Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Song Chu (宋廚) - A Sad Rant About Great Duck

宋廚(Song Chu)
#14, Lane 15 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec. 5
(Almost right next to/slightly behind MRT City Hall)

I have two things to say about Song Chu:

1.) The Beijing Duck is divine. (那邊的北京烤鴨真好吃)
2.) The service is terrible. (他們的服務非常糟糕呢!)

Song Chu is famous for its Beijing duck - most of my students have eaten there at least once and while it doesn't seem to be that well-known in expat circles (certainly it's known, but doesn't seem to be that famous) it's very well regarded among Taipei residents. To eat there, you have to either a.) know someone or b.) stand in line on the first of the month in the morning (get there no later than 10am, and I'd advise earlier) to reserve a table. You can call, but they won't answer. People we know with high positions in various companies seem to eat there often, and I don't believe for a minute that they actually wait in line on the 1st day of the month - they might send their assistants to do it, but more likely they just have some guanxi and don't have to stand around like us plebes. I had to stand around on April 1st to get a reservation for this past Saturday (May 28).

We ordered some other food to go with the duck, as one does. Some sliced fish in a slightly sweet, slightly savory goopy sauce (it was good, really), sweet potato leaves, onion pancake and other things. The other food was good, but not great. If I'd been taken out to a basic Chinese banquet hall and fed it, I'd think it was just fine, but I wouldn't write home about it.

The duck is really where it's at, and also where things went terribly wrong.

When I made the reservation - an hour and a half standing in the sun dodging scooters with the other duck-seekers - I told them our party size (nine) and that we "weren't going to order too many side dishes, we want lots of duck. Basically only duck." "We can do that!" the woman taking the reservation said.

So I figured, you know, they're professionals, they should know that a party of nine who orders relatively few dishes (which weren't worth a two hour wait) and wants to mostly gorge out on duck is going to need two ducks.

Yes, I should have been more specific and said "two ducks!" - but then they also should have asked (they didn't).

So we eat the food, and eagerly await our duck, and one duck's worth of duck arrives. And it's delicious. It's amazing. It's juicy and fatty without being greasy. The plum sauce is truly memorable. Everything is fresh. It's tender. It's better than Celestial and much better than Wei Fu Lou. I ask for more duck.

There is no more duck, because "you only ordered one duck when you reserved."

Err, no, I didn't. I said I wanted enough duck for nine people who didn't plan on eating a lot of other things.

"But we called you to confirm your reservation and you didn't say two ducks."

"You didn't ask and I thought you guys were true professionals and should be able to handle this sort of thing."

"When a table makes a reservation, we always give them one duck unless they ask for more. You should know that."

"How? Nobody told me that. Nobody said 'one duck'. Nobody informed me of this policy. You certainly didn't tell me when I reserved the table."

"I'm sorry but that's how we do it, and we don't have another duck. You can always order more food."

"I don't want other food. I didn't come here to eat mid-range sweet potato leaves. I can do that anywhere without having to wait in line for two hours to reserve a table. I want to speak to the boss. I am really not satisfied. I expected better."

"The boss isn't here." (Either she was lying through her teeth - which is quite likely - or the owner of the place never actually visits and lives off the profits in some hideous granite and marble monstrosity on Ren'ai Road, which I concede is also likely.)

We didn't really get an apology - a mumbled 不好意思 doesn't count. We didn't get anything that would have made me satisfied. Call me spoiled but if I'm going to go to some effort to eat somewhere, I expect satisfaction equal to the time and money spent. I realize this doesn't always happen in Asia unless you're in Japan (and not even always there - try ordering a sandwich from a set menu but asking them to leave off mayonnaise or something), but, you know, I really was not happy.

I'd say "they've lost my business" but it doesn't matter - they're famous. They have a line that unfurls down the block every first of the month. My decision not to eat there again doesn't really affect anything (sort of like how I'm on Dingtaifung strike because as good as their dumplings are, they're shockingly overpriced).

It's a shame though. The duck is truly sublime. If they'd offered some little olive branch to keep the customer happy, this would have been a rave review. Instead it's a rant...and that sucks for everyone.


John Scott said...

When I run around various cities, among the things I am always on the look-out for are places that have good粽子/肉粽 year-round, make good 麻醬麵 and places that make good roast duck. So, I always know what direction to head in when I'm hungry --at least in Tainan and Taipei.

I have been to a few good duck restaurants, but I have to say that the places I like the most are the take-out operations, with no tables. They work real hard and fast from about 6 to 9 pm, then shut down and go home. But you still usually have to stand in line a few minutes. Take along some Taiwan beer to the park, and you've got a pretty nice evening picnic. Not fancy, but good service ...and no reservations needed :)

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

There's a Beijing Duck Truck that often parks near where we live and when we catch it, we enjoy it a lot! Their basil and chili duck stir fry (with the par that can't be sliced) is amazing. The pancakes aren't fresh, though.