I’ve heard plenty of jokes that begin “a duck walks into a bar…,” and none have ended with the duck being eaten. So any thirsty mallards reading this take note: Whistling Duck Tavern does feature plenty of fowl on the menu.
But for the most part, Whistling Duck’s thing is Asian-fusion, the fuse being meaty pub fare. So the menu features Korean beef jerky (made from bulgogi), kung pao skirt steak, and wok-fried riblets.
A nice thing about the menu I found is the fusion isn’t exhausting. If you gravitate to the Asian cuisine, you may order a relatively straightforward noodle or shrimp dish. When you’re feeling pub, pick the fish and chips or short-rib sandwich. I don’t know how to categorize the shredded-duck nachos or salt-and-pepper pig’s ear.
The newish gastropub faces University as part of The Hub, the complex of shops built around Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s. Windows wrap around the southwest corner of the small, streamlined bar and restaurant, and I found them wide open on a sunny afternoon. Even better, there seemed to be even more tables arranged on a patio shaded by greenery. This suited me just fine, as my dog had tagged along.
I took a seat and enjoyed the attentive table service, which included a bowl of fresh water for the pooch, while I studied the de rigueur San Diego craft beer taplist — which included a solid line-up of Duck Foot beer, of course.
1040 University Avenue, Hillcrest
(No longer in business.)
The brunch menu was still available, and wanting to try some duck I kept coming back to its crepe-style duck pancake roll. The wording was a bit much, but the description mentioned scallions, so I got to thinking that it would be a take on the savory Szechuan-style rolled-scallion pancake (also called cōngyóubǐng), made with dough rather than batter.
Instead, I should have paid closer attention to the word “crepe.” What came out was a folded mu shu duck, a fairly thick crepe drizzled with a soy glaze with scallions thrown on top. Though not what I’d expected, I still enjoyed the sweet and salty balance, although the saucy hoisin duck stir fry within, including bean sprouts and cabbage, wanted a little more viscosity.
I had a more fun with the bao bun sliders. These steamed bun sandwiches don’t stray too much from what you might find at any number of Asian restaurants, stuffed with meat and julienned, pickled vegetables. However, they’re also offered “chalupa” style. Basically, the steam bun is flash-fried so the inside remains sticky and soft, but the outside becomes a crispy shell.
The buns are sold by the pair, and though options include crispy duck and char siu pork you can only order one filling at a time (unless it’s a Tuesday night special). I opted for pork belly in my two buns, but I did talk them into making one steamed, on the “chalupa.”
The pork belly was perfectly cooked and savory as all get out. I only give a slight edge to the chalupa, if only for the novelty of the fried bun, which further illustrates that subtle fusion can be enough to offer a new experience.