At Top Chef Season Four winner Stephanie Izard's brand-new Chicago restaurant Duck Duck Goat, she's showcasing lesser-known specialties from the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hangzhou alongside cozy, more-familiar favorites like soup dumpling and hand-pulled noodles. And while Izard’s earning a ton of buzz for her menu, it’s the cold desserts that are quickly becoming among the hottest sellers.
“The dessert menu is all based on the trip that Stephanie and some of the others from the team went on before they hired me,” says pastry director Nate Meads, who oversees Duck Duck Goat, as well as Stephanie's other venues Girl & the Goat and Little Goat. “They traveled across China, and I got a stack of photos to go through when they returned and a bunch of stories,” he says, laughing.
Using those photos and stories, along with a combination of old Chinese cookbooks and the Internet—and attending tastings with the Chinese travel group—Meads finally struck dessert gold. The first hit he came up with is the Almond Tofu (pictured below).
Photo courtesy of Duck Duck Goat
“It’s not tofu at all,” he admits. “It’s a soft jelly dessert that we call tofu because the consistency is similar. It’s almonds made into a cream set with gelatin. It’s served with crunchy, toasted candied almonds, finely ground." The unusual sauce seals the deal, and makes this a must-try dessert for anyone wanting to delve more deeply, and deliciously, into the flavors of Chinese cuisine: "We make a black vinegar sauce for the top," says Meads, "almost a like a gastrique.”
The egg waffles are also a must at Duck Duck Goat. They're a play on Taiwan’s favorite Cantonese street food known, as Gai Daan Jai. You find these Ping-Pong-ball-sized waffles everywhere in China and Taiwan, and they also go by the names egg bubble or the cute term puffle. Meads serves his (pictured below) with sweet potato ice cream and strawberries sprinkled with dried bullet chilies.
Photo by Galdones Photography/Duck Duck Goat
“I’d never had them, and it was a challenge,” Meads says. “The books they brought back were entirely in Chinese. I started making them and, while they were good, the guys would tell me they weren’t quite right. An egg waffle is slightly sweeter and definitely egg-ier than American waffles.”
Meads eventually hit Gai Daan Jai gold, using a special, traditional waffle maker they sourced from China and a batter containing a blend of starches, including a tapioca. He uses evaporated milk, just like you’d find on the streets of Taipei. “We let it set up for 30 seconds to crisp after we cook it, and then we put it in a bowl with few scoops of sweet potato ice cream. Strawberries are tossed in sugar and a powder we make of dried bullet chilies. It’s a miniscule amount for a tiny amount of heat,” says Meads.
Tempted to try these desserts, and Stephanie's extraordinary savory dishes? Duck Duck Goat opened two weeks ago in Chicago's Fulton Market area.
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