While other children my age were perfectly satisfied with eating buttered noodles (a bland phenomenon I will never understand), I spent my summers and winters in Taipei demanding to eat Peking duck. Give me some fat, crispy-skinned duck caramelized in its own juices, and I will be the most well-behaved kid on this planet. It worked every time.
Let it be known that I hardly eat Peking duck in the States. It is always a sure disappointment that will make me start itching to buy a plane ticket to Taiwan the very second I finish my meal – money be damned. When I heard that Mr. Wok serves up a mighty duck, I decided that it was time to break my golden rule and see what all the fuss was about.
Jump or quack for more.
Preparing a Peking duck is a long and lengthy process that requires chefs to blow air under the duck’s skin to separate it from the fat, then brush the duck with syrup and spices that’ll soak into the duck’s skin while it’s hanging up to dry. It’s a complicated process that once made me skeptical about finding a suitable Peking duck chef in the likes of Dallas, Texas. Eating Peking duck is similar to eating a fajita… except (how do I say this nicely?) it’s better. Hands down. Nobody can deny the lure of juicy duck meat combined with crunchy skin, chopped green onions, and sweet hoisin sauce wrapped inside a thin, crepe-like covering. (And if that person does exist, we need to have a little chat.)
Jack Kang, 33, and owner of Mr. Wok, calls the crepe-like wrapping a “pancake,” but it’s actually supposed to be much thinner than a pancake. Before he took over his family’s restaurant, Kang roamed the kitchen of Mr. Wok as a ten-year-old boy while his parents worked long, tiring shifts. “I realized in my senior year of high school that this was the route I wanted to take, but my dad tried to talk me out of it,” says Kang. After graduating from UT’s business school, Kang took over the restaurant in 2000, opting to keep the same booths and chairs that graced the store’s opening day in 1989. Now the furniture looks like it should belong to a garage sale, but Kang claims that customers tell him his restaurant looks cozy.
What’s certain is that it’s easy to forget Mr. Wok’s shabby interior as soon as Kang brings a roasted whole duck tableside promptly after you sit down. (That’s if you called early to make a reservation.) He lifts the duck by its feet and starts carving the living juice out of it – an exciting show to watch if you’re into the art of duck slicing like nerdy, nerdy me. The duck is skinny with minimal fat (around 6-7 lbs), so Kang packs up his knives after five minutes of comfortable small talk and finishes arranging the duck slices onto a plate.
My parents, both expert Peking duck eaters, agree with me that Kang’s duck was prepared well, but the pancakes (which were thick as tortillas and clearly not made in-house) and hoisin sauce (which tasted like it came straight out of a can) were certainly not rave-worthy. Still, it makes me as proud as a puffed-up dead duck that my city can serve this dish to a welcoming crowd. According to Jack Kang, Mr. Wok sells around 70 ducks per week mostly to weekend customers who enjoy the freedom of bringing their own wine and beer to pair with popular dishes like mango shrimp and beggar’s chicken. “We don’t have a corkage fee,” says Kang. “I don’t believe in that.”
While Mr. Wok’s duck ($32.95 for 12 pancakes, feeds 4-5 people) didn’t meet my high expectations, it is certainly worth a taste for those who’ve never ventured into the Peking duck world.
Other dishes to try: Cantonese crispy egg noodles are a recent menu addition ($7.95), and I must admit that I ate all four banana-chocolate spring rolls ($4.95) without pausing to breathe.
Tips on having the best Peking duck experience: It takes a good 12 hours to roast an entire duck from start to finish, so do Jack Kang a favor and call one day ahead to tell him you’re coming. You can choose to order the duck with buns (gua bao) or the pancakes. After Jack finishes slicing the duck, you decide whether he makes the duck bones into a soup or stir fries them. Go with the soup. It comes with rice noodles, napa cabbage, and sour mustard leaves. The stir fry makes your duck bones look like carnage. BYOB. Pay the bill. Give Jack a hug. You know the drill.
Mr. Wok Asian Bistro
Mon-Sat from 11am – 10pm
2600 14th St., Plano, TX 75074