Ask 10 people about the best barbecue in the world and you'll probably get at least 11 answers. It's likely that none of them will say China. There's a word for that: ignorance. A harsh indictment? Perhaps. Reality? No doubt. One trip to Sieu Sieu BBQ and Noodle House at the north end of San Diego's Convoy District in Kearny Mesa will make you a believer.
There is nothing fancy about the place (7420 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite 112). The only adornments are a formerly backlit menu left over from the space's previous occupant—a Hawaiian joint—and glass warming cases. These cases display the real reason I came: gorgeously roasted ducks. Hanging seductively as you enter the restaurant, these birds make it hard to imagine that anything inside isn't tasty.
Sieu Sieu offers two types of duck, a classic Cantonese version and a "BBQ" take that's butterflied before roasting. The former is parboiled, spice-rubbed and then thoroughly dried before seeing the inside of a hanging oven. The duck emerges with spectacularly crispy skin and incredibly moist meat that results from a wet marinade sewed into the duck's cavity before roasting. The overwhelming impression is of deeply savory meatiness featuring five-spice and hoisin flavors. The BBQ version—with fat more thoroughly rendered because of the butterflying—is somewhat leaner. Where the roast duck reminds you of everything anyone ever liked about fat, the BBQ duck is all the meatiness along with a promise that you'll be safe without your cardiac defibrillator.
For many, Chinese barbecue is synonymous with char siu pork. The meat is seasoned with a blend of honey, five-spice powder, hoisin, dark soy sauce, red fermented bean curd, xioxshing wine and red food coloring that yields deep flavor and an almost fluorescent red ring on the outside of the meat. The resulting flavor profile crosses and blends the savory, sweet and umami lines.
Sieu Sieu's meats are more than competent takes on the originals. How can you question a menu that includes "Roasted Pig" at $218 for the "Big" one and $188 for "Medium." But Sieu Sieu's barbecued meats are most interesting—if not best—in the restaurant's noodle dishes. The char siu pork chow fun was enjoyable, the roast duck lo mein nearly as good. Both starred those roasted meats amid an array of noodles and vegetables. In both, the noodles were bathed in copious quantities of fat. Healthy? Not on your life. Tasty? Absolutely. But about that defibrillator.
Sadly, I feel compelled to mention the less than great service. Two of my trips spawned issues ranging from minor discourtesies to more serious practices, such as seating parties at tables with office papers strewn about instead of cleaning otherwise empty tables. These issues definitely detracted from the experience.
But the bottom line is that the food is enjoyable. If not unique in San Diego, it certainly was unusual and undoubtedly delicious. It's not what most of us think of when we think about barbecue, but it ought to be added to the list.