If the usual weeknight Chinese takeout has you in a bit of a dinner slump, look no further than Fulton Market’s Duck Duck Goat for upscale Sichuan and Chinese fare bound to deepen your familiarity with an already well-worn cuisine. A Stephanie Izard classic, Duck Duck Goat’s charm lies in its culinary flair that strives to elevate traditional dishes — not reinvent them.
DUCK DUCK DECOR
There’s an ancient Chinese adage that goes “Genius can be recognized by its childish simplicity.” In terms of Duck Duck Goat, it’s an apt summary of Izard’s vision in bringing the restaurant to life.
Celebrity chef Stephanie Izard was the first female winner of the show Top Chef and had opened two instantaneously hit Chicago restaurants before opening Duck Duck Goat in March of 2016. In her self-advertised “reasonably authentic” presentation of Sichuan and Chinatown cuisines, eclectic decor is only our initial look into the playful meal that lies ahead.
Dragon emblems, gaudy wallpaper, and lazy susans line the restaurant — accompanied by lantern-esque chandeliers strung overhead — for a first impression strikingly similar to more modest Chinatown joints. And it should be. Izard takes classic Chinese decor, what some might consider being outdated, and turns it into the peak of West Loop fashion. Here, the patterned curtains and oversized calligraphy dotting the walls are not just old-time classics beloved by Chinese grandmas across America, they are authentic reminders of Izard’s inspiration.
And at Duck Duck Goat, old is new, and new is exciting.
DUCK DUCK DELICIOUS
Despite the comfort of its décor, not everything at Duck Duck Goat comes so naturally: scoring a reservation might as well be like winning the lottery. Packed with tourists, office-goers, and food enthusiasts alike, there’s never a dull moment at any of Izard’s creations. Reasonably priced at a cool $10 to $20 per plate, the prices make it even more irresistible.
And once a table is secured, a memorable meal is undoubtedly in order.
The first appetizer that kicked off the night was the Mushroom and Leek Jiaozi — pan-fried dumplings in a soy vinaigrette topped with shredded scallions and Fresno chilies. The dish comes out looking quite visually appealing, the crisped edges and vibrant garnishes popping against a canvas of blue and white porcelain. The jiaozi themselves are textbook: pillowy and thin, but offering a much-needed crunch for a fuller mouthfeel.
The filling is a comforting mix of braised leeks and mushrooms that is anything but bland or mellowed out. Rather, it’s fresh, vibrant, spirited. Bursting with fragrant ginger and garlic, the filling paired with the piquant, salty vinaigrette is a welcome surprise for such an unassuming plate — precisely what Izard intended.
The next dish on our journey through the creativity behind Duck Duck Goat was the Scallion Pancakes — a flaky flatbread paired with an umami-packed, house-made hoisin sauce and shiitake slaw. Scallion pancakes are the epitome of Chinese comfort food and this dish captures that effortlessly. Simply garnished, Izard lets the food speak for itself.
The pancakes are flaky, crispy, and have that inviting sheen, yet just fall apart in your mouth. The scallions offer this sharp, almost peppery brightness to cut through the richness of the dough. Perhaps an unexpected hero, the house-made hoisin sauce is heavenly: velvety sheets of sweet, umami flavor in every bite. Paired with the shiitake slaw that features nutty sesame paste and a mellow sweetness from maple syrup, these scallion pancakes succeed precisely where other restaurants might fail: letting the classics be timeless.
Other appetizers worth a try include the Veggie Spring Rolls (served with a sesame horseradish aioli), Shishito Peppers (tossed in a fermented tofu vinaigrette and garnished with puffed wild rice), and the Pickled Cucumber Salad (lightly coated in a soy-vinegar sauce). Each of these dishes is bursting with as much ingenuity as the last, making for a table full of dishes showcasing the breadth and nuances of Chinese cooking.
Venturing on towards the entrées, any assessment of Duck Duck Goat — even a plant-based one — would be incomplete without making note of their signature dish: Peking Duck. With only a limited number available per night, it’s bound to be a must-order for many. Even then, Izard still offers a wide array of plant-based dishes to indulge in.
An instant favorite of the night was the Mapo Dofu — silken tofu and mixed mushrooms poached in a delicate Sichuan chili sauce. Visually, the dish is completely unlike your typical takeout tofu: the sauce glistens with a vibrant red sheen, coating the tofu in an inviting film of spice. And surprisingly enough for a dish this shade of red, while the expected heat might be at a tear-inducing level on the Scoville Scale, the dish actually isn’t spicy.
Rather, the traditional Sichuan peppercorns shine in the sauce, creating a tingly, numbing heat as opposed to one that burns the tongue. Paired with the fermented bean paste, the sauce features this bright, vinegary flavor to pair with the silken tofu. And the true magic is all in that tofu. Melt-in-your-mouth and delicate, it’s just the perfect vessel to pair with the umami-packed mushrooms and unexpectedly vibrant sauce. And that’s dinner in a nutshell: unexpected.
Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon called the ‘Izard Touch’ — making every dish deviate from the classic just enough for it to feel contemporary — was the Glass Noodles, stir-fried rice noodles with seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, and apples. Yes, apples. The dish comes out looking like standard fare, nothing overtly special, but that’s where the magic comes in.
The noodles themselves are bouncy and soft but with enough bite to feel satiating. The vegetables are crisp and refreshing, offering a welcome break in texture to the denser noodles. The sauce is a mellow, savory glaze that coats the noodles, featuring this richer sweetness from the apples. The apples seem to have cooked down and become caramelized, contributing to this deep sweetness that pairs well with the saltier elements and brightens the dish up. While you might be skeptical at first of the apples, at this point, Izard’s culinary skill in the kitchen is anything but unexpected.
Other main dishes that would round off the entrées for a complete meal include the Pekan Cauliflower (sweet, sour, and sesame-showered cauliflower) and the Veggie Friend Rice (smoky brown and Jasmine rice with seasonal veggies).
Stephanie Izard’s Fulton Market staple is a serendipitous journey through the kitchens of traditional Sichuan and Chinatown communities. With a vibrant, down-to-earth ambiance paired with dishes that take as many risks without warranting a new moniker, Duck Duck Goat brings a flair for the unexpected like no other.
Duck Duck Goat is located at 857 W Fulton Street in Chicago. Learn more by calling 312-902-3825 or by visiting duckduckgoatchicago.com.
Aryav Bothra is a food critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl