A few months ago, my friend Peter told me about Optical 88, an optical shop in the heart of Chinatown, at 116 Mott Street (Tel: 212-343-1947). I am all for money saving and he raved about the service and the prices. I looked on Yelp. There was not one bad word said about the place. In fact, everyone was wildly enthusiastic. Everyone except Andrew. He was slightly leery of a walk-in eye exam and the promise of a finished prescription in an hour. But since I’d worked in Eye Care in my Ad career, I knew that whoever does eye exams has passed their own exams in order to be licensed. So off we went, I got examined and in one hour I walked out of the store with a new pair of eyeglasses. They cost all of $130.00. So when I ran out of contact lenses, I ran right back to Optical 88. I got more than my contacts. I got instructions on where to go to buy the best Roast Duck in Chinatown.
Roast Duck is one of those signature dishes that define a whole cuisine. The beautifully lacquered birds shimmer in the windows of an endless number of shops in Chinatown. I get hungry just looking at them. But I’d never taken one home. And where would I find the best duck? If I wanted to sit down right then and there, the Peking Duck House at 28 Mott Street got all the oohs and ahhs on Chowhound. But they don’t do takeout. For that there was a raging dialogue on Yelp. Opinions were decidedly mixed. And there was great confusion because in Chinatown, names of restaurants change frequently. But I had a secret weapon in my search: Abe, the salesman at Optical 88. Abe, who may not have a Chinese name, is an authority on eating locally, as I discovered on my first visit when he steered me to a local grocery store for some needed supplies for our Asian pantry.
I gave Abe the names of the two places that seemed to have garnered the best reviews on the Web. He was having none of it. He insisted that the best duck was at a place just down Mott Street. It was called Big Wing Wong at 102 Mott Street (Tel: 212 274-0696). Big Wing Wong was not to be confused with Big Wong King at 67 Mott or Hoy Wong at 81 Mott. And when asked if I could get the traditional pancakes and garlic-y string beans there to go with our duck, Abe steered me next door. Abe insisted that at The Shanghai Café at 100 Mott, these dishes were better than the identical items next door. I dutifully followed Abe’s advice.
When we got home, I put the cut-up duck into a baking dish, and along with the string beans, re-heated both at 350 degrees until I could hear the sizzle. I carefully un-wrapped the folded pancakes, separated them with paper towel, and they went into the microwave for two minutes. Our duck cost $21.00 and the sides $9.50. For a little over $30.00 we had a Chinese feast. We gave a little toast to Abe before we dug in.