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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beijing Restaurant: The Winteriest of Cuisines

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 3:27 PM

Beijing-style roast duck at Beijing Restaurant. - KIMBERLY SANDIE
  • Kimberly Sandie
  • Beijing-style roast duck at Beijing Restaurant.

It seems fitting that this week's review of Beijing Restaurant's new Outer Sunset branch should come out on a week when snowy patches have appeared in 49 of 50 states. (Are you as envious as I am?)

To a German American guy from the very middle of the Midwest, the restaurant's Northern Chinese food has a familiar appeal ― the pickled cabbage and spaetzle-like "flour balls," the meatballs and julienned potatoes, the radical simplicity of the flavors. It is winter food of of the homiest kind. It seems a shame to eat there on a merely rainy night.

Speaking of the pickled cabbage, Beijing owner Quan Jin says his restaurant's suan cai is made differently from other kinds of pickled cabbage such as sauerkraut or kimchi in that the cooks do not add any salt or vinegar. "That unique taste is why people from Beijing come to the restaurant," he says. The cabbage does, in fact, have a cleaner, more delicate acidity than sauerkraut, and before I talked to him, I mistakenly attributed it to his use of napa cabbage.

As for more specifics on how Beijing Restaurant prepares its suan cai, I couldn't get them ― trade secret, apparently. Same with the Jins' Peking duck. (If you're curious, the Wall Street Journal posted a short but slightly more informative video filmed at Beijing Dadong Restaurant.) I'm hoping that as time goes on the cooks perfect their Peking duck dinner, namely by improving the quality of the latter two of three courses.

One side comment I left out of the review: For a little culinary history lesson, Korean food fans may want to make a trip to Beijing for its "Beijing noodles with special sauce," or zha jiang mian ― the ancestor of jjajangmyeon.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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