The District hosts a lot of lame ducks, but it is also a longtime haven for aficionados of the feathered fowl. George Washington liked to unwind by hunting for mallards. Dick Cheney enjoyed a similar relaxation technique, but his poor aim scored him headlines rather than dinner. These days Nancy Pelosi is the winged wonder’s highest ranking admirer. As the story goes, the discerning Democrat uses duck dishes to judge the quality of a restaurant. Luckily for The Source’s(575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-637- 6100; ) executive chef Scott Drewno, she adores his lacquered Chinese duckling. “She keeps coming back for it,” says the talented toque. “I’m always happy to hear her tell me that she loves it.” And no wonder: The preparation involves a three-day process, cooking the whole duck at four different temperatures, and bathing it in a vinegarsolution.
The California congresswoman can take a world tour by taste-testing some of the District’s other finest restaurants. Chef-owner Dean Gold places an Italian stamp on the leek- and black-cardamom-spiced duck breast at Dino(3435 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-686-2966); there is a French-fusion spin on chef-owner Bart Vandaele’s duck breast a l’orange at Belga(514 8th St. SE, 202-544-0100); and José Andrés puts a Spanish accent on masa cakes stuffed with shredded duck confit at Café Atlántico(405 8th St. NW, 202-393-0812).
Logan Cox, executive chef at Ripple(3417 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-244- 7995), created hot Buffalo wings inspired by Korean-style Bon Chon wings that use duck rather than your average barnyard chicken. “Duck is my favorite protein,” he explains. “I wanted to cook professionally the moment I ate duck a l’orange at L’Auberge Chez François(332 Springvale Road, Great Falls, VA, 703- 759-3800) when I was 14.” To create a crunchy exterior with a rich, tender inside, Cox brines his wings for four to six weeks before confiting them overnight and frying them. He finishes off the handheld treats with the house-made XO sauce and a side of cardamom-infused Greek yogurt dipping sauce.
For an all-American interpretation, Pelosi should give Blue Duck Tavern(24 & M Streets NW, 202-419 6755) a shot. “I was born in southwestern France, where we do so many different preparations,” says executive chef Sebastien Archambault. “I love to confit the legs with aromatics and herbs, like thyme, bay leaf, and rosemary. That is just lovely.” He prefers using a Muscovy duck—sometimes called a Barbary—because it possesses a rich tenderness that earns it comparisons to veal.
At Charlie Palmer Steak(101 Constitution Ave. NW, 202-547-8100), executive chef Matt Hill loves showcasing the rich protein on his menu, but he favors cooking with Long Island duckling. This variety accounts for 95 percent of all duck consumed in the United States, but Hill’s preparation is anything but quotidian. He enjoys coupling the domesticated game bird with classic continental flavors, like cider-braised apples, because the sweet, autumnal flavors balance out the dark intensity of the meat.
You don’t have to go out to enjoy the game bird. Hunting down a fowl to cook at home is easier than sitting in a duck blind all day. You can usually bag one at Balducci’s(10323 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, 301-564- 3100), Market Poultry in Eastern Market (225 Seventh St. SE, 202-543-7470), or online at Pekin Paradise, where Drewno gets his stock. Once you have landed the winged wonder in your kitchen, it is best to separate the breast from the legs, since they cook at different temperatures for varying amounts of time. “This way you get a medium-rare breast and a tender leg,” says Hill. No matter what cultural twist you put on your duck, make sure you save the fat. The golden oil can add a burst of flavor to everything from sautéed chestnuts and french fries to a rutabaga-parsnip purée, which will impress dinner guests from either side of the aisle. Whether you decide to dine in or out, just remember: Once you have had quack, you never go back.