When a restaurant owner can lure District residents out to the Virginia suburbs for repeat visits, chances are pretty good they’ll have some staying power. When you can count the revolving residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as regulars, confidence is high that restaurant will flourish—just ask the wildly-successful Tsui clan, the hard-working proprietors of Culmore’s renowned Peking Gourmet Inn.
Founder Eddie Lun Kwai Tsui opened his Szechuan-style eatery with a plan to make his tender, roast Peking duck the toast of the town. Almost 30 years later, his children, Robert (general manager) and George (head chef), continue a proud tradition that has attracted every sitting president dating back to the George H.W. Bush administration. Virtually every wall is plastered with candid snapshots of staff posing with local politicos, visiting dignitaries and all manner of celebrity followers, while the ornamental lanterns and smiling golden dragons found in the main dining room pay homage to the family’s Asian roots. And in a stroke of marketing genius, tiny ducks parade suggestively above everyone’s head along a border that stretches across the entire dining room.
Without question, get the duck. The signature bird is prepared tableside by a master carver who removes every morsel of the moist and meaty mallard with surgical precision. The gourmet duck experience includes steamed pancakes, giant spring onions plucked from the family’s Purcellville-based Grass Roots Farm (supplier of many of the house vegetables), and a side of fried rice speckled with onions and peas.
The slightly smaller but no less tempting Peking spring chicken is a spice-rubbed Cornish hen burnished with Oriental seasonings (fresh ginger jumps out at you). Fluffy, sesame shrimp cakes get wrapped in a buttery crust and served with a sweet, homemade garlic sauce. The so-called “Szechuan beef proper” summons sour-sweet strips of crispy beef studded with sesame seeds and dressed with shredded spring onions and carrots. Meanwhile, the spring onions play companion to marinated lamb that is sliced thin and splashed with just the right amount of soy sauce.