Family-style roast chickens have been all over Washington menus in recent years. Lately, though, whole ducks have become the centerpiece of the moment. At Adams Morgan’s Spoken English, the bird is sliced and served with duck-fat flour tortillas and a tableful of condiments. At Reverie in Georgetown, it’s glazed in beet juice and black licorice. And at Poca Madre in Penn Quarter, a duck is slow-roasted with pineapple soda, marinated in chilies, and plated for build-your-own tacos.
It makes sense the roast-chicken trend would evolve. “Roast chicken is usually just that, with butter and herbs—and it’s either perfect or it’s not,” says Reverie chef Johnny Spero. “With duck, the canvas is a little more like a blank slate. You can put your own spin on it.”
At the Shaw restaurant Hazel, chef Robert Curtis adds Middle Eastern flair to his coffee-and-cardamom-brined Rohan bird. But if he had to guess why so many chefs are entranced by duck right now, he’d point to the roasted duck with lavender and honey at New York City’s Eleven Madison Park—one of the country’s most revered restaurants—as a standard-bearer.
Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church is perhaps an even bigger inspiration to local chefs. While large-format platters have come into vogue, Peking duck is one of the original shareable feasts, and it’s appreciated by chefs because of the craft involved. The red color of Reverie’s beet-glazed duck replicates the sheen of a Beijing-style bird, and Spoken English offers hoisin sauce and slivers of cucumber on its duck platter.
Peking Gourmet Inn is an off-hours hangout for many chefs—Poca Madre’s Victor Albisu has been going since age five. At Albisu’s own restaurant, he says, duck is increasingly appealing to diners who don’t want red meat but are looking for something a little luxurious. Plus it’s ripe for reinvention.
“At the end of the day, there are only so many proteins, so many animals in the world,” Albisu says. “Eventually, you’re going to have to rediscover things.”
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.