These 3 NYC Restaurants Make Whole-Roasted Duck the Best Comfort Food

These 3 NYC Restaurants Make Whole-Roasted Duck the Best Comfort Food
Courtesy of Greenpointers

You should leave this to the professionals. It is well worth the time and effort.

I walked two miles with my husband to Chinatown in summer 2020 to order dinner from Hwa Yuan, the Szechuan restaurant that introduced New Yorkers to cold sesame noodles back in the '80s. As we waited, the manager smiled big and offered us two bottles of Tsingtao, the first real guests in weeks, maybe months. He was used to hand off bags to anonymous delivery drivers.

After riding Citi Bikes back to our apartment, our bounty of sesame noodles, cucumber salad, and half Peking duck rode shotgun in the basket, and we began to eat. It was the height of pandemic joy to smother fatty slices of duck meat on pancakes and drizzle hoisin with abandon, even though the duck's skin had lost its edge in the take-out container.

I have been chasing this feeling lately, a dose of luxury that's also warm, fun, and uncontrived. Duck at Francie, Carne Mare, and Hutong are what drew me there.

The Brooklyn Best Seller

Courtesy of Greenpointers

Certainly, duck has been around for a while. While performing his first head chef duties at the haut-bourgeois Auberge Maxime in Westchester, chef Chris Cipollone made roasted duck with a choice of green peppercorn, orange, or cherry sauce as part of his specialties. 

A polished brasserie with a menu that straddles French, Italian and American cuisine, Francie was opened in late 2020 by Cipollone and his partner, John Winterman, as a polished brasserie. The menu features, in addition to sunchoke bomboloni, lobster ravioli, celery root, pistachio and truffle pithivier, as well as dry-aged crowns of duck.

As a result of his training, Cipollone sorely underestimated the number of ducks he would sell. Instead of just one or two ducks, his kitchen sends out 35 birds every night. And the birds are aged for 30 days before they are sold. 450 carcasses had to be accommodated in Francie's facility at various stages of aging, which required Cipollone to expand Francie's footprint.

It is Cipollone's sole responsibility to season the bird with salt and roast it, rest it and carve it after so much care has gone into aging and sourcing it, a Rohan breed from the Hudson Valley. In addition, duck legs are also prepared in more complex ways, such as duck mortadellas, duck bologneses, saucissons, and staff meals, which are made before they are aging.

A duck like Francie's is quite a sight, stuffed to the brim with herbs and flowers that resemble a peacock plume. They spend $200 every week on duck garnish, and Cipollone says guests will revolt if he changes the accoutrementation of creamy swiss chard, brown butter apple-parsnip purée, and spicy soppressata jam from his menu.

This duck is exceptional, a beautiful bird, but Cipollone still hasn't been able to figure out why this dish is so important to Francie's experience.

A Bacchanal Memory from Italy

Courtesy of Resy

There is a new restaurant in New York's South Street Seaport named Andrew Carmellini's Carne Mare that offers an American steakhouse menu, which includes martinis, wedge salads, shrimp cocktail, prime ribeye salads, and French cuisine, which includes arancini, bistecca Fiorentina, and lobster spaghetti with clam sauce.

A few pages down from the top of the menu, between the beet steaks and the gorgonzola-aged wagyu, lies the restaurant's sleeper hit: whole roast duck d'Ivan.

Carmellini spent twenty years ago "a magical night" at the Hostaria da Ivan in the tiny Italian town of Fontanelle, population 630, just east of Parma. Faith Willinger introduced him to RW Apple, the food correspondent for The New York Times, and the couple who run the inn and restaurant, Ivan Albertelli and Barbara Aimi, while he was dining with Italian cookbook author Faith Willinger.

Carmellini's team at Carne Mare roasts the duck whole for medium rare, then confites it for the remainder of the cooking process and removes the duck from its body for confiting. On a silver platter, it will be served with chicory salad, duck jus, mostarda, and roasted potatoes after approximately one hour of cooking. I don't think there is anything better than a good, honest duck, something from which you can graze for hours in the company of your friends, sipping on a glass of wine and enjoying each other's company.

There is no doubt that this is not our best seller, but it is one dish we are extremely proud of, according to Carmellini.

Duck, Aflame

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With the introduction of the Hutong duck model in mid-2019, the opulent Hong Kong-based restaurant is offering Northern Chinese cuisine at prices that match the neighborhood. The duck model is built into the duck model at Hutong. Traditionally, Peking duck has been an anchor dish on the menu, but in September, as part of a celebration of the restaurant's reopening, a fire was added to the presentation. With advance reservations, five tables were available per night.

This dish was developed in 2018 by Master Chef Martin Mak, who has been in the Chinese barbecue industry for more than 50 years. This dish was inspired by Taipei chefs setting their ducks ablaze in 2018, and is now available in New York and the restaurant's new Miami location.

In the middle of a bottle of English sparkling wine and just after the last of Hutong's rosé Champagne shrimp dumplings was devoured, the still-not-flaming duck suddenly appeared on the table. The server brought out a pile of napkins to line the floor, just in case the duck squirted.

After air drying the bird for 36 hours and seasoning it with green Szechuan peppercorns, star anise, black pepper and chile paste, the chef roasts, rests and rolls its burnished carcass out into the dining room after it has been roasted for 36 hours. With a spark, Chinese rose wine and high-proof rum are placed on a metal tray, which becomes a blue electric bath of fire when ignited.

In order to crisp the skin and to release a sweet, meaty aroma, cooks grip the duck from behind and swirl it round and round through the flames for 30 seconds.

We piled fatty slices over pancakes with papaya, scallions, and cucumber, and carved the breast meat at the tableside. To finish the meal, the cook sauteed the legs and green beans with crunchy, refreshing, unpretentious iceberg lettuce cups. The cook tossed the legs back to the kitchen, chopped them up, and served them with green beans.

The show certainly drew the attention of nearby tables. Cellphones were used to capture the spectacle. But the food was delicious, and it did not disappoint.

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