Duck the bill

Gentry BBQ Duck

6905 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95823

(916) 429-2598

They hang, red and slack, by their beaks in an alcove to the right of the cash register. They seem forlorn, but barbecue ducks in their condition don’t feel a damn thing. On one visit there are six duck carcasses. On another, only two—and both are gone by the end of the meal.

The matriarch places one of them rump first into a to-go box, then ties the handles of the plastic shopping bag over its head. Ducks disappearing is as it should be, one supposes, at a place called Gentry BBQ Duck. On Stockton Boulevard, a block or so south of 47th Avenue in Little Saigon, Gentry occupies what was formerly Tapioca Express. Sherlock Holmes is not needed to deduce this fact: An E-less “Tapioca xpress” remains on the outside wall.

The demise of Tapioca Express seems predictable—how many souls on this planet have an urgent hankering to wolf down tapioca? Although, who knows, maybe it’s still in there somewhere, tucked behind the ducks?

As for Gentry BBQ Duck, it is, to use one of daughter Katie’s favorite words, sketchy. This is not a compliment. Indeed, on several occasions the odd-smelling tap water tastes as though it had recently been utilized for some industrial purpose. The pickled jalapeños in the jars on the tables appear not to have been refreshed since Ronald Reagan’s second term—as governor. Rather than green, they are, let’s say most charitably, blanched. Mercifully, on a final visit, they are no longer extant.

The teenage daughter of the matriarch behind the counter offers what can at best be described as sullen service, in the broadest possible definition of the word service. After relaying these initial impressions to Katie, she is dumbfounded that, like Raskolnikov, a return trip is contemplated to the scene of these—her words—“heinous crimes.”

Much to the continuing irritation of SN&R management, this space is better filled with celebration rather than condemnation. Others may have the sublime confidence in their culinary knowledge to vomit vitriol, but my view is that somewhere in the room full of horse manure, there has to be a pony. And to a certain extent there is one at Gentry, albeit a pygmy Shetland.

There’s a fine variety of pho, which, in the main, does not lend itself to being mangled. The broth isn’t as aromatic or as complicated as some other Vietnamese restaurants—no flash of licorice-like anise or hint of ginger—but it’s workmanlike. Ditto for the oxtail soup. Oddly for a Vietnamese place, there appear to be no bun—vermicelli—offerings, but a wide selection of com—rice. Nor is there the ubiquitous nuoc cham on each table’s Lazy Susan.

As has been proffered before, good advice at a Vietnamese place is to order whatever has “dac biet” at the end of it, because that means it’s a house special. In the absence of such guidance, stick with what’s in the name. No one orders lamb chops at a pho joint.

As Gentry’s full name suggests, there are plenty of duck—beware the bones—options. The rice with duck, chicken, pork with pickled mustard—of which there’s not near enough—is well-proportioned, and the baby bok choy steamed just right. The pork is what I think of as char siu, the chewy bright red chunks inside a dim sum bao. There is a rack of slices next to the strung-up ducks behind the register.

The char siu is another Gentry success. It’s part of the winning com cha cu trung thit kho ua xa xiu, which also features hard-boiled egg, some very fatty pork and a salty and interestingly spiced fish cake.

An appetizer looking akin to pot stickers is stunningly bland but, of course, that’s why sriracha was invented. If passing through the area and harboring a powerful thirst, Gentry’s fresh-squeezed watermelon juice, orange-carrot combo and pineapple and apple are tasty and wondrously refreshing, particularly the watermelon.

There are better Vietnamese restaurants. Several are located one block north across the street. Flawed with moments.