May 5, 2014 | BITE: My Journal

Decoy: If It Looks Like a Duck

Some Peking duck is served in three courses. Here crisp skin shards come with remarkably juicy duck.
Some Peking duck is served in three courses. Here crisp skin shards come with remarkably juicy duck.

           It begins with an amuse of “Decoy Chips” and pickles from the half dozen or so at the bar. Decoy Chips? Fish skin, crispy and instantly addictive, with little confetti of red pepper and scallion and a black garlic dip. Foie gras and strawberry tarts, optional. Welcome to the three-course Peking Duck dinner at Decoy. There’s a shot glass too -- duck soup it says on the menu, possibly the most intense duck consommé you’ll ever taste.

Want some skin? Crisp curls of fish skin will amaze and amuse you. That’s a black garlic dip.

           At last, after countless fits and starts, frozen pipes and construction nightmares, promises and broken vows. Saturday night was one of a series, a gathering of friends and family at Decoy, the newest invention of the Red Farm team, dim sum wizard Joe Ng and his impresario, Eddie Schoenfeld.  They are trying out concepts in their smallest house to date. I tripped down the half a dozen steel steps to what used to be a laundromat to find a roundup of my own friends and family -- the foodie posse I eat out with -- facing each other across the 22-seat communal table -- a mural of ducks waddling behind them.

Make new friends at the long communal table in front of a duck mural.

           The space is tiny and cramped, almost verging on claustrophobic: that community table, a serious bar with designer cocktails ($14 and $15) and bar snacks, a counter that seats three on tall stools, and just one table for two crammed into the window. I’m wedged into the corner at that prime spot, happily sharing a superior Negroni and the Dos Alas, rum with lime, chipotle and coconut water with a friend.

Here’s our view from the only table in the house – a tiny rectangle for two wedged into the window.

           Getting hungry because she was late -- she’d broken a heel on a subway grate and had to stop to buy new shoes -- I’d ordered a bar snack. Duck and kimchee flatbread sandwich. She arrives just as I grab a triangle and the duck flies out. I stuff it back in -- it’s a slippery dish, but the combination is thrilling. 

I’ll be back for the slippery and delicious duck and kimchee-flatbread sandwich.

           Now our server explains the drill. The Peking duck dinner is $45 per person, plus $78 for the duck (enough for two or three or four). Since we are two, we must choose two starters from column A and one entrée from column B. (I’m old enough to remember when one from column A and one from column B was a laugh.) The duck with its embellishments will come in the middle.

The chef finds astonishing flavors to combine with uni, seaweed and these sweet potato noodles.

           Red Farm regulars will recognize some favorite starters: shrimp-stuffed shishito peppers, crunchy vegetable and peanut dumplings, shrimp and snow pea leaf dumpling. Katz’s pastrami egg roll is delivered here on three triangles. But the two of us chose a newbie, sweet potato noodle salad with uni ($8 extra). It arrives in the spiky sea urchin shell, cool glass noodles in a delicate dressing flavored with seaweed. Another astonishment in texture and flavor.

I asked for more new dim sum from the chef’s repertoire of over 1000. Oxtail dumplings are one.

           Foie gras and strawberry tarts ($6 extra) are a rich conceit, not anything I’ll be haunted by. And the baked oxtail dumplings are good, but not nearly as compelling as my favorites uptown, the crunchy vegetable and peanut rounds or the shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings.

Here’s another trick from Joe Ng: a pastry duck with a long neck toting strawberries and foie gras.

           The duck service quickly takes up every inch of the small table -- a platter of lacquered skin and juicy flesh, a large steamer of the chef’s masterly pancakes and a trio of sauces -- his own complex substitute for sweet and viscous hoisin, cranberry sauce and a peanutty blend. Almost hidden are two little shot glasses of that ambrosial duck broth. It stops us as we sip again, just to be sure. “I’d like a bowl of this,” I confide, “with a few duck won tons, maybe.”

Order the duck dinner, get a trio of pickles from the bar. Ours are mango, pineapple and cornichons.

           A whole duck for two is definitely a luxury. I fashion a folded pancake with two rectangles of polished skin -- crisp and clean, some deliciously moist meat, and a few fried leeks (a typical Joe Ng embellishment.). Then I try another -- fattier duck with batons of cucumber and scallion, more fried leeks and two lacquered rectangles. Encouraged by my pal’s appetite, I force myself to eat a third. How often do you get a Peking duck? I don’t want to waste it. And then I give up. We ask the waiter to pack the leftovers.

You probably won’t find jerk chicken with Chinese black beans in Hong Kong. Here it is on Hudson.

           I’ve forgotten there’s more. I groan when not one but two entrees arrive. I gaze in dismay at the Jamaican jerk chicken and the extra entrée I insisted on ordering. It helps, I confess, that I never go anywhere without elastic in my waistband.

Sticky and flavorful lobster nests on wide rice noodles. Maybe it could be less cooked.

           I take a joint from the bird -- the jerk spices blend smartly with Chinese black bean. It flavors the remarkable noodles almost hidden underneath. I can’t resist the corn -- I know the chef finds it in the market, although clearly it’s not local. Alas, the Brussels sprouts are almost raw. Ng comes to our table. I rave about the duck. I tell him about the sprouts. His eyes darken. He backs away. It’s too noisy to hear screams from the kitchen.

Chef Joe Ng steps outside on the steps to take a breather from the kitchen and flirt with passersby.

           I love rice noodles, especially wide rice noodles. These are also almost hidden under enough lobster for a family that hasn’t eaten since lunch. I taste a nugget of lobster meat, wrestled from the shell painted with a sticky glaze. It’s slightly too cooked for me. But it could be that I would find anything too-too at this point. The first wave of friends and family are leaving. A second wave has started to arrive. Zach Chodorow, representing the investing partner, walks by. There is no dessert. I think I can make it to a taxi.

My modest little camera can’t handle too much light so this photo only gives an idea of the entrance.

           Does Decoy’s opening three-course Duck dinner work? Maybe it’s just enough if you don’t order extras as I did. Maybe it’s too much. Will it always include a whole duck?  “We would never serve half a duck,” Schoenfeld tells me, appalled at the suggestion. What happens if you are just one person or five? The special Peking duck oven can only turn out 22 birds to order. The doors open Monday. Reservations will be taken. I wouldn’t be surprised if the place is already fully booked. As for the concept, Eddie and Joe will still be trying it out. That’s what friends and family are for.

529 ½ Hudson Street. 212 691 9700.  5:30 to 10 pm seven days a week.

Photos may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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