Ah, Chinese cuisine and the duck — such a lovely marriage of the culinary and the customary. In the Cambridge World History of Food, the authors write that "the first written records of domestic ducks date back to the Warring States period (475-221 BC) ... but according to one authority, the Chinese have had domesticated ducks for at least 3,000 years."
Flavor & Fortune, a magazine focusing on Chinese cuisine, says, "Ducks of several kinds are traditional and ancient Chinese foods. At least two species were known as domesticated at least since about 3000 BCE."
All this to say that when your tongue touches that Peking duck, or roasted Cantonese mallard, or even just, as in our case, duck with vegetables, know it's touching a tasty tradition as old as Stonehenge.
Coal Mine Dragon Restaurant
1720 W. Uintah St., 578-5430
The small eatery was packed on a recent Thursday night, with servers running big, steaming platters of beef lo mein and sesame chicken from the kitchen to the two sections of the dining room.
Huge portions were seen again when we ordered the large hot and sour soup ($3.95) and a mixing-bowl-sized portion arrived, thick and spicy. An order of eight great, crispy cheese wontons ($4.25) with mild hot mustard filled out the accidentally gluttonous order until our platter-sized entrée, the duck with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots ($12.15), arrived.
Despite its taut skin, the duck was actually very tender, and only became more so when you dug into the rich breast hidden underneath a pile of juicy broccoli, carrot shavings and dark, dense mushrooms in a salty brown sauce. — Bryce Crawford
The Coffee Exchange
526 S. Tejon St., 635-0277, the-coffee-exchange.com
The Coffee Exchange just celebrated its second anniversary under the Gazzana family (mom Donna, son Anthony, his wife Kelly), and Anthony says they've nearly tripled revenues since taking over. Plus, spring may usher in downtown delivery services.
I stopped in after seeing a large sign outside for gluten-free items, leading me to a peanut butter cookie ($2) and chocolate banana peanut butter muffin ($3). House baker Michelle Musselman deserves credit for creating an array of ingredient blends, including rice flours, tapioca starch and guar gum, that give the edibles an ideal, non-crumbly texture and moistness that many commercial GF products lack.
Nearby Barista Espresso and Specialty Roasting delivers a good base for the 16-ounce raspberry mocha ($4.35), though I could go for less syrup and candy sweetness. — Matthew Schniper
146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 630-0201, waltersbistro.com
The house Maine Lobster Bisque ($7.50/cup, $10/bowl) is legend, and for good reason — it's velvety and creamy, with a rich stock flavor. Holy hell, mine was delicious, especially soaked into accompanying "country French dinner rolls."
"Don't fix what's not broken," says chef Steve Weber, who inherited the recipe when he came to Walter Iser's eatery around a year ago. Weber did, however, tinker with the lamb salad ($16), creating a Mediterranean/North African-inspired saffron-honey yogurt dressing to accompany feta, shallot slivers, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives and sirloin strips over romaine. My lamb (Colorado-raised, they say) was cooked a beautiful medium rare and was delicious on its own. Good thing, because the salad was dry with just blotches of the dressing, leaving me wishing they'd given it all a toss. — Matthew Schniper