Tao’s Peking Duck House
188 Glen Cove Ave., Glen Cove
SERVICE: A language barrier that’s eased by waiters eager to help
AMBIENCE: No frills, in a largely unchanged old sushi restaurant
ESSENTIALS: Open Thursday to Tuesday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Wednesdays. No alcohol, but there are a beer distributor and a liquor store nearby; parking lot
Pulling off proper Peking duck is no small feat, so when a Long Island restaurant is up to the task, authentic Chinese food aficionados notice.
Tao’s Peking Duck House in Glen Cove is one of the few practitioners on the Island, expanding on the success of its Peking duck service at Tao’s Fusion in Selden.
Sure you’ve seen roast duck, the less storied Cantonese cousin. Peking duck outclasses that. The Beijing specialty is a multiday preparation process of intricate steps that includes using a pump to push air between the skin and meat, followed by a bath in hot salty-sweet brine and time in front of a fan to dry out the skin.
The centuries-old dish of Chinese emperors, dynasties and imperial court menus, these days Peking duck is a symbol of the country’s cooking, a well-lacquered bird that is hung by the neck in an oven to slow roast, render the fat and crisp the skin. Finally ready, it is placed on a cart and paraded through the dining room before it is carved tableside.
At Tao’s, owner Tony Chen, who was born in Beijing, is on a mission to show Long Islanders the Peking duck experience of his upbringing. For the privilege, you’ll need to call ahead to secure one of his birds. The staff suggests at least a 30-minute heads up, but if you’re banking on eating one the same day, be safe and give yourself ample time to reserve.
The comfortable space largely remains unchanged from its days as Sushi Time 188. There is no alcohol here, but the staff is quick to point out that a beer distributor is right across the parking lot, and a liquor store a block away.
The pan-Asian menu, like Tao’s Fusion in Selden, is already vast with a healthy dose of excellent authentic cooking as well as American-Chinese standards. Language can be a barrier, and some dishes aren’t always available. This becomes somewhat more confusing when waiters attempt to guide you to specials that are not listed.
But Peking duck, at $68, is the main show.
If your group is small, the staff may try and steer you to a half-duck. Resist.
The half version does not arrive ceremoniously on a rolling cart, complete with chef Huilai Dun in kitchen whites. He knows that these days customers want photos of such pageantry, and uses a fine-edged knife to carve bite-sized pieces onto what becomes a heaping platter served with crepe-like pancakes to wrap the meat with slivered spring onions, cucumber batons and a dollop of hoisin sauce. On two visits, the duck was light on flavor, particularly salt.
More problematic, the staff uses its own discretion whether to send out the second course, a soup that is made using the remaining duck bones. A nearby table received the large bowl. We were not so lucky. Make sure to ask for it.
The rest of the menu is more consistent. Ground pork-filled Sichuan-style dumplings arrive bobbing in a fiery chili oil broth. The pleasant spice is just as pronounced in the classic cold dish of steamed chicken with sesame chili sauce, chunks of tender chicken breast that arrive on the bone.
Golden mushroom is a respite from the spice: thin strands of enoki mushrooms, gently tossed in subtle rice wine vinaigrette.
For entrees, skip the frog legs, which are more work than reward, and the pork belly Hunan style, which was heavy on soy sauce. Instead, go for double-cooked pork, crispy slices of thinly sliced pork belly coated in spicy black bean sauce.
Not to be missed is soft tofu with sliced fish. The generic name does little to prepare you for the layers of chili oil, tingly Szechuan peppercorns that cling to velvety tofu and firm flounder.
Be warned, take a sip of water and those peppercorns will go into tingly hyperdrive, a beautifully unfamiliar feeling referred to in Chinese cooking as ma la.