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I am always on the hunt for Peking duck. I am not alone.

At Jiang Nan, we find what we’ve been craving — and more

The Peking duck at Jiang Nan restaurant.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

In a childhood picture both defining and predictive, I am gazing into a shop window. I’m maybe 3 years old. My hair is in pigtails, and I’m wearing a striped jumper; my mother is holding me up so I can see. She seems to be gazing off to one side behind her sunglasses, but I am intent. We are in Chinatown, and I want to sink my baby teeth into the roast meats on display.

My feelings for glistening, red-lacquered strips of roast pork and whole burnished ducks haven’t changed in the intervening years. When a branch of New York restaurant Jiang Nan opened last month, in the former Teatro space on Boston Common, the dial on my internal food compass spun swiftly. I was intent.


The first Jiang Nan opened in Flushing, and others quickly followed in New York and New Jersey. Locations in Philadelphia, Bellevue, Wash., and more are coming soon, with a goal of 40 restaurants in the next three years. Last year, the inaugural Jiang Nan was named a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand, a designation recognizing good food that is also a good value. The restaurant describes its food as “Chinese fusion,” and the menu ranges throughout regions. But the specialty here is Peking duck. I am always on the hunt for Peking duck. I am not alone.

Steamed pork and black truffle soup dumplings at Jiang Nan.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

For decades, Boston’s undisputed specialist in this dish was Doris Huang, who served it first at restaurant King Fung Garden, then at successor China King. The three-course meal — crispy skin with pancakes, stir-fry of meat with noodles and vegetables, and soup made from bones — had to be ordered in advance, which somehow made it more special. This duck was premeditated, intentional. By the time you were eating it, it had already been on your mind. China King closed at the end of 2020, leaving a duck-shaped void.


When Jiang Nan opened, my fellow lamenters rejoiced. Globe columnist and associate editor Shirley Leung e-mailed right away: “I can’t wait to try their Peking duck!” (This is a subject we have discussed a time or two, although not on our text chain, which is solely devoted to Asian dessert spots.) Why wait? I made a reservation. Joining us: Bik-Fung Ng, a Chinatown activist and tour guide, with whom I have also e-mailed about Peking duck; and reporter Katie Johnston, dining companion since the days when we both contributed to a column called Sauce (RIP the column and just about every restaurant it ever covered).

Thank goodness for reservations. When we arrive, the place is overflowing — with graduates in robes bearing flowers, Instagrammers staging selfies, groups who look dressed for a nearby theater performance. In addition to executive chef Li Yufeng’s Peking duck, Jiang Nan offers something else Boston doesn’t have enough of: upscale Chinese dining. The restaurant isn’t big, but it looks grand, with vaulted ceilings, red curtains with gold tassels, and ornate trim on the walls. And the customer experience is central: “We served with heart and passion,” reads the motto at the start of the vast menu.

Lunchtime at Jiang Nan restaurant. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

We order a lot of food, as if this needs to be said. Petite soup dumplings with steamed pork and black truffle. Cold beef and tripe in chile sauce. A comforting dish of tofu with crab meat. Sauteed pea shoots. Shui zhu yu, Sichuan boiled fish, an absolute stunner — a whole striped bass, tender and perfect, in a bowl of deep red chile broth. Every bite is infused with the numbing, tingling heat of green Sichuan peppercorns piled on top. I’m craving it again already.


But the Peking duck is the crowd favorite. There’s one on nearly every table. There’s no need to order ahead of time. It’s a single course, with an add-on option that utilizes the bones. And it’s delicious. The skin is shatteringly crisp. The sliced meat is juicy and flavorful. The pancakes come in a steamer, with gold tongs for serving; they are particularly thin, nearly translucent, tender yet pliable. They are the perfect vehicle for thick smears of hoisin sauce, bites of duck, sliced scallion, and cucumber. There’s also a dish of pineapple, and another filled with sugar, bringing extra sweetness to the mix. The table goes unusually quiet for a moment, as we roll pancakes around duck and accompaniments, savoring each bite.

Sauteed shrimp with dragon well tea at Jiang Nan. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Then it’s time for bones! There are two choices: Get them made into soup, with tofu and vegetables. Or, as we do, order them salt-and-pepper style, a preparation I’ve commonly had with squid or shrimp. They arrive to the table a giant, gnawable pile, boldly seasoned and crisp. Only one thing is missing: beer. Jiang Nan is still working on getting its license. We gaze longingly at the Trillium beer garden across the street.

For dessert, we share a dish of mixed fruit in yogurt — strawberries, dragon fruit, mango, and tapioca of assorted shapes, sizes, and textures. It’s simple and refreshing, just right at the end of this feast. We cart home leftovers in bucket-size containers. “You ordered even more than we did,” someone at the next table teases.


And we’ll do it again, just as soon as possible. Anyone on the hunt for Peking duck should do the same.

177 Tremont St., Theatre District, Boston, 857-277-0668, Peking duck $46 half, $88 whole, plus $15 for salt-and-pepper bones or soup. Appetizers $8.95-$19.95, entrees $15.95-$49.95, desserts $11.95-$13.95.

The bar area at Jiang Nan.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Devra First can be reached at Follow her @devrafirst.