Review: Mandarin Pressed Duck, Su Hong Eatery-Palo Alto
If the McDonald’s McRib is the sandwich that plays hard-to-get then Mandarin Pressed Duck is the Sasquatch of Chinese luxury food. It’s a dish so difficult to find that its very existence is called into doubt by some. I first encountered Mandarin Pressed Duck at age eight while dining with my parents at the long since defunct and much lamented original Ming’s Restaurant in Palo Alto. As a boy I was fascinated by the appearance of the entree. Perfectly formed little cubes of duck meat covered with a red glazed sweet and sour sauce and sprinkled with slivered almonds. The bite sized hexahedrons were unlike anything I’d ever seen before with the possible exception of astronaut food cubes. Placing one in my mouth I found the flavor to be exquisite. The soft yet slightly crunchy texture was delightful. It soon became one of my favorite treats.
But all good things must come to an end and after a few changes of ownership and one change of location Ming’s closed. Thus began my decades long search for the elusive Mandarin Pressed Duck. Many establishments claimed to have it but didn’t really. What they had was some other duck meal that they thought would be adequate, or perhaps they didn’t know what I was asking for. Pressed Duck is labor intensive and time consuming to prepare and that contributes to it being an unfashionable item with restaurant owners and managers. Even the mighty internet contains almost no references to it.
After years of fruitless searching I was ready to admit defeat and throw in the towel. But with perseverance, and luck, my efforts were rewarded and quite close to home. Su Hong Eatery in Palo Alto has Mandarin Pressed Duck on the menu. The Su Hong Pressed Duck has the flavor and texture that I loved as a child. It’s the prefect balance of sweet and savory, tender and crispy. Simply put, it defies description.
Sadly Su Hong falls short on presentation. If I were being charitable I’d describe the duck as rustic. The hexahedrons should be of uniform shape and about one third the size. Is this really so important? I think it is. You could eat these delicacies with a knife and fork but who uses a knife and fork for Chinese cuisine? Chopsticks are the only way to go but this presents a problem. The cubes are too big to be eaten whole unless you have an exceptionally large mouth and I don’t. Attempting to bite off part without dropping the uneaten segment on you plate, or in your lap, requires considerable dexterity. Dining in public no one wants to be un-dainty. But on second thought, they’re so delicious I don’t care if I look like a caveman.
If you want to try this for yourself you’d better hurry. Su Hong will close its doors for good in September 2019. The land has been rezoned and the building will be razed. If you know of some place else that offers Mandarin Pressed Duck please let me know in the comments section. Come this fall I might begin to exhibit symptoms of withdrawal.