By Dr. Ink
Comics of Disney’s Darkwing Duck and Asian superheroes frame a giant chalkboard at Whistling Duck Tavern, the newest addition to the HUB shopping center in Hillcrest.
The board lists about 25 tap beers, assorted wines and eight types of sake in a playful atmosphere where East meets West.
A decent portion of the drink list is discounted during happy hour: wines by the glass are $4, select drafts are $6, and sake flights are $7.
Although it isn’t until perusing the food menu that you begin absorbing the establishment’s ambitious concept of pairing Asian ingredients to familiar West Coast ones.
Resembling more of a modern gastropub than a classic tavern, its chef-owner Charles Sun of Shanghai Saloon on Convoy Street has created an alluring spot to eat, drink and lounge.
Accordion windows open to University Avenue in the front and look out to an inviting side patio on the side from what used to be Pick Up Stix.
With the exception of a small four-seat bar, the establishment offers roomy seating options at tables, window ledges or on the patio.
A flight of four cold sakes for only $7 dissuaded me from ordering beer, which included Anchor Steam Mango Wheat, Duck Foot Contender and a tempting Schofferhofer Grapefruit Weizen.
Conversely, a list of basic bulk varietals from Stone Cellars Winery didn’t incite any quacking at all.
Served in 1 1/2-ounce pours, the sake glasses included a milky Ozeki Nigori, which was light in alcohol and high in banana-like sweetness.
Though not as creamy as expected, it offered discernible flavor compared to the three clear varieties in the lineup — an insipid Kikusui Junmai Ginjo, a pleasantly soft-tasting 10,000 Ways Honjozo, and the faintly fruity Tozai Typhoon Futsu.
Assuming the sakes would be marked by name, deciphering their identities and semblance required help from one of the cheerful servers.
About 10 appetizers are available for $6 each. They include french fries topped with crispy duck, ground buffalo and mozzarella; fried pig ears; daikon radishes with dried shrimp and Taiwanese sausage; and a few other dishes you won’t find on other happy hour menus.
Not even the crispy duck bao buns I ordered were ordinary, mainly because the meat is folded into little chalupa-style bread buns and then deep-fried to a unique crisp.
These two little darlings, filled also with julienne veggies and a smear of hoisin sauce, fell naturally in line to the sake like ducklings to their mother.
Whistling Duck Tavern is still growing into its whimsical concept since waddling ashore a few months ago. Yet from the spirited patronage I witnessed during happy hour and the good price deals available, it’s off to a robust start.
Beer and sake are the drink menu’s strong points, offering diverse options compared to wines, which originate mostly from mass-producing Stone Cellar Winery.
From an adventurous menu of discounted appetizers, the crispy duck tucked into deep-fried slider buns is a clever departure from traditional bao buns.
A flight of four cold sakes for $7 is a steal. Ditto for the $6 craft beers on tap, which normally run $7 or $8 a glass.
The servers quickly greeted me and other incoming customers with happy hour menus while accommodating everyone’s seating preferences.
A comic book theme prevails within an airy space marked by industrial design elements, a couple of flat-screen TVs and windows that open to front and side patios.