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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ducky Restaurant

Last fall, Benoît Monier, the sommelier at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei, said to me, "A few of our former employees went out on their own and opened a restaurant. You should try it sometime." He handed me a business card for the restaurant, which is named Ducky 大嗑西式餐館. He proceeded to tell me that the restaurant is not fancy and the young proprietors did everything themselves with a limited budget to setup the restaurant, including the design and construction of the space. 

Since last fall, I have frequented Ducky several times for lunches with friends and dinner with the family. In short, I really like the restaurant. I recommended Ducky to my picky and hard-to-please friends and so far they all seem to enjoy their meals there as well.

The fact that Ducky is good is probably no surprise. As the writer Anthony Bourdain once said something to the effect that if you spend two years working for Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, or Thomas Keller, you never need a resume again. The three proprietors of Ducky worked for over two years at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei, two as members of the front of house and one as a cook.

The food at Ducky is done with care and executed well. There are certainly traces of Robuchon's dishes, such as the pan-fried amadai fillet with crispy skin and scales. The risotto is always cooked nicely with good flavors and served all'onda. The pasta dishes are also nice, my kids really enjoyed the ones with tomato sauce. My kids also enjoyed the french fries that come with the steak or can be ordered separately. The braised beef cheeks is fork tender and delicious. The portion at Ducky is generous and the pricing is very reasonable.  The appetizers are mostly under NT$200 and the main courses, including pasta, range from mid NT$300 to less than NT$600.

So what is there not to like? In terms of food, not much. It would be nice to be served some bread at the start of the meal; I know bread is actually not an easy thing to do well. The only dish I am not really crazy about is the steak. Ducky serves a U.S. Choice eight-ounce sirloin. The meat is cooked to the right temperature but the meat itself is so-so. I realize if a better quality of beef is used, the price will have to be much higher than the current NT$580; I would be willing to pay more. Actually is there really a need for steak to be on the menu? Why not have more pork (belly, knuckle, and shoulder) on the regular menu? Why not have cheaper cuts of meats that require more techniques, which the kitchen certainly is capable of doing? I also wish the restaurant has a larger selection of desserts. Putting some more bistro classics like profiteroles, lemon tart, bread pudding, or even just some ice cream on the menu would be nice.

The service at Ducky is good. My only complaint is the lack of large napkins. The restaurant provides a thin stack of small paper napkins, similar to a Chinese restaurant. I always ended up using several of them. Why not just provide a large paper napkin for each person that can be placed on the customer's laps? I don't believe the cost will be too different.

Since I am an architect I will express some opinions on the design of the space. I don't really like the use of wood paneling on some parts of the wall. The overhead shelving supported by diagonal kickers underneath is not necessary and look too haphazardly put together. The tables for four are a little too small for comfort. The chairs, while not uncomfortable, seem too heavy looking. Overall, the interior doesn't match the refinement that the kitchen is striving for on the plates. I know the budget was limited. However, just like a good cook can transform cheap ingredients into a great dish, sometimes good design can be done with limited funds. I suggest if a renovation is ever in the cards, please seek professional help. Maybe some designers are happy to barter design for food.

I always enjoy eating at Ducky. While at the restaurant, it is not unusual to run into the current staff of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei having a meal there with their friends on their days off. Ducky has been open for less than a year and I am sure they are still looking to improve the restaurant. The restaurant is a little out of the way for me, which is the only reason I am not there more often.

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