From the outside, the new Jiang Nan looks like an unassuming Chinese restaurant tucked into a Syosset strip mall. So it's astonishing to step through the doors and be greeted by a life-size peacock figurine, its white feathers cascading down an indoor tree, perched at the entrance of a stylish dining hall.
Every table is buzzing with lunchgoers. A server stands in front of a wraparound booth with a cart of Peking duck, carving with a sharp knife and arranging the meaty pieces on a wooden tray. Duck is the showpiece in a staggering menu of regional Chinese specialties at the first Long Island location of this rapidly expanding chain from downtown Flushing.
The restaurant is named after the fertile Jiangnan region south of the Yangtze River that encompasses Shanghai and a host of other cities known for elegant food traditions. Peking duck, which came to prominence in northern Beijing, is actually said to hail from this region. Traditionally it is roasted in fruitwood fire ovens and often presented with sugar that you dip the skin into to enhance its sweet crackle. Jiang Nan displays its hanging ducks next to a rustic oven near the back of the restaurant, where each bird is roasted for about 40 minutes.
A half-order ($46) comes directly from the kitchen, delicate half-moons of duck dotted with crinkles of gold leaf. The wooden tray is arranged with plates of sliced cucumbers and leeks, sweet hoisin sauce and even cubes of sweetened pineapple. Tucked into a tantalizingly thin pancake, each bite is subtle and well composed. But the best are the extra slabs of crackly skin generously placed on top of the pile. Even more visceral: For an extra $15, the chef will reserve the duck bones and wok-fry them with chiles and red onions, Sichuan style.
Even after a sizable meal here, you've only scratched the surface. Executive chef Yufeng Li's menu is a dozen pages with all manner of delicacies and very little context. Ox tongue and tripe adorn the appetizer section multiple times. A dish named "sautéed crab meat" becomes a tableside spectacle when a server opens two ramekins shaped like crabs and pours a soupy yellow crab sauce onto a dome of white rice, tops it with vinegar and then mixes it at the table until it becomes the texture of Italian risotto. (But with an intense seafood punch.)
But for every stir-fried pig liver or boiled bullfrog with pickled peppers, there's an approachable dish nearby, like the braised beef flank with potato and its recommended wine pairing, a Josh Cellars merlot. A simple fried rice with bits of preserved ham ($15.95) is light and elegant, one of the tastiest plates on the table. And don't sleep on the vegetable section, especially the exquisite platter of braised baby cabbage ($17.95) in a viscous chicken broth dotted with shredded crab and red goji berries.
Jiang Nan, 631 Jericho Tpke., Syosset, 516-226-1248, jiangnanny.com. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.