Stop by Mark’s Duck House during prime weekend brunching hours and you’ll understand why its name in Chinese characters is “great crowded restaurant.” Diners holding numbered slips of paper crowd the narrow entrance of the restaurant, spilling out onto the sidewalks of the strip mall that houses this hidden gem.
By and large they’re here for dim sum, to get a spot in the cramped restaurant and order from carts filled with Chinese delicacies as they’re pushed narrowly between tables. Mark’s Duck House offers a wide assortment of Chinese cuisine – with entrees numbering in the hundreds – but dim sum is a less common treat. The dim sum delights – dumplings, spring rolls, small plates of meat and seafood, and much more – can be ordered from the menu, but the carts roll every day from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. for the full dim sum experience.
Your appetite may have been stoked by the wait, standing next to the broad display of the restaurant’s namesake roasted birds, but it will be quickly satisfied. Servers will start wheeling their carts to your table and giving the run-down of what’s on board from the moment you sit down. Some carts are packed with plates of food. Others are stacked with shallow metal bowls of steamed dumplings. Each order of food costs less than $10, with small orders of dumplings on the lower end of the spectrum and big plates of seafood on the higher end.
The duck, as one might expect, is a must-order. Succulent is an understatement. The meat is juicy and rich with fatty flavor. The rough-chopped pieces are served with a thin, lightly sweet sauce that cuts through this supremely savory meat. Dim sum diners can expect the duck to make its rounds on any day of the week, but on weekends the menu is expanded. One might encounter the roast suckling pig, and its tender pieces of pork beneath a crackling, crispy skin. Another weekend special is the jumbo oysters – two to an order, the bowl-sized rocky grey shells resting side by side on the plate.
No dim sum meal is complete without dumplings and buns, little pouches with a flavorful filling that’s always a fun surprise to reveal. Inside the pillowy white pork buns are chunks of sweet roast pork. Inside a mound of starchy taro, fried with a whispy shell, is pork as well. Shrimp and pork combine for the classic Shiu Mai dumpling. Throughout the menu, shrimp and pork are crimped into dumplings and wrapped in noodle crepes (and even added to sticky rice, wrapped into a lotus leaf).
The steam carts, in addition to plentiful dumplings and buns, serve small orders of uncommon meat as well, such as braised chicken feet and bits of chewy diced spare rib in black bean sauce.
There’s no denying that dim sum makes for a heavy meal. Big platters of green vegetables – baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, string beans, and asparagus – are served, but often go overlooked.
The dim sum at Mark’s Duck House is ideal for sharing with others, so you can try a bit of this and that and talk about the big flavors in these little dishes – and have some company if you encounter a wait to be seated.
Mark’s Duck House is located at 6184 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church. For more information, call 703-532-2125 or visit marksduckhouse.com. Restaurant hours are Sunday – Thursday: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – midnight.