Take, for instance, Peking duck. The name alone is mouthwatering. And its scarcity recommends it, too: Very few Dallas-area restaurants serve true Peking duck. Mr. Wok in Plano has the most famous duck service of all, a showy presentation of the whole cooked bird followed by a multicourse extravaganza. It’s best reserved in advance.
But the other duck restaurant opened to no press at all. Its name is Little Kaiping, and it’s located in the easternmost stretches of Richardson, near the border with Murphy. Little Kaiping is named for the city less than 50 miles west of Macau that its owners, the Kang family, called home. That region is at the heart of Cantonese cuisine — a type of Chinese food that remains uncommon in North Texas, even as Sichuan food takes Plano by storm and Shanghai-style dumplings pop up around town.
Andrew Brisbin, chef Kang Xu’s son-in-law, told the Observer about the family’s journey from Kaiping to the United States. (Chef Kang’s English is “a little rusty.”)
“This is his first and only restaurant,” Brisbin says. “He wanted to start his own restaurant because he has been cooking for the last 30 years ever since he started working. He learned his trade by working in restaurants back in Kaiping, Guangdong Province. From there he has been refining his skills as an authentic Cantonese chef with specialty in Cantonese BBQ.”
Little Kaiping serves both Cantonese roasted duck and the fabled Peking duck. Cantonese duck is typically served chopped, bone still in; the magic of a boneless platter of Peking duck in particular lies in the combination of tender meat and still-crispy skin.
Many of the customers, of course, are here for Peking duck. A half order is $18, full order $32, but with the help of a couple of friends and a few side dishes, you’ll find the half order is plenty. Little Kaiping doesn’t showily present the bird and slice it table-side like Mr. Wok does, but, truth be told, most restaurants in China don’t go to those lengths either. Instead, you’ll be regaled with a platter of thinly cut meat, six steamed buns, a bowl of long skinny slices of scallion and a cup of sauce. (Six extra steamed buns cost an additional $3, and that’s a smart addition.)
The duck is very subtly flavored — faint whispers of smoke and sugar add to the delicacy of the meat itself — and it’s not too fatty at all. The skin remains crisp, but not tooth-crackingly brittle. It’s not a flashy presentation, but it’s completely satisfying.
Little Kaiping makes other Cantonese staples with integrity, too. Try the sizzling steak, for which tender beef and onions are poured onto the hot platter table-side ($13). Tuck into a hot pot full of scallops, crab, shrimp and squid ($13). Underneath the seafood, chubby cubes of tofu absorb their flavors, and cabbage steams in the pot’s heat.
Into every Peking duck meal a few vegetables should fall. Little Kaiping makes a pleasing stir-fry of black mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots and snow peas ($11). The peas retain all their crisp fresh snap — bite down and listen — and the mushrooms, thick and round, are a delightful pairing. Water spinach is another safe bet, sauteed with plenty of garlic and served in a huge portion ($13).
The steamed dumplings are a fine though not special starter; the menu doesn’t say so, but the filling is chicken and cabbage, and, most pleasingly, the cabbage still retains its crunch even after the dumplings have been steamed ($6.50).
The service is unobtrusive but welcoming, and staff are happy to offer their recommendations. Little Kaiping is a real family affair.
“Our family is very small,” Brisbin says. “It’s been a big family effort on both sides to get this restaurant to where it is today.” Today, it’s serving some of the finest Cantonese food and Chinese barbecue in the Dallas area.
Little Kaiping, 4011 E. Renner Road., Suite 128, Richardson. 972-235-6888, littlekaiping.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.