Since chef Thach Tran took over the kitchen at Ace Eat Serve
in August 2017, the uptown Asian restaurant outfitted with ping-pong tables has really stepped up its food game. While the sweet-and-salty Tiger Wings have long been a draw, a whole lineup of wings is now available at its takeout and delivery-only concept, Wing Alley. The regular dinner menu is bolstered by new favorites, too, such as Sichuan shrimp wontons, scallop and shrimp X.O. rice pillows and a trio of ramen variations.
The brunch menu has also gotten a reboot. This is no average pancakes-and-omelets type of midday weekend meal. At Ace, brunch (which is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) means extra tall, fluffy Japanese-style pancakes with mango lime syrup, scallion pancakes with scrambled eggs, the Moon Over Miyabi sandwich with seared Spam, and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake) waffles with fried chicken piled inside.
In 2019, Tran — who is now the corporate chef for Secret Sauce restaurant group, overseeing the culinary programs at both Ace and Steuben's next door — added a Peking duck to the menu
. These days, it's available for both dine-in and to go on Tuesdays and Sundays only. While duck to go is a nice option, this is an experience best enjoyed in person.
Start your meal with an order of soup dumplings.
After settling in with a sake or cocktail like the Thai Me Up with green tea-infused Spring44 gin, Thai basil, ginger, cardamom, elderflower, lemon juice and a black lava sea salt rim, consider kicking things off with something from the dim sum section of the menu. While the duck is said to feed four to six, if you're in a group of four or more, you might leave less than stuffed with that alone. The xiao long bao (soup dumplings) filled with pork shoulder, black garlic and a shiitake lemongrass broth are the perfect bite to start things off, especially on a chilly day.
As you slurp and sip, suddenly a cart arrives in front of your table bearing a golden-skinned duck. The process leading to this main event takes four days and involves drying the poultry, rubbing Chinese five-spice under the skin and giving it a "spice bath" before roasting and resting.
The duck carving itself is mesmerizing, as your server wields the knife expertly — not like the hack job that awaited so many Thanksgiving turkeys. As each part of the duck is carved away, it's plated along with any extra crispy bits of skin (the real highlight). The meat is served with mu shu crepes, pickled chiles, scallions, cucumbers, apricot chile jam and sesame hoisin. An optional side of coconut rice is a nice addition to the feast.
Building your own bites on the crepes is part of the fun, too, and makes for a great interactive meal for a double-date night or special treat with a few friends for a between-holidays catch-up. Just be sure to leave room for one of pastry chef Michael Kurowski's sweets or a scoop of ube ice cream. It is the holiday season, after all.
Ace Eat Serve is located at 501 East 17th Avenue and is open 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Duck, $60, must be reserved ahead of time for dine-in or to-go orders; you can also reserve a Christmas duck through December 17 for pick-up on December 23 or 24 between 3 and 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit aceeatserve.com.