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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Five Happiness' Tea-Smoked Duck

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge A half-order of tea-smoked duck from Five Happiness, $11.75. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • A half-order of tea-smoked duck from Five Happiness, $11.75.

When no less a culinary icon than Cecilia Chiang tells you that Five Happiness -- a 38-year-old restaurant in the Inner Richmond you've passed thousands of times -- makes a great Peking duck, you listen. But when you stop by the restaurant for lunch without placing an order for the duck meal 24 hours in advance, you get the tea-smoked duck instead.

The duck, which comes from a Petaluma farm, is brined with salt, ginger, onions, and spices for a day, says the person I spoke to on the phone. Then it is smoked for two hours in a wok over hickory wood chips, tea leaves, and sugar.

As permeated with smoke as Texas-style ribs, as pink and tender-fleshed as a Virginia ham, with skin as glossy as a candied apple, the duck is quite the consolation prize. While portions of the skin still retain enough fat to discard, you can hunt down swaths of burnished, crisp skin to eat on their own. Think of it as pigless bacon.

Lion's head meatballs.
  • Lion's head meatballs.

There's a fair share of Chinese-American dishes listed in the restaurant's several menus, but many classic Taiwanese and Shanghainese ones, too: stir-fried rice cakes with pork and preserved vegetable, vegetarian goose and smoked fish, pork chop over rice. The lion's head meatballs ($8.95) are ethereal, almost airy, and faintly perfumed with five-spice powder. If the restaurant has run out of tea-smoked ducks that day, think of the meatballs as a consolation prize for your consolation prize.

Five Happiness: 4142 Geary (at Sixth Ave.), 387-1234.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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