Pig Seeks Duck (and Chocolate)

On Saturday morning we woke up to cold rain which soon turned into a nasty, relentless combination of sleet and high winds. “Lovely weather for duck”, I thought to myself and could almost taste the intense, earthy and rich broth of a duck soup.

For me, a big part of eating pleasure is the anticipation, which is both craving the known and preparing your mind and senses “to be surprised”. I am always excited about the prospect of going to Present, an “imperial Vietnamese cuisine” restaurant in Falls Church. Present’s extensive menu is full of such great whimsical names like Warm Heart Piglet, Silken Shawl Imperial Autumn Roll, and Adventurous Bull. The soup I could almost taste that morning was Sleeping Duck on the Golden Pond, which, according to Present, is a “special egg noodle soup with roast duck simmered with herbs and exotic mushroom served in a delightfully enriched broth”. And it features Chinese broccoli, one of my very favorite vegetables!

Sleeping Duck on the Golden Pond

 I feel that soups are their real forte; it is obvious that their soup bases are made from bones, not bouillon cubes or other gimmicks; and as far as I know, the kitchen does not use any frozen ingredients.

Besides the soups, l always look forward to little things like shaved young lotus root as palate cleanser; lightly salted lemonade (a delicious crushed Vietnamese preserved lemon (Chanh Muối) drink, – a nice counterpoint to a number of dishes, especially lemongrass-infused ones); a “simple” appetizer called Smokey Petals (baby clams sautéed with special herbs and spices, and served on exquisite sesame rice crackers), etc.


Completely satisfied with savory offerings, we skipped dessert. Besides, a leisurely but cold and wet afternoon, like no other, inspires unhurried tasting of single origin chocolate in the privacy of one’s home. We live in fortuitous proximity to Biagio Fine Chocolate located on 18th street in Adams Morgan, – easily the best chocolate shop I have ever been to. Chances are, if there is a chocolate product worth getting excited about, Biagio has it, or has every intention of getting it in. It represents close to a hundred names, most of whom are bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate makers. What that means is that those producers “make chocolate” in the true sense of the word: import cacao beans from plantations, roast and husk them, and then grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. After they add sugar and grind some more, they swirl the mixture in conches, in order to smooth the texture, and blow off acids and other unwanted flavors. Making chocolate the right way is complicated and demanding work; we do our part in supporting artisanal chocolate makers and do not settle for mass-produced stuff. Besides, I am pretty sure Jeff is allergic to lesser quality chocolate  🙂

Here are just a few of our 2011 favorites:

  • Artisan du Chocolat (Kent, UK) Vietnam  Origin Dark Bar (72% cocoa, made with Vietnamese ground Trinitario cocoa beans)
  • SOMA Chocolatemaker (Toronto, Canada) Green Tangerine (microbatch 66% cocoa Madagascar chocolate bar infused with the essence of green tangerine)
  • Pralus (France) Cuba (single origin 75% Trinitario cocoa)
  • Fresco (Lynden, WA) 209 Prototype Jamaica 70% cocoa (subtle conching)
  • Amano Chocolate (Orem, Utah) Dos Rios 70% cocoa from the Dominican Republic.