"This is some of the best duck you'll ever eat. Period."
Before I describe Jody Adams' slow-roasted duck at Rialto, first, a poem:
A Long Island Duckling's Prayer For Jody Adams (written by a frequent customer)
Since I, no cat, Have but one life to give, Let it be my luck Not to fall into the hands Of some dumb cluck: Let me, hopeful duck, Be not just any sir's or madam's— But Jody Adams'! Let her marinate me In my flavorful amico, Balsamico. Let me roast long and slowly, So I may come to table succulent and crisp, Disproportionately wonderful Beyond hope or expectation. So may all appetites for duck— For me! For me! Exalted among fowl— Be thence forever thrall to Rialto.
If this were my high school English class, Mr. Reinke would have us pick apart the poem line by line. But it's not, so we'll stick with the abridged CliffsNotes version here, hitting on the major themes with some notes filled in here and there.
Lines 1-8: Cats are lucky; ducks, not so much. But if you're a duck that's going to become someone's dinner, pray that you end up in chef Jody Adams' kitchen. She can flat-out cook.
(Notes: Before manning the kitchen at Rialto in Harvard Square's Charles Hotel, Jody Adams worked as the sous chef at Hamersley's Bistro in Boston's South End. While there, she made "100 million" of Gordon Hamersley's famous roast chickens (likely subject of a future post), but needed a new item to make her signature dish when she left there to become the chef at the now-shuttered Michela's. That dish turned out to be slow-roasted duck ($36), and it quickly became a cult favorite. In fact, when she left Michaela's for Rialto and didn't immediately bring the duck with her to the new venue, customers complained until she met their demand. Now, more than 15 years later, the duck is still the house specialty.
Lines 9-11: If I can't swim in a lake or pond, I hope I can swim in balsamic vinegar.
(Notes: The duck's exterior gets its sweet-tangy flavor from marinating overnight in a combination of balsamic vinegar and mustard. "It's packed with umami," says Adams, noting that the duck's ultra-savory profile existed long before the term "umami" became trendy culinary lingo.)
Lines 12-15: Be patient. Ducks are fatty and take a long time to render and turn crisp. The results are really, really good.
(Notes: Adams roasts the duck for three to three and a half hours until the meat is really tender and all the fat renders out. Then, she breaks down the bird and crisps each portion to order. When finished, she says, "It almost looks lacquered.")
Lines 16-18: This is some of the best duck you'll ever eat. Period.
(Notes: Maybe the real testament to the dish is that Adams herself still enjoys eating it. "If I'm going to take home food from the restaurant," she says, "this is what I take." The accompaniments—a couple roasted fingerling potatoes, a bundle of wilted escarole, and three briny Sicilian olives—are well played, the former two sopping up the concentrated jus while the latter cuts through the dark, rich meat. Even better, she turns the leftovers into duck sandwiches with Gruyere, gingered figs, and a side of hand-cut fries, and serves it at the bar.