The Washingtonian – 100 Best Bargain Restaurants
June 2008
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

Why go: More than a decade after its debut, this storefront beloved by wine guru Robert Parker remains a standard-bearer of Hong Kong-style Chinese cooking-from the crackling-skinned Peking duck and marvelous lacquered roast pig to a dizzying array of soups, seafood dished, stir-fries, and esoteric treasures such as sea conch with yellow chives.

What to get: Shrimp-and-pork wonton with brown vinegar and red chili sauces; Peking duck with plum sauce, scallions, and pancakes; salty beef short ribs with chili and garlic; sesame jellyfish; beautifully stir-fried green such as mustard and watercress with or without tofu; steaming noodle soup.

Best for: A dish-sampling brunch, lunch, or dinner with friends to take advantage of one of the big lazy-Susan tables.

Insider tip: To signal that you want more tea, leave the lid of the teapot open; we like the chrysanthemum tea. If you’re not up for a half-hour wait, avoid peak lunch, dim sum, and dinner hours.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 2007
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

Just inside is a small counter with hanging delicacies, such as roasted ducks and pig heads, leading into a large dining hall softened by cool greens and pastels and bordered in back by tanks of fresh seafood. And that’s all you need to know when ordering – duck, pig, and seafood are the kitchen’s strengths, and the less adorned the better.

Peking duck is a must, the succulent meat served alongside the crispy skin. You won’t find better roast suckling pig in town; available whole if you call in advance, it easily can feed a dozen or more people.

Seafood is best in a simple sauce of soy, ginger, and scallions. Vegetables include sautéed chive blossom, water spinach, baby bok choy, and intensely flavored Chinese celery.

Mark’s Duck House advertises itself as Hong Kong-style, but tends to use a heavy hand with thick, salty sauces. It pays to stay simple, focusing on the fine roasted meats and fresh seafood, all prepared as simply as possible.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 2006
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

Eating at this Hong Kong­-style restaurant is a little like wandering the streets of that chaotic city--a jumble of signs and sensations. From the fish tanks stocked with eels, lobsters, and sea bass to the faded placards taped all over the restaurant announcing house specials in addition to the 400-plus choices on the menu, Mark's can be a bewildering, if fascinating, experience.

And then there are weekends, when the crush of customers waiting for dim sum stretches out the door and the dining room looks to be on the verge of anarchy: carts zipping past, tiny dishes of noodles and dumplings being auctioned off. You don't just eat at Mark's; you submit. And often happily.

The game here is duck. It is prepared in a multitude of ways, almost all of them with care bordering on reverence. Peking duck is carved tableside, the servers tucking the lacquer-skinned meat into thin pancakes and fashioning little bundles of them with their tongs. Honey-roasted duck is a delicious testament to the unity of opposites--the outside crispy, the inside soft and luscious, the sweetness of the honey glaze offset by the ginger and garlic in the pool of soy sauce.

Baby pig--available only on weekends and then usually gone by afternoon--is as good as any of the duck preparations, its thin, burnished skin as crisp as crackling.

Equally rewarding is to take your cue from the tanks out front and order up one of the fresh fish--sauced lightly so as to tease out its natural sweetness. The market prices can push the cost beyond the Cheap Eats boundaries, but an order is often large enough for two to share. Other preparations, like a stir-fry dish of head-on shrimp in a garlic-and-ginger sauce, are satisfying if unspectacular.

Dim sum, served all week, has its moments—a typical offerings like pillowy scallop dumplings and fishcakes wrapped in seaweed are finds--but others in the area do it better. None, though, offers the option of ordering up a plate of roasted duck or pig.

Appetizer $1.95 to $7, entrées $7.95 to $28. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 2005
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church
*Critic’s Choice
*

Although Northern Virginia boasts many good Chinese restaurants, this is the only one to make the January Washingtonian list of 100 Very Best Restaurants. It doesn't make it because of its decor, although it has been spruced up a bit. It gets there by serving very good Hong Kong-­style cooking as well as Cantonese dim sum at lunchtime.

Diners get two menus, one listing appetizers, main-course soups, and noodle and rice dishes, the other listing more ambitious main courses. Though duck plays a prominent role, the offerings go well beyond that. To get the best the restaurant has to offer, choose authentic dishes over the likes of sweet-and-sour pork.

Try the Dungeness crab with shredded scallions and ginger; sliced boneless roast duck with bitter melon; baked marinated pork chops with a white sauce; steamed salty chicken; sautéed watercress with bean-curd paste; sautéed snow-pea shoots with crabmeat sauce; or one of the many casseroles. Combine one or more of these dishes with one of the very good duck dishes, whether braised or Peking style. Whole steamed fish is another winner.

 

The Washingtonian – 100 Very Best Restaurants
January 2005
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church
*Inexpensive*

The name doesn’t suggest anything special, but the literal translation of the Chinese characters sends a message – “Great Crowded Restaurant.” The dining room has been spruced up, but this still isn’t the place to take a prom date or entertain your future mother-in-law. It is a comfortable and popular Hong Kong-style restaurant that serves some of the area’s best Chinese food.

Diners get two menus, one listing appetizers, main-course soups, and noodle and rice dishes, and another of more-elaborate main courses. The best appetizers are cut from the roast ducks, chickens, and pigs that hang near the entrance. For main courses, duck is excellent, whether roasts, braised or Peking-style. Lobster and Dungeness crab with shredded scallions and ginger are also winners, as are salt-baked shrimp served head-on with chilies. Casseroles – of tofu, seafood, pork, and more – are special, too.

Dim sum, served daily at lunch, is varied and pleasing. Note that the Chinese serve at room temperature many dishes that Westerners would assume were hot. As a rule of thumb, dishes on rolling hot tables are hot; plates on pushcarts without heat are room temperature.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 2004
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

The English name of this restaurant doesn’t do it justice. The Chinese characters say it better: “Great Crowded Restaurant.” It offers some of the best Hong Kong-style  Cantonese cooking around.

The restaurant supplies diners with two lengthy menus, both filled with authentic preparations. One menu lists appetizers, main-course soups, and noodle and rice dishes; the other lists everything thing else. Two small sections appear only in Chinese and Vietnamese – one is preparations of frog’s legs and the other is innards – but the servers will gladly translate them. Prices are low, except for seafood, only a handful of dishes are more than $10.

Duck is excellent, whether Peking, braised or roasted. There are a couple of dozen casserole dishes, including one of sizzling chicken, pig, and oysters. There are another couple of dozen shrimp dishes, from salt-baked shrimp with chilies with the edible head and shell on to shrimp with bitter melon in black-bean-and-garlic sauce. Lobsters and Dungeness crabs await selection in tanks of bubbling water. For a rock-bottom price, ask for the meat or fowl “on rice”; the portion is smaller, but the prices top out at $6.50. Excellent Cantonese dim sum is served from rolling carts at lunchtime seven days a week.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 2001
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

The dining room may have gone glam with mirrors and Chinese artwork, but those barbeque meats still make a mouthwatering still life in the window of this shopping-plaza storefront. And chances are, the help will be stemming sugar-snap-pea shoots a couple of tables over if you’re there on a slow Monday night. Take the hint. Order the pea shoots, sautéed with a glimmer of garlic and tasting earthy and delicate at the same time. Another hint: Go for the Peking duck, lean slices with crusty skin bundled in a think pancake with scallions and plum sauce. You’ll wonder why this isn’t a weekly ritual.

If you haven’t had chow foon in a while, this is the place to rediscover these noodles, washed in “gravy” with Chinese broccoli and pork. The specials board is routine to novelties such as yellow chive with kidneys. It’s more discreetly placed now than it used to be but worth seeking out.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 2000
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

This busy Chinese restaurant can be a bit intimidating. The menu is long. One wall is covered with handwritten signs, many of them untranslated, offering specials. The place is often full and servers can be hurried and brusque. But there are so many wonderful things on the menu that it’s worth plunging in and giving it a go. A recent meal started with crisp fried dumplings and a plate of duck tongues – they have a bit of cartilage in the middle, but they’re very tasty. Salt-baked prawns with chilies, served in their edible shells, were crunchy and soft, sweet and salty. Beef with bitter melon was another hit, the melon a nice contrast to the slight sweetness of the sauce. We saw a lovely plate of greens going by and asked the waiter what they were. They turned out to be the best dish of all – a special of snow-pea shoots stir-fried with garlic.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 1999
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

Sunday night is family night at Mark’s. That’s when three-generation Chinese and Vietnamese families gather round the lazy Susan to dive into soy-sauce chicken, cuttlefish with chili-garlic sauce, and braised bean curd. The place is such a hit with Northern Virginia’s Vietnamese population that specials hastily scrawled on strips of red paper and hung on the wall, are in Vietnamese as well as Chinese and English. This is where you’ll find some of the more challenging plates.

On a recent visit, tender slices of sweet duck glazed with black-bean sauce were a smashing counterpoint to pieces of very bitter green melon. The black-bean sauce is marvelous on scallops, too. There are memorable noodle dishes: mixed vegetables with a torrent of Asian greens, and birthday noodles with black mushrooms and yellow chives.

Eggplant fans will want to dive into a plate of wine-sweet baby purple eggplants. Another possibility is eggplant flanked by fried bean curd stuffed with shrimp paste. Sugar pots, an ultrasweet sugar snap pea, and Chinese broccoli are mighty fine, too. And, of course, there’s Peking duck with just the right fat-to-lean ratio and gossamer pancakes. Roast duck and pork are somehow less ingratiating but on a good night as succulent as they should be. One also can dabble in esoterica like spiced duck tongues or pig ears. And to add to the agony of choosing, pay a visit at lunchtime, when the dim sum carts are flying.

 

The Washingtonian – Cheap Eats
June 1998
Mark’s Duck House
Falls Church

Peking duck is only the beginning in this unassuming Hong Kong-style dining room teeming with Chinese and Vietnamese experts. Served with gossamer pancakes, hoisin sauce, and spring onions, it’s an earthy treat. There’s also good roast duck, roast pork, and a roster of other specialties ranging from spiced duck tongues to beef tripe.

Look to the wall of specials written in Chinese and Vietnamese. Dishes to go for include scallops with black-bean sauce; eggplant with fried bean curd and shrimp paste; birthday noodles with yellow chives and black mushrooms; and piquant Kingdom Pork. Vegetables are terrific here, especially the Chinese broccoli and sugar snap pods, a sweeter version of sugar snap peas. 

Mark’s serves dim sum lunch every day. Choices are numerous, but ones to zero in on are stuffed duck feet, roast pork buns, spareribs in black-bean sauce, and shrimp and pork dumplings.

 

Fairfax Has Something To Suit Every Taste
The Washington Post
April 21, 2005

Excerpt from article:

Mark's Duck House began life in Eden Center but has moved to a nearby shopping center that fronts Route 50 (6184-A Arlington Blvd., Willston Center I, 703-532-2125, www.marksduckhouse.com ). As its name suggests, duck – whether Peking style, braised or roasted – is the dish to order. There are more than 400 items on the menu, including lots of dim sum.

 

Soup to Ducks
The Washington Post
July 30, 2000

MARK'S DUCK HOUSE – 6184-A ARLINGTON BLVD., FALLS CHURCH. 703-532-2125. Open: Sunday through Thursday 10 a.m. to midnight, Friday 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; dim sum served daily 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. MC, V. Reservations accepted. Separate smoking area. Prices: appetizers $2 to $5, entrees $6.50 to $15. Dim sum $1.95 to $5.50. Full dinner with beer, tax and tip $16 to $30 per person.

At most restaurants, the maitre d' welcomes you at the door. But at Mark's Duck House, it's a pig that greets you. More specifically, the head of a pig. It lies snout up in the front window, roasted to a rich pumpkin orange. The pig shares its hosting duties with a row of roasted ducks, which hang by their long necks from hooks in the window.

Once inside the dining room, you'll come face to face with more wildlife. Six huge tanks on the back wall teem with various intimidating sea creatures. Eels writhe in one tank; Dungeness crabs claw one another next door. Sea bass and lobsters keep an uneasy peace in another. If you sit facing the tanks – and I strongly recommend that you do – every few minutes you will get to watch a waiter dip a net into the water, and, after some struggle, drag out an irate lobster or wriggling eel. (That lobster will emerge from the kitchen a little later, steamed with ginger and scallion or salt-baked with chili.)

Mark's Duck House is Hong Kong's gift to Falls Church, and it is a refuge from all that is sterile and chilly about restaurants these days. Running a restaurant has become a business of coddling diners, shielding them from any sensory experience except the food on their plate. But Mark's never forgets that eating out is supposed to be high drama.

A Hong Kong native trained as an architect, Frederick Mark, with his wife, Esther, opened the Duck House in the Eden Shopping Center, on Wilson Boulevard, 15 years ago. In 1995 they relocated to this small storefront in the Willston Center. The restaurant is the best kind of cultural stew. According to Mark, a quarter of the clientele is Chinese, a quarter is Vietnamese, a quarter is other Asian and the rest non-Asian. The specials are written in Chinese, Vietnamese and -- usually -- English. Mark's has no decor: Furniture is stacked haphazardly at the front, the walls are nearly bare. The theater is in the food and in the customers.

The restaurant pivots around half a dozen circular tables equipped with mammoth Lazy Susans. Smaller rectangular tables line the walls. The round tables are jammed every night with families passing around huge plates of shellfish and steaming bowls of congee and soup, the kids clamoring for more sodas and rice. The tables are packed in close, and this encourages gawking and sniffing. Often the best way to order at Mark's is simply to point at what the crowd at the next table is eating.

If you do point, make sure you point at the duck. This place is not called Mark's Duck House for nothing. It sells 100 ducks on a busy weekend night, and they are noble birds. The Peking duck is roasted to a deep mahogany, its skin crackling-crisp, its meat tender and flavorful. Garnished with scallions, blessed with a bit of plum sauce and wrapped in a pancake, it is as close to heaven as I've ever gotten in a strip mall. If your waiter is in the mood -- and be warned, Mark's servers are an impatient bunch -- she will dissect the duck at the table for you. (If the restaurant is busy, the kitchen staff will cut it up.) Like most dishes at Mark's, the Peking duck is reasonably priced, though not cheap. A whole bird and a dozen pancakes cost $23.95.

Peking duck, though, is obviously not a Hong Kong specialty. Mark's serves it as a nod to non-Chinese customers. The restaurant's more authentic duck prize is the Cantonese roast duck. It is prepared in roughly the same way, but the cooking melts off less fat and does not crisp the skin. A thick, pearly layer of fat separates the brown skin and the incredibly moist meat. I prefer the Peking duck, but many friends swear by the Cantonese. No matter which duck you order, you will be glazed head-to-toe in duck grease when you finish. You will taste delicious for hours.

It's tempting to order only by pointing, but if you do you'll miss one of the great joys of Mark's: reading the menu. This is a daunting task. The dinner menu boasts some 400 items, including 11 different bean curd dishes, 25 shrimp, 10 conch – everything from eel casserole to shredded fresh-dried squid to lotus root. (Mark's also serves 67 items of dim sum every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) No creature of land, sea or air is safe from Mark's chefs. They ply customers with pigeon, quail, cuttlefish, jellyfish, fish head and sea cucumber.

Mark's is particularly deft with pork. It roasts its pigs with the same reverence as it cooks its ducks. The roast pork develops a crispy skin, and the flesh is as rich and meaty as the best barbecue. You can go whole hog: Mark's specializes in pig intestine, stuffed cold pig knuckle, pig kidney, pig tongue, pig stomach and pig ear. Try the ear. I haven't mustered the courage to taste it myself.

Mark's also understands green vegetables. The beans in the string beans with minced pork snap with freshness. Sugar peas accompany many dishes. The various stir-fried greens – Chinese broccoli, watercress, mustard greens – provide a crisp, sharp respite from the heavy meats. And Mark's is a Hong Kong restaurant, so it's not surprising that it makes a great soup. The fragrant broths are packed with greens, egg noodles and any of half a dozen different meats. And a $4.50 bowl is big enough for lunch.

Frederick and Esther Mark are faced with the tricky job of catering to their Asian customers without scaring away others. This can make for some East-West tension. Mark's imperious waiters urge non-Asian customers to order such familiar dishes as Peking duck. They push the crispy flounder, not the live sea bass. (Not without reason. Many customers, I suspect, don't want to think about their dinner being netted and killed.) A dozen of the 40-odd specials are not translated into English because Mark doesn't want to alarm non-Asian diners.

One evening I asked him to translate one of those cryptic specials. "Frog's legs," he said. I began to complain that there's nothing scary about frog's legs when Mark laughed cheerfully and corrected himself: "Not frog's legs. Whole live frogs." He gestured back toward the kitchen, suggesting with one sweep of the hand that the kitchen was hopping with live, soon-to-be-braised amphibians. "Americans don't like whole frogs much, I think."

Even so, Mark's is delighted to indulge anyone who makes the effort to experiment. Point at the congee with pork blood your neighbor is eating, and you'll soon be spooning up a bowl of your own. Our waitress seemed thrilled when we ordered the spiced duck tongue, and disappointed a few minutes later when she learned that the kitchen had run out of it. We had the Peking duck instead, and it was wonderful. It is this double life that makes Mark's such a treasure: It's a restaurant that can be as comforting as noodle soup, and as thrilling as a whole braised frog.

 

Crossing the Potomac To Southeast Asia
The New York Times
January 19, 2005
Written by R.W. Apple, Jr.

Excerpt from article:

Chinese? At Mark's Duck House, opened 20 years ago by Frederick Mark, an architect from Hong Kong, you can have the house specialty cooked Peking style -- with the familiar super-crisp skin and wine-dark flesh, to be tucked into pancakes and eaten with hoisin sauce and scallions -- or Cantonese style. The latter is much moister, because not as much of the fat is melted away in the cooking process, and comes to the table in chunks. It takes a little practice to learn how to separate the meat from the bones, but it is well worth the effort.

Dipped into the clear, subtly spiced juices in the platter it comes on, the meat all but quacks with richness, and the skin, which is painted with red wine vinegar and honey as it cooks, has a texture that is less crisp but more flavorful than the skin of a Peking duck. Fat, after all, is flavor.

Mark's roasts pork with as much care as duck, producing robustly flavored slices of pig that will remind you of barbecue. But its dim sum, served at lunchtime, though clearly the Washington area's best, often disappoints; some wrappers are too thick and some fillings too gelatinous.

 

Zagat Suvery 2003

One of the most authentic Hong Kong-style restaurants in Northern Virginia…is patronized by knowledgeable food lovers who gather to discover exotic dishes and to seek comfort in favorites like delightful dim sum, awesome Peking Duck, and excellent Roast Pig. Don’t expect a high-end setting, just great fare.

 

Zagat Survey 2001

Serious Hong Kong-style cooking draws local toques and Chinese foodies to this stripped-down Falls Church ethnic, which may lack style and pizzazz but more than makes up for it with its phenomenal specialties. The best BBQ meats and unbelievable daily dim sum.

 

Robert M. Parker, Jr.’s The Wine Advocate®
www.eRobertParker.com
Pierre Rovani’s Most Memorable Meals of 1999

 

Mark’s Duck House (Arlington, VA) – Numerous lunches with Robert Parker and a gang of thirsty wine nuts at this Northern Virginia Hong Kong-style restaurant regularly produces lunches filled with fabulous dim sum (the shrimp dumplings are super). Moreover, the items that can be ordered in advance (lobster dumplings, suckling pig, and scallop dumplings for example) are as exquisite as anything that can be found in the former British colony. A huge round table surrounded by friends, never ending platters of great food, and a large lazy-Susan brimming with spectacular wines (BYOB), is a formula for success.

 

Robert M. Parker, Jr.’s The Wine Advocate®
www.eRobertParker.com

Mark’s Duck House (Arlington, VA) – This is an authentic Hong Kong restaurant serving the finest dim sum I have enjoyed in the United States. Some of the dim sum must be ordered in advance, particularly the scallop dumplings, lobster dumplings, and special king shrimp dumplings. While the dim sum is fabulous, the cooking (in large measure Cantonese) goes well beyond that, with terrific fish dishes as well as Peking duck. Seafood and poultry are must tries at this unfashionable restaurant located in an aesthetically dreadful shopping mall.

 

Robert M. Parker, Jr.’s The Wine Advocate®
www.eRobertParker.com

Mark’s Duck House (Arlington, VA) – This under-rated, unheralded, Hong Kong-style restaurant, situated in a strip shopping mall in northern Virginia, offers memorable Dim Sum and Peking Duck. There is little atmosphere (other than the ducks and pork slabs hanging in the front window), but the food quality is impeccably high, with the Peking Duck among the finest I have ever had. In fact, when I was in Hong Kong, one of the Win Advocate’s Chinese subscribers told me in response to my query about Peking Duck, “If you want great Peking Duck, go to the United States, if you want horrible Peking Duck, go to Beijing.” Prices are a bargain at Mark’s Duck House.

 

AOL CityGuide
2005 City’s Best, Four Stars

Hong Kong native Frederick Mark and his wife Esther opened the original Duck House on Wilson Boulevard almost two decades ago. In 1995, they relocated to this space in a strip mall on Arlington Boulevard, and Chinese dining in suburban Falls Church has never been the same. If you have any questions about the authenticity of the place, they'll be settled when you walk through the door and see the roasted ducks hanging by their necks from hooks in the front window. On any given night, more than half the diners at Mark's are Asian, and that bodes well for the authenticity of the food.

With more than 400 items, the immense menu can be a little intimidating. So if you want to avoid the intimidation, just close your menu and order Peking duck. It arrives at your table roasted to a deep red, and the skin is crispy enough to crackle when you bite into it. Wrap the meat, scallions and plum sauce in the pancakes that come alongside, and enjoy.