For those that are unfamiliar, the Chinese and most Asian cultures have used a lunar calendar for thousands of years and traditionally celebrate the lunar New Year, which usually falls somewhere in January or February. The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals that rotate every year. So without further ado, welcome to the Year of the Rabbit!
When I was growing up, Chinese New Year meant two things; lai see and mountains of Chinese food. Lai see are money-filled red envelopes that are usually given to junior family members by senior family members (married adults). Clearly an upgrade over the Western New Year which usually consisted of a night with the grandparents and Dick Clark, while my parents were out partying.
Unfortunately, for you, our New Year's wishes cannot be accompanied by lai see. So let's get to that other highlight of Chinese New Year... the mountain of Chinese food. We've long lamented the lack of Chinese food options in DC and I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bit snobby about it after cutting my teeth on the food of LA's Chinatown. But in this case, there are no ifs, ands, or buts. My New Year's gift to you is Mark's Duck House in Falls Church which is, in my experience, the best Chinese food in the area. Not only is it good by DC standards, it is good by LA standards.
I'm sorry? What did you say? Good by LA standards? Yeah, I said it. But let me further the point. If Mark's was located in LA's Chinatown, I'm guessing it would become my family's go-to place. Yes, I was that impressed.
This last Sunday we joined our good friends for dim sum in the crowded and lively dining room. It took 45 minutes for us to get a table but before our butts had warmed the seats, food was arriving.
There are a few things to look for in great dim sum and I quickly went through my checklist. Hot and fresh? Check. Large selection? Check. Good ratio of ingredients (i.e., lots of filling)? Check? Quick and efficient service? Check.
But the one thing that is usually not on the required checklist is uniquely outstanding dishes. Dim sum to me is comfort food. I know what I like and tasting my childhood in these familiar dishes is the goal. But this was Mark's Duck House and let me say, it is aptly named, because the duck is outstanding.
All my life I've been eating duck, mainly because my mother loves it and Chinese food is meant to be eaten family style. But I've never gotten particularly excited about it. Mark's changed all that because this was my first high-fiveable experience with duck. Happy New Year to me indeed!
Despite what you might be thinking, I didn't marry B because he's Chinese... meaning I could eat noodles more often. Well, at least that's not the only reason I married him. However, being welcomed into a Chinese family has many benefits. My favorite are the New Year traditions of starting the year with a clean house (I'm weird!) and eating noodles. The long noodles symbolize long life and good luck for the coming year. Another excuse to eat noodles? Count me in!
While the noodles at Mark's Duck House were not the best I've ever had, I give high marks to the rest of the dim sum dishes. My favorite, ham sui gok (football-shaped fried dumplings), had the perfect thick layer of glutinous rice and were served hot and crispy. I could eat a dangerous amount of them.