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Peking Duck Forest

1/2 I tried to kill three birds with one stone: buy a wok, pick up Asian groceries and eat peking duck, all while bypassing Manhattan's Chinese New Year crowds. I succeeded on two counts in Queens. Unfortunately, the kitchen supply store was closed for the holiday (though I did recently read that buying a new wok is considered a New Year's tradition, so I had the right spirit).

I was a little nervous about peking duck not in a proper Chinatown, particularly peking duck off of Forest Hills main drag–Austin Street is a weird semi-suburban scene, very Long Island in look and feel. But heck, the restaurant did have the words peking and duck in their name, you'd hope they could deliver the goods.

And they pretty much did, though I was more enamored by the ambience and clientele. The restaurant isn't huge, and at 6:45 pm on a Saturday (which I thought was early) there was a surprisingly long wait for tables. I figured out why after being seated. Minus the side-by-side row of three middle aged couples who all looked exactly the same (chunky balding guys with sporty leather jackets and white tennis shoes and their female counterparts), much of the room was filled with solo dining elderly women, reading the New York Post, nursing what looked like whiskey cocktails, very very slowly picking at their food (we'd eaten half of our large meal before one of the women even decided to order. By that point she was on her second drink and probably bored with The Post) and generally giving the staff a hard time.

Crabby Disheveled Senior: I want teriyaki. Where's the teriyaki?

Accommodating Older Waiter: [Can't actually hear initial reply, though I doubt he bothered trying to explain that teriyaki isn't Chinese] Maybe you'd like the beef with oyster sauce. It's called oyster sauce but doesn't taste like oysters. It's very good.

Crabby Disheveled Senior: I don't like fish!

I've seen my future and its not pretty. I might become (ha, become) a loner alcoholic crank, but at least I'd hope to be culinarily bright. Maybe I should start going to Spanish restaurants and demand tacos, just to get the practice.

It was mildly worrisome that no one around us appeared to be eating the peking duck, despite its prominence on the menu. The restaurant tries to be a little ambitious, its a notch above typical NYC Chinese take out, though its hardly the kind of joint that Asians or purists would frequent (which could partly be blamed on the neighborhood rather than the food, though it was impossible to ignore the staff dining next to us on Chinese food that had been delivered, not cooked in house). Dishes like veal with apples and cashews reek of aspiration. And they have a full bar, the wines by the bottle werent completely hideous, though glasses and carafes only came in Chardonnay, merlot and white zinfandel. Gross, but like a good future loner alcoholic (I forgot to mention penny pinching) I ordered the house Chardonnay anyway. My two $4 glasses were filled to the brim, and I got much tipsier than anticipated. Maybe the evening was viewed through rosé colored glasses because I had a really good time.

The appetizers were old school. I freaked when I saw crab rangoon on the menu, this was so my kind of place. $17.50 per person might sound sort of steep for this kind of thing, but the whole shebang includes beef skewers, shrimp toast, egg rolls, steamed dumplings, soup (we chose one with duck, tofu and spinach) and an additional entre–we picked salt and pepper squid. The service is of the ingratiating, almost too helpful persuasion. While not the most ghetto neighborhood, I feared the waiters getting regularly pushed around and beaten into submission by demanding customers who only want sweet and sour pork and chicken fried rice and to be treated like kings. Class is white tablecloths and the absence of plastic backlit food photos.

The peking duck was presented with great fanfare (so was the soup, each item was said aloud as parceled into individual bowls from the steaming serving dish), a spectacle is made of spreading, stuffing and rolling of the pancake-wrapped packages. The waiter has it down to an art, he managed to use all the scallion, cucumber and duck to create six equal sized Chinese burritos. The extra four go into a domed metal container to keep warm while you eat. James was very disappointed that the duck wasn't carved in front of us, they bring the meat pre-sliced and fanned on a platter. I was ok with it, the taste hadn't suffered, but it tainted the meal for him. Consequently, when we get our next peking duck craving its likely well head to Peking Duck House in Manhattan. But I swear if I'm ever hungry in Forest Hills I totally know where I'm going.

Peking Duck Forest * 10712 70th Rd., Forest Hills, New York

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