have liked it if it was then seasoned with salt and pepper. Instead, some fried chilis were scattered above the pile of crustaceans. The Jeo Yen shrimp was advertised as spicy on the menu. Lies! Still, it was delicious. The shiitake mushrooms with baby bok choy were also yummy.
Peking Gourmet Inn is known for its roast ducks. Word on the street is that it goes through 10,000 birds in a week. The cramped restaurant is the favorite of lots of politicos and their hangers-on who want to be in-the-Beltway and in-the-know. The plywood walls are covered with 8" by 10" photos of these famous legislators. The difference between a restaurant in D.C. and that in L.A. is that in D.C. you don't recognize the pudgy, pasty faces on the walls but you know the names, whereas in L.A. you have a sense of familiarity with the framed headshots but can't think of the names. Peking Gourmet Inn is so successful that it can afford to triple its size and build a nice room for the people who arrive on time for their reservations but are told to wait an additional 25 minutes for a table to be available. My aunt said the owners refuse to change an inch because the north-facing eatery has such good feng shui. Here's a cook carving our $37 duck.
This is the deconstructed plate of duck meat and skin, wheat pancake, white scallions and plum sauce.
I passed on dessert at Peking Gourmet Inn because I was stuffed. Besides, my grandmom had some treats at her house. Here, a papaya and pomelo.
The next day, my mother took me out for lunch and to buy some snacks for my L.A.-bound flight leaving later that afternoon. I don't remember the name of the restaurant that we went to, but I tried their banh xeo, which is a Vietnamese crepe made of a batter leavened by coconut soda. The filling is always savory, stuffed with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. My complaint is that the restaurant went cheapo and filled the banh xeo with too many sprouts and not enough shrimp and pork.
There are two ways to eat banh xeo. You can roll it up in a lettuce leaf with some mint, Vietnamese basil and other herbs and dip it in the seasoned fish sauce. Or you can shred the lettuce, herbs and crepe in a little bowl and dip it in the sauce. I opted for the latter because I didn't want my hands to smell like fish sauce and coconut soda on the plane.
The new year brings a new critter to play with. While 2006 was the year of the dog, 2007 will be ruled by the pig. Since I was born in the year of the pig, this coming year will be either very prosperous or extremely unlucky for me. Superstition holds that you usually are beset by bad fortune in your year. My father chronicled all the bad things that happened to him in his year. In 1970, he broke his foot. In 1982, he.... But he had a great time in 2006, so perhaps the spell has been broken. I've always had a lot of fun in the year of my sign. It's true that they were all times of transition (1983: starting junior high school; 1995: moving to Cambridge, Mass., from Japan for my first real post-college job). Yet, change is good and an upbeat attitude makes all the difference. Lunar New Year starts on Feb. 18, 2007, so technically we have six more weeks of pooch positioning in Asian astrology until the beginning of the new lunar calendar. In the meantime, Happy Western New Year!