BIG thumbs up to MuMu - best Chinese food in Providence, RI (LONG REVIEW)
I've seen a few mentions of MuMu, the new Chinese restaurant that opened on Providence's Federal Hill, elsewhere on the board, but after my latest dining experience there, I thought it merits its own thread.
I'm among the few diehard Lemi's supporters who have been in mourning ever since that fine purveyor of authentic Hong Kong-style roasted meats (among other goodies) closed down. I don't think I'd eaten Chinese food in Providence since then, aside from a couple of dim sum excursions.
My fiancee and I decided to check out MuMu on a whim, based on Garris' (and others') review on this board, actually. The reviews were mostly positive, but we had relatively low expectations, since a lot of people talked about how the menu is only partly authentic. I'd like to argue that this isn't really a fair characterization. It's true that they offer a lot of the standard Americanized fare - sesame beef, crab rangoon, Kung Pao chicken, pepper steak, and the like. Even these items, though - the ones I've tried anyway, have a level of freshness and competence to them that you can't find at your neighborhood takeout joint. According to the owner, Sophia, the chef was hired direct from Beijing, and if there's something you want that isn't on the menu, chances are he'll be able to make it.
Also, hidden away in the "regular" menu are a lot of very authentic regional dishes, mostly the type of food you'd eat in Taiwan or Shanghai rather than in Hong Kong, if that means anything to you. The Dim Sum section of the menu boasts by far the best Xiao Long Bao (otherwise known as soup dumplings) I've had in Rhode Island - the secret to these is the little bit of congealed fatty soup on the inside. When the dumpling is steamed, the fat melts and voila! You need a soup spoon to eat them, so you don't lose the precious juices on the inside when you take a bite. Every other place that offers Xiao Long Bao in Providence makes them with a thick, doughy wrapper - more like a potsticker than a genuine Xiao Long Bao. These are about as close to the real deal as I've had on the East Coast. MuMu also has the best scallion pancakes in Providence, bar none. Every other place I've had them deep fries them - MuMu pan fries their scallion pancakes, just like the way my mom makes them. Really good. The Dan Dan Noodles were very good, as well. These are the sort of noodles you'd get at a little noodle shop in Taipei - you just can't get them anywhere else in Rhode Island. I'm looking forward to trying to Chilled Noodles with Sesame Sauce, the Shanghai Style Noodles, and the Fried Sticky Rice Cakes (these are all listed in the "Noodle" section of the menu, all very authentic dishes that aren't offered in other local Chinese restaurants).
Then there's the "Authentic" menu, which is a whole other section - one that doesn't seem as long as the one at, say, Lucky Garden, but like I said, this is deceptive. Many of the dishes on the regular menu are also excellent and quite authentic. We tried the Boneless Spareribs with Sauteed Garlic, which is like a fancified cha siu (Chinese roast pork). As good, maybe better (dare I say it), than the kind they used to serve at Lemi's. On a later visit, we had a chance to sample the steamed whole fish with ginger and scallion, which, if you're not squeamish about seeing a whole fish, eyeballs and all, I recommend highly. The fish was very fresh, very tender.
My recommendation when you go is to schmooze with Sophia (you should have no problem figuring out who she is, as she's very gregarious and carries herself like someone who's in charge). If you speak Chinese, even better, but her English is perfectly fine. Ask her to recommend the dishes that she thinks are the best and most authentic. Most of MuMu's waitresses are young Caucasian college student types and, not to steretype but, they aren't nearly as knowledgeable about the menu. Talk to Sophia - she'll hook you up.
In the meantime, here are my own recommendations:
1) Xiao Long Bao
2) Scallion pancakes
3) Dan Dan Noodles
4) Chinese Cabbage (ask for the small, authentic Chinese kind - not the Napa cabbage. These are closer to baby bok choy, prepared so that they're still crisp instead of soggy)
5) Steamed Whole Fish w/ Ginger and Scallion
6) Orange Beef (again, I would consider this an "Americanized" dish, but it's done so well - the meat tender, the sauce sweet without being overwhelming - that I'd definitely order it again.
Sophia also told me, several times, that their Peking duck is up there with the best in the world. It's a bold claim, but I'm excited to find out if it holds up.
Eat at MuMu. You won't regret it.
220 Atwells Ave.
(closed on Tuesdays during the summer)
Valet Parking available
The menu for my banquet:
1) Several complimentary small dishes on the table when we arrived, including some Chinese pickled vegetables and thousand year old eggs.
2) A combination cold plate, that included sliced beef, jellyfish, "drunken" chicken, and bean curd vegetable wraps.
3) Two appetizer dishes - xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and scallion pancakes
4) Tofu seafood soup
5) Shrimp with cashew nuts
6) Diced chicken lettuce wraps (very refreshing - great for the summer time)
7) Orange beef
8) Steamed whole fish with ginger and scallions (I believe the fish were grouper, and they were lovely)
9) Chinese vegetables - two different dishes (Sauteed eggplant and peapod leaves)
10) Green tea fried rice
11) For dessert: sticky rice balls in sweet soup
Again, all this was customized - she gave us a number of choices, and we picked from among them to try to suit our guests.
Since it seems you are on such great terms with the owners, *please* ask them to do something about the exterior. The place is almost invisible. People I recommend it to can't *find* it, even when looking. They need better signage and need its "dark private social club" looking facade brightened. Now, places can thrive without obvious signage (Red Stripe a good example), but Red Stripe has a streetscape facade that draws you in even without a name. The Mumu spot, with their smoked windows, looks nearly empty...
I'm pulling for Mumu to be a huge hit, but they're not helping themselves on the streetscape end of things...
Just a quick update on my review - we had our rehearsal dinner at MuMu this past Friday, and things went even better than we could have hoped. We had three banquet tables (which, apparently, they acquired just for us) set up for our thirty guests - the tables were set simply but elegantly with a lazy susan on each for easy family-style dining. They had even put up a "double happiness" sign (traditional for weddings) on the wall for us to take pictures in front of.
The food, from the first cold plate through the dessert (a traditional sweet soup with a sesame paste filled dumplings not on the regular menu) was spectacular; the service was impeccable. We had guests who had traveled from California, Vancouver, New York, and even Taiwan - each of which has no lack of authentic Chinese cuisine - all of them praised the food (and my good taste). My parents, who are Chinese and very picky about Chinese restaurants, loved it. I asked my dad if he thought the food was good; he said it was "VERY good". My table drank three bottles of a tasty Argentinian white which, at $18 a bottle, was a complete steal. We feasted on leftovers the day after our wedding. Total bill for thirty people, including liquor, tax, and gratuity: about $660. Best $660 we spent the whole weekend of the wedding.
I brought my parents back for a simple lunch the following Monday - the quality of the food was equally excellent even if the fare was lighter and not as fancy. Instead of pushing expensive dishes on us, Sophia (apparently the co-owner along with her son, who also owns Lot 401) recommended more homestyle cuisine for lunchtime.
My prediction? Before the year is out, you won't be able to get a table at MuMu on a Friday or Saturday night without a reservation. The food, service, and ambience - the whole package - is THAT good, unrivaled among Asian restaurants in Providence. Go check it out while the place is still relatively unknown.
The other part of my MuMu experience, which I decided to talk about separately here because my original post was getting so long, goes something like this:
My fiancee and ate there on a Friday. We're getting married next week (yay, congratulations to us!), and we'd originally been planning on hosting the rehearsal dinner in our backyard. Our preference was to have it at a Chinese restaurant (because it's affordable and because we're both Chinese), but Lemi's closed, and there weren't any other viable options. Like I said, we ate at MuMu just on a whim (and because we thought it had a funny name), and we liked it so much that we decided to scrap our previous plan and just have our rehearsal dinner there. (I should mention that the restaurant's decor is quite elegant - another big selling point, from our perspective. It's the only Chinese restaurant in Rhode Island, I think, where you can entertain guests in style).
We talked to Sophia, the owner, and she was great about everything, especially since it was such short notice. Now, to be fair, business seems a little bit slow - they've only been open for two months and they're still trying to establish themselves - so she seemed particularly eager for our business. Nevertheless, I came away from the experience duly impressed. She worked with us to customize an authentic menu befitting such a festive occasion, and the price she quoted us ($148 per 10 person table) is beyond reasonable for a full eight course Chinese banquet.
To top things off, she called us in a couple days later to go over the menu and comped us with a full tasting so that we could sample each dish. Right at the beginning, she told us that she was treating and that the chef was happy that he'd have a chance to show off his skills for a larger, more formal gathering. She poured us glasses of wine and iced green tea, and then out came the dishes. Let me tell you, this wasn't, "Oh, let's give them a few bites off a dish that someone else just ordered" - the chef made us full portions of just about every dish we're serving, including a whole fish for just the two of us (at like 1:00 in the afternoon)! All of the food was delicious. We're dropping maybe $500 for this rehearsal dinner - peanuts, really, in the grand scheme of things for a restaurant - and she treated us like kings. When we had a tasting for the caterer for our actual wedding, she charged us a hundred bucks and we only got to eat a tiny little portion of each dish.
I'll say this, though - the owner is a savvy businesswoman (apparently, she has or has had a stake in restaurants in Manhatten, Taipei, and Tokyo as well), and she knows that the word of mouth from pulling off a successful banquet like this is far more valuable than what we'll be paying her for dinner. And what can I say? I'm sold.
The actual dinner's still coming up, so I can't report yet on the extent of its success. But my fiancee and I are so happy with the way the process has gone so far that I couldn't wait to come on Chowhound to post a rave review.
Go eat at MuMu. Go now!