"There's the perception that it's high in fat, which it is," says chef Peter Hawn of the Raphael Hotel (325 Ward Parkway). Hawn only occasionally adds roasted duck to his menu because "it just doesn't sell very well." Although he says Kansas City diners are more adventurous than they used to be, "they're still mostly drawn to steak and potatoes."
Nevertheless, Hawn plans to add a duck breast au poivre to the Raphael's next prix fixe menu, which starts on July 23. "It's a nice break from chicken," he says.
Duck is still a big business at the three area Bo Ling's restaurants (4800 Main, 9574 Quivira and 9055 Metcalf), where owner Richard Ng sells plenty of Beijing roasted duck and crispy duck. And there's historical reason for this. The Chinese weren't just the first people to raise ducks as food -- today's American duck is the direct descendant of the Peking Duck, the "progeny of three ducks and a drake brought from Peking on a clipper ship in 1873," Sharon Tyler Herbst writes in her Food Lover's Companion.
To alleviate diners' concerns about the fattiness of duck meat, Ng's kitchen crew roasts the Beijing duck in its skin, then peels it away and scrapes off the thin layer of fat before bringing the duck out on a platter (serving the crispy skin separately), along with either paper-thin flour pancakes or steamed buns. Bo Ling's serves crispy duck with the skin intact, "and people love it that way, fatty or not," Ng says.
"You know what made Beijing duck popular in the United States? Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972," Ng says. "He was served duck, and suddenly everyone wanted to taste it in Chinese restaurants."
Kansas Citians will be able to taste the dish in a new, improved Bo Ling's when Ng gets the final city approval to start major renovations he has planned for his Plaza location, located in the Board of Trade building. The restaurant will stay open during the construction, which will flip-flop the dining and banquet rooms and eliminate the massive bar area, a relic of the restaurant's previous tenant, the Colony Steakhouse.
"We never did that much bar business, and it gave a negative impression for our customers to walk through that big empty space," Ng says. By the end of the year, he hopes to have a slightly smaller dining room, new bathrooms and a bigger banquet area, which will be opened up for dim sum customers on weekends.
I didn't expect any duck on the salad bar at the Sweet Tomatoes Salad Buffet (1309 Meadow Lake Parkway), but it was a shock to discover that there wasn't any chicken -- any visible chicken, anyway -- in the tossed won ton chicken salad. Even more mysterious: no peanuts in the big salad tub labeled "Monterey Blue Salad, with peanuts."
"Isn't that odd?" I asked one of the restaurant's managers when she passed by our table. "Where's the chicken?"
"Hmmm," she said, furrowing her brow. "There should be some chicken in there."
She did have an answer for why there didn't seem to be any meat in the beef chili: "We grind our meat very, very fine," she said.
"Then why," I wanted to know, "is there a pasta called 'vegetable pasta with meatballs' that doesn't have any meatballs in it?"
She left to find out but never returned. I'm not sure, but I think she was ducking me.