I’d heard about Peking Gourmet Inn from Allie B, a member of the extended Smart Kitchen Community. She insisted that if I was passing through the Washington DC Metropolitan area I had to stop in at Peking Gourmet Inn, meet her friend Lily and try their Peking Duck and Jo Yien Shrimp. I mentally pictured some hole in the wall but when asked so emphatically I try to comply. Peking Gourmet Inn was filed away for later action.
Checking my stored food notes for Washington DC, when planning my route, Peking Gourmet Inn and Allie B’s recommendation came up. I scheduled Peking Gourmet Inn for the Washington DC leg of the Summer Food Drive 2011. I was excited because as the third stop of the day, the sampling requirements sounded pretty light (a bit of duck and some shrimp, nice), I even thought I was sandbagging it since my friend Mr. DZ would be joining me and assisting in the tasting duties.
My first surprise was on the phone call to ascertain if they served Peking Duck and Jo Yien Shrimp every day and/or if had to be ordered in advance. Peking Gourmet Inn has Peking Duck every day. There is no need to order ahead. As I learned later they go through 200 to 250 Peking Ducks a day, and more than 300 on a typical weekend day. The second surprise was that I might need a reservation. Maybe I should bring a sport coat, so as not to embarrass Allie B. Learning is part of the fun of exploring.
Upon entering my second surprise was confirmed. A sport coat, though not required, would not be out of place here. Also my third and fourth surprises kicked in, the size and style of the place. Peking Gourmet Inn can seat 260 people and they are open every day of the year except Thanksgiving. I guess even Peking Gourmet Inn has trouble competing with roasted Turkey and family fights.
As for style, Peking Gourmet Inn does not have a sleek, new, modern build-out or grunge-techno flair. They have something that to me is even better a well-maintained, graceful, classic interior that is almost like retreating in time to a by-gone era. The service level and hospitality were also of another era. Entering those big wooden doors, I felt a time shift. (If you have read any of my other posts, you may know I have a weakness for history, well executed. If you don’t share it please bare with me as I gush. Take it all with a grain of coarse sea salt, in a Tiffany Dish served by a liveried footmen).
After 400 miles, a drink sounded good. There is a bar at Peking Gourmet but it is “standing room only,” not because of the crowds (at 05:47 the place was 95% empty) but because there are no chairs or stools. After a drink, we were assured the crowds would come and that we should get to our table to start the show. We ordered as per Allie B’s instructions, 2 dishes for 2 husky people and waited.
First to arrive were the fixings for the Peking Duck. I was taken with the attention and focus lavished on the just the fixings, sliced scallions (called spring onions) and julienned cucumbers. Smart Kitchen is an online culinary school and we can appreciate how much work and supervision and management goes into serving such cleanly cut and presented sides 200 or 300 times a day. They are doing something right here I thought, as I tabulated (300 ducks by $39 each less the wholesale cost of duck). Also for much of the year, though I don’t think it applied to our visit, Peking Gourmet Inn grows their own spring onions in, I believe, nearby Purcellville, VA.
Very quickly afterwards the Peking Duck arrived and was efficiently, and artfully, carved into serviceable slices of duck meat and duck skin. Notice, the crispy tasty duck skin is de-fatted by scraping the flat of the knife across each piece before it comes off the bird.
Peking Duck is “Pancakef-ified,” that is, served with the aforementioned fixings and the secret prize served in the silver covered Grab Bag: the little Chinese pancakes or tortillas. Alone each items is good but they rise in my estimation when working together to reach culinary heights. The problem is that making a “perfectly edible” burrito with the tools and skills available to hand is difficult for the untrained. Luckily, we were assisted by Poon and soon found out he had a master’s way with the rolling spoons. The results were fabulous, juicy duck and crunchy duck skin with the desired, rich hints of fat, counter balanced by the savory, mild or salty tastes of the other ingredients all contending on the canvas of the Chinese style pancake. Food Network’s Duff Goldman, from Ace of Cakes, concurs by the way. The Peking Duck from Peking Gourmet Inn is his favorite holiday food (apparently their is a local tradition of eating out at Peking Gourmet Inn for Christmas).
As we were getting the hang of the “pancaking” process the Jeo Yan Shrimp arrived.
The Jeo-Yan Shrimp is very lightly and expertly fried, battered jumbo shrimp, spiced with a hard to identify, secret-mixture that is a bit picante and a bit savory. It is in the category of curiously good, the kind of foods you love to keep eating under the guise of trying to figure it out.At this point, we had ordered the recommended items and enjoyed them a lot, that is until Lily stopped by our table to say hello. She is a very gracious host and sharp eyed restauranteur. She is known to be tight lipped about their recipes but did hint that part of the shrimps’ success came from using very hot oil.
As we were speaking another dish arrived, courtesy of Lily. It was the Szechuan Beef Proper, named because it is reportedly the proper “authentic” version of Szechuan Beef.
Though, I never have, I understand that people fight about sweet tastes and meat. Some won’t touch it, others will but only under duress and the rest can head right for it. As for me, I’ll eat and enjoy a good Duck L’Orange or a Lemon Chicken, I might even head right for it, but sweet meats are not among my “Last-Meal” choices. The Szechuan Beef Proper might be able to satisfy most of the consuming public because while it has some sweetness, it also has some savory and it is hard to determine exactly whether the overall effect is sweet or savory. No one will argue that it is not crunch or chewy. In the end, I can only say that after sufficient Peking Duck and a few servings of Jeo-Yan Shrimp, we managed to put a bit of a dent into the unexpected (Thank You Lily) Szechuan Beef Proper. It is also another dish where I could not tell exactly what is in it. I did guess correctly that they use Flank Steak, Carrots and Sesame Seeds but that is not much of a coup. The menu credits celery as well but that doesn’t get us all the way there. Maybe go in and try to figure them out yourselves.