Everyone knows the Chinese have all the money, so now a bunch of fancy Chinese restaurants are opening up in New York to cater to this clientele. These places are big and swanky, having more in common with a slick and clubby Hakkasan than humble little Hop Kee on Mott St. The latest, and perhaps most anticipated, addition is DaDong (the restaurant has been booked solid on Opentable for months), a famous Beijing chain renowned for its roast duck. Its splashy U.S. debut in Bryant Park leaves no doubt that this is clearly a high end restaurant where no expense was spared in its design and construction. Guests walk into a sleek lobby and are greeted by an attractive host who shows you to the elevator, as if you are going to the rooftop of a nice bar for bottle service, except in this case you’re either going to the second floor for a la carte dining or the third floor for the fancier tasting menu experience.
Service here is much more attentive given the elevated dining experience that DaDong is trying to deliver, although the servers’ recitations of food descriptions and interactions with guests are a little awkward. Perhaps they are still trying to get over opening day jitters, or maybe, and this is what I really think, it’s that China still has a lot to learn when it comes to customer service, as it doesn’t really come naturally in a country where that tradition was nonexistent. But I do appreciate that they are being nice and pleasant, even if it feels a little overdone at times.
It’s funny how the more expensive a restaurant is, the smaller the portions become. I guess when you earn more money, eating becomes less about survival and more about slimming yourself down. In this case, the size reduction felt very draconian and dear, given that I still expect reasonably priced, family-style plates at a Chinese restaurant. When a tiny plate of our $26 wagyu sea salt and lime seared beef arrived at our table, I initially thought they had portioned out a bigger serving for each one of the 6 of us, but unfortunately I was wrong and we all had to share the one small sliver of beef. Was it the best piece of meat I ever had? Definitely not, and it would be something I’d skip the next time around. The beijing zhajiang noodles were a big hit at our table, a more delicate and refined version of something similar to dan dan noodles, but again, it would have been more enjoyable if there were more than 3-4 noodles per person to share.
I’ll sound like a broken record complaining about our order of kung pao shrimp, but, yes, we paid $36 for a plate and I only got to eat one shrimp. Maybe someone in our group ate more than his or her fair share, but it shouldn’t have to get to this point even with a little freeriding. I was happy that our order of sauteed snow pea shoots was of a size on par with a normal restaurant’s and the execution was great–the pea shoots weren’t overly soggy or in too much oil, and there was still some crunch to the greens, which weren’t unwieldy with massive stalks, a pet peeve of mine. The braised eggplant was delicious and meaty but again suffered from portion control.
Our order of whole roasted duck thankfully was sufficient for our group, with even several pieces leftover. Now let me tell you about this duck, which is one very special bird. Apparently the restaurant spent a lot of months searching for a farm in the States that would raise a duck with just the right proportions that would meet DaDong’s standards, and the one farm in America that could meet this standard was Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. The duck has 15% less fat than a typical duck, resulting in a leaner meat with less imperfections than what’s the norm. Can you taste the difference? I certainly could, and I loved how there was so much flavor in the meat with less chewy fat and the skin was perfectly crispy. Of course, a duck this special needs to be carved tableside by someone in impeccable chef’s whites for at least 15 minutes. You can eat the duck in three different ways–the first is the traditional pancake and plum sauce method, the second is in a puffed sesame bun with some vegetables, and the third is straight up with some salt. Like the saying goes, don’t mess with tradition, because the pancake and plum way really is the best.
After the duck the meal is basically over, although you can opt for some tea service to help settle the rich fat in your system. There are a few fancy Western style desserts that looked like they were on trend in the early aughts that you can order off the menu, and while they taste fine, particularly the white chocolate shells, these aren’t DaDong’s strong suits. A meal at DaDong is really all about having your ducks in a row and anything else will probably be out of line.
3 Bryant Park
New York, NY 10036