It’s amazing how often one can drive by a restaurant and never even think to enter. It’s even more astounding when one breaks from tradition (Peking Duck), samples the grub, and finds that the restaurant is a real gem. Such is the case for Wong Kee BBQ & Peking Duck, a stealth bomber Chinese restaurant in Norcross, GA. Even if the meal wasn’t flat out perfect, there isn’t a single reason to think that our abbreviated lunch experience at Wong Kee won’t go down as one of the more scrumptious samplings of this calendar year.
Tucked in the corner of Ben Thanh Plaza (know to us Gaijin as Oakbrook Square Shopping Center), foot traffic for this strip mall usually goes the way of Hong Kong Supermarket. To (Peking duck) complicate matters, Wong Kee’s immediate neighbor is the widely overrated Bento Café (which I’ll recap in the next few days if not hours). As a consequence of those two hot topics, this “little Chinese restaurant that could” seems to get a little lost in the mix. After a single glance, that appears to be a real shame.
Having just spent a good 30-minutes stuffing my face full of Celia’s, Spark Plug and I left Brother Chris behind and went to top off over at Bento Café (Peking Duck). On our way through the Ben Thanh parking lot, two words of mystical harmony caught my eye: “Peking Duck.” One look in the window and we were hooked. Adventures were in order and Wong Kee gladly obliged.
Just past the food porn window is butchers station followed by a sparsely decorated 50-seat dining room. I can’t say that I found the place sparkly glowy (Peking Duck), but they did get a 94 on the health inspection (for whatever that’s worth). Far from toxic, the digs are just like your average BuHi ethnic eatery.
Upon entering, we were chatted up by a man in the throws of lunch. After a friendly exchange, he invited us to have a seat. Shortly thereafter we met a friendly woman who seemed to have quite a maternal instinct. It seems she is responsible for a good bit of the service as well as many of the dishes (see: anything cooked in the wok). Meanwhile, a man (perhaps the husband) handles the butchering and grilling while moving about with tactical precision (Peking Duck).
My eyes rarely deceive and so a glance at the menu was simply a matter of lip service. Yes, an order of Peking duck was required. Being that I was with the bottomless pit of all bottomless pits, we decided to get the ridiculously reasonable “Dinner for Two.” Supplementing the half-order of Peking Duck was a huge bowl of wonton soup and an eye-catching plate of house special fried rice. Though I really wanted to try the “Customer fried rice” (I swear to God that’s they call it), one look at the plate of grain and my mind was at peace (Peking duck). The real kicker … which put this place over the top before the meal even began … was the plate of accoutrements. In addition to the Hoison sauce and vegetables, Wong Kee serves their duck with house made steamed buns. No, they aren’t quite Momofuku, but it’s an awesome switcheroo from predictably used crêpes.
Ladies and gents … Foodies of Buddha … Purveyors of Protein: This was the best Peking Duck I’ve had in Atlanta proper … ever! [Yes, that includes the famed Ming’s BBQ]. Lean, juicy, and cooked to perfection … this high quality sampling of Daffy made my heart flutter. Sure, it could have been a little warmer … but everything else was just damn good. With no discernable hint of Five Spice, the duck was crisp, deliberate, and simplistically elegant, if one can imagine a butchered bird (Peking Duck) as a statement of elegance.
Meanwhile, the buns were wonderfully soft and served as the perfect accent against the crisp meatiness of the duck, the crunchy bite of the scallions, and the subtle sweetness of the Hoisin sauce. Of course, you can add as much or the extras as you’d like – so user error may alter that interpretation :-).
Just outside of the word “traditional,” this theme continued on through the other dishes. In traditional Cantonese cooking, the broth for wonton soup (Peking Duck) is often mild and understated. Here, there was a distinct (yet appropriate) hint of garlic. Though the meat inside the dumplings didn’t light my fire, the casings were house made. Though not a true winner for me, there was something comforting in a dish “Your mom would make.” That of course, assuming your mother hailed from the other side of the globe.
This comfortable hint of home carried on through to the rice. It was just awesome. Though slightly Westernized in flavor, the fresh vegetables, plump grains of rice, deliciously roasted pork, and deliciously abundant eggs really hit a home run. In all fairness, the fried rice (Peking Duck) was probably ladled with garlic on the way out of the kitchen … it was prevalent to say the least. However, the garlic did not over power the dish. Instead, it served as one of the main provocateurs. If our sampling is representative of the greater good – you might want to shy away if garlic ain’t your thang. However, I love it … and I loved the dish. No, not straight up authentic … but straight up good.
As we wound down, our bellies were full, our palates fat and happy (Peking Duck), and our wallet only slightly less so. For just $24.00, we had a meal that should feed most normal couples for dinner. Seeing as we were in the middle of a three stop whirlwind tour of the Seven Deadly sins, it was the only thing that made what was to follow a bearable experience.
If Wong Kee does anything close to this on a consistent basis, then call it a destination worthy restaurant. Even if the rest of the menu is an adventure in mediocrity, the rice and the Peking Duck were home runs. If you don’t venture outside the dishes we sampled, that’s okay – because it’s worth the drive.
This message brought to you (Peking Duck) by Kevin Nealon: