The Taste Bud: A somewhat belated Christmas miracle

Jan 18, 2012 at 6:00 am

Last week, I texted my girlfriend and said, “I just ate a pile of duck.”

And it was true. I had always been a tad fascinated by the final scene in “A Christmas Story” in which the family resorts to going to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner to have roast duck in lieu of their holiday turkey, pilfered by the notorious next-door bloodhounds.

In this famous final scene, the father (played by the late Darren McGavin) complains to the head waiter that the duck’s head is still attached. “It’s smiling at me,” he says — at which point the waiter violently hacks off the head with a meat cleaver.

So, naturally, when I found out Café Mimosa would not only be open Christmas night, but would also be serving roast duck, I began to feel the pull. What does roast duck taste like? Will it be served whole, with a face on it? And will my server be carrying a meat cleaver around in the dining room?

I didn’t make it to the restaurant on Christmas night, but Mimosa — which is perhaps best known for its alter-ego carry-out business in the Highlands, the Eggroll Machine — decided to keep roast duck on the menu board. That’s how I ended up squaring off with a pile of duck. It was like a belated Christmas miracle.

At Café Mimosa, for $12, you get half a roasted duck (yep, it’s $24 for a whole duck, which should easily feed four), and it’s served face-free in a deep platter with a side of fresh vegetables, rice and duck sauce, and garnished with fresh cilantro. All I could think when it was placed before me was, “That’s a lot of duck.”

I had never had duck served quite this way before, so I wasn’t totally sure how to approach it. I began to pick at the meat with my fork, as I had been warned to “eat slowly; lots of bones.” But soon my inner carnivore took over, and I began to pluck the meat directly from the bones with my fingers, and then my teeth. (It’s good to be at the top of the food chain.)

I have to say, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, while the skin was crispy and delicious. If you’ve not had duck, it resembles dark turkey meat — only more moist, and with a slightly more gamey flavor. It is delicious served pretty much any style, but this roasted duck was beyond delicious.

What it comes down to is that this experience was similar to eating on-the-bone barbecue, and the taste is so good that it’s difficult to stop. I easily ate the portions of two people, and probably would have eaten more, even without the pressure of a triple-dog-dare. The flavor of the marinade vaguely resembles a slightly sweet barbecue sauce, and there was a hint of that taste even in the meat.

So what is that delicious stuff?

“It’s a very secret recipe,” said Café Mimosa owner Than Phat Le. He explained that the recipe belonged to a former business partner in the now-defunct Spring Deer Chinese Restaurant on Brownsboro Road, and the recipe itself originated in Hong Kong.

He also said that each duck marinates for up to three days before being cooked and served. “That’s why it’s so good,” he said, with a chuckle. “Because it’s so much work.”

Fair point. And it’s not just an all-out effort to marinade and cook the duck — there’s also the duck sauce to make. No, this roast duck doesn’t come with little packets of orange goo; what Café Mimosa serves up is a dark, traditional sauce made from the fat of the duck and the leftover juices.

I was instructed to pour the sauce over the duck. Instead, I poured about half of the sauce on my meal and saved the rest for dipping. The sauce intensifies the moisture and flavor, but I found that it was delicious either way.

So while it’s true that once again this year I did not get an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas, I finally did get my roast duck — in a big pile. And it was good.

God bless us, everyone