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May 9, 2007 08:28 AM

Navigating Fu Mei Cafe (at Great Wall - Falls Church)

Walter Nichols wrote about the Chinese cafe at the back of the Great Wall Asian supermarket. A couple of folks have mentioned it here, and I cruised by when shopping there last week. Yup, there are tables, and I saw people eating there, but I just didn't have any luck figuring out what they were serving or how to order it. The language barrier was too great and none of the serving trays were labeled, not even in Chinese.

In Nichols' article, he mentions several items and their price per pound, as if you were buying from the deli counter (and in fact, since this was the "Good To Go" column, that might have been what was on his mind) but there might just be a tasty lunch to be had there if only I know how to ask.

I suppose I could point and take my chances, but does anyone have any better suggestions?

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  1. I'm going to give it a shot next week. At least if I see something with my favorite noodle -- rice cakes, aka ovalettes -- I'll be able to recognize that. Otherwise it may be a case of "do i feel lucky? Well, do i?"

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bob W

      Well, you won't go hungry in that shopping center if you don't see anything at the Great Wall that looks appetizing. There's a Chinese restaurant, I think a Thai restaurant, and a
      5 Guys (one of the better ones, IMHO).

      1. re: Bob W

        Well, I gave it a shot today. Nothing with rice cakes, and while some of the dishes looked interesting nothing really made me want to start asking questions, holding up the line, etc.

        So I went over to Peking Village, which some have spoken highly of. Don't be dissuaded when they hand you the standard menu. When I asked if there was another menu, the lady said no, but fortunately I spotted the other menu right behind her, and it's full of all sorts of stuff. Feeling moderately healthful, I got an order of chive dumplings -- you get 12 freshly steamed dumplings for $4.50. Note: The filling is actually meat with chives mixed in, so it's not for vegetarians. Then I got an entree of "baby Shanghai cabbage with black mushrooms." The green looks something like chinese broccoli, and has an interesting taste reminiscent of horseradish. You get a big pile of this (it's braised) for $8.95.

        All in all, a worthy little spot.

      2. Let's get a Chow lunch together and give it a try. I speak Mandarin so that might help. How does next week look for you Wednesday or THursday? Ruth

        3 Replies
        1. re: geling

          I'm pretty sure the Chowhound Team prefers everyone organize these events offline, so you might want to include an e-mail address so that folks can respond by private mail.

          Also, Great Wall is a supermarket, and IIRC there is hardly much room to eat there.

          1. re: Steve

            There are several picnic tables in the prepared food area. Certainly enough room for a family of Chowhounds. (I told Ruth that she should use YOUR list. <g>)

            1. re: MikeR

              I have no secrets. Sigh. I suppose I'll have to get over my fear of steam tables. Thanks for the tip about the picnic tables. Must have missed them the first time around.

        2. I gave it a shot on my only trip to Great Wall (so far) and I think I should share my impression that (1) there is a distinct language barrier, but they're trying, and (2) they haven't quite figured out (or managed to convey) whether they're a purveyor of meals or of take-home ingredients like roast pork.

          Actually I suppose they're both, but when I asked for a pound of roast pork (I wanted to take it home and make dinner with it) they started loading a container with rice.

          Eventually I got it the way I wanted it, and also ordered a lunch to go. Should have eaten the lunch there, because the portion was so generous that a tidal wave of sauce deluged my shirt and pants once I returned to my car.

          But okay - all that aside - the roast pork made a great dinner, and the lunch was fine (though it would have been better if I could have kept the two chosen dishes from mingling in the container) - the braised beef was a delight, and the eggplant was very nice.

          I was, of course, in a charitable mood - just glad to be alive after seeing, a few feet away, an iced-down fish lying there split in half, each separate half still actively gulping for its accustomed breath of water.

          1. This is the one in Merrifield? Maybe there are better times to go because honestly, I go to Great Wall all the time, walk by the hot foods and never see anything I want (the bakery is even worst). Is there more hot food than the ones that are premade and sitting in the steamers?

            3 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              There are two large Asian markets that could be said to be in Merrifield. The Great Wall is on Gallows Road just a bit south of Lee Highway, next to a Gold's Gym. The Super H Mart (approximately) is on Lee Highway in a shopping center with an Office Depot.

              I'm pretty sure that what's on the steam table is home style food, not the party food that we're used to seeing at "nice" restaurants, so unless you're familiar with it, you might not see anything that you know you like. If you want sweet and sour pork or kung pao chicken, or the kind of things we've been talking about at Hong Kong Palance, you need to go to a real restaurant. I suspect that it's equivalent to the prepared foods counter at Shopper's (fried chicken, ravioli, overcooked ribs, mac'n'cheese) rather than Balducci's.

              1. re: MikeR

                I just wanted to clarify that there wasn't a Great Wall in Falls Church I didn't know about--I think of that area in Merrifield as Fairfax, not Falls Church (though pretty close, I guess). There are a few Asian gorcery stores in that area but I like Great Wall best, partially for the convenience.

                What doesn't catch my eye there isn't the type of food but that it looks congealed and not appetizing--maybe it's a personal prejudice that precooked food that's heated over steamers isn't usually good. As you put it, it's like the prepared food counters at lower end grocery stores. Though, even at higher end stores, most prepared food isn't that great.

                1. re: chowser

                  I agree with this, the stuff looks awful.

            2. Geez, after reading some of these posts, my first thought is: aren't some of you being harsh without trying the stuff?

              I have tried their roasts and prepared foods. I think that their roast duck was alright as was the roast pork, though neither as good as some other Asian places in the DC-metro area.

              However, I *really* liked their rice balls -- I guess it's done Northern Chinese style, or just the style that reminds me of home -- it's a rice ball with the fried Chinese crueller + pork sung and pickled vegetables that's real comfort food for me. And it's better than the ones I've had at A&J's, where the rice was too dry.

              I've had the prepared foods and that was alright too -- not congealed and not horrible.

              Their bakery goods are mostly baked by other bakeries. I like their Chinese breads, though the swiss roll-type of cakes aren't so good. I'm still looking for a good Chinese bakery around here....

              All in all, the people are nice and it's worth giving a shot, while not passing it up simply because "it looks awful."

              10 Replies
              1. re: orangemix

                Everybody's forgetting Official Chowhound Rule #26: "EVERYTHING on a steam table looks bad. Some of it is bad, some isn't. You'll never know until you try it."

                I promise you, the braised beef made me very happy. I can't really assess the eggplant, cause it managed to mix inextricably with the braised beef.

                Oh, yeah ... the sauce that flooded my shirt and pants when opening the plastic carton in the car - I liked the part still in the carton, my dog liked the part on my clothes. He's a chowhound too.

                My personal final verdict: I'll be eating there again if I go back to Great Wall.

                1. re: wayne keyser

                  LOL, okay, you've convinced me to get over the looks and try it. I've gotta say Official Chowhound Rule #26 usually gets usurped by Murphy's Law #3 for me. I'll be there tonight so I'll bring some things over to my in-laws (who are chinese, both excellent cooks and used to be in the restaurant business). If I get disninherited, I'll blame you. Hoping this is better than Lucky 3's dimsum buffet!

                2. re: orangemix

                  I just checked it out. I have to say the food looks a lot better now than it did the last time I looked a few months ago, so maybe timing is important. I think they must have just filled all the trays in time for the dinner crowd. That said... The rice wrapped around the fried cruller was good. Funny, I think of it was Taiwanese food since it's what my mom makes. The rice part was good, the crueller was tough, kind of hard to bite. But, once you add dried pork to anything, it tastes good, imo.;-) So, thanks for the heads up on the comparison to AJ's. The japanese eggplant dish looked really good but the cook was a little heavy handed with the sugar (and I have a sweet tooth where my mom tends to add a little sugar to all her savory dishes). The char sui looked great hanging there--very juicy--and it tasted good, the right amount of fat w/out being overwhelming. But, they cut it into 3/4"-1" thick pieces, way too thick, especially since my husband asked for thin slices (my FIL is really picky about thinness of char sui). The roast chicken was very moist but didn't have much flavor, even the skin. All in all, given that Mui Kee is just a couple of miles down the road, I'd head go there.

                  A couple of things that caught my eye that we didn't get were the kor fu (vegetable gluten--wondered about the whole melamine thing) and dried bean curd w/ jalapeno. My MIL makes both and they're excellent so it would be hard for steamed, premade dishes to compare anyway.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I think that what's there now may be a different outfit than what was doing it a few months ago. They seem to be experimenting with the concept.

                    1. re: MikeR

                      Oh, that would make sense on why it's so different. Because the food did look pretty good, they just have kinks to work out.

                      1. re: chowser

                        See my other posts on this place for more detail. I love the food. My biggest problem has been how often they are out of it.

                    2. re: chowser

                      We tried this again, since we're at Great Wall pretty often. I love the fan tuan--warm and the sticky rice was perfect. Kind of like this, only bigger(the one in the picture seeems to be missing the crueller):


                      We had the roasted pork w/ crispy skin. Pretty good, but there are places that do it much better that are as convenient. I think hitting this place is a matter of timing because this time we were there a little earlier than (just before) dinner and it looked like things were leftover from lunch. As before, the char su looked really good but we didn't get it. I think as long as you can get them to cut it thinner, it would be worth getting there. As the roast pork went, my FIL told us to bring him a chunk and he'd cut it the "right" thickness. The hardest part for me now is not getting a fan tuan every time I go there now.

                      1. re: chowser

                        "Right" thickness? Maybe for eating directly, but I have a sense that may be a communication problem.

                        For taking home to cook with (in bao, etc) I prefer about 1/8" thickness (or 1/8" julienne).

                        I toss it in the wok, and finish with a huge amount of sprouts just barely long enough to warm, and it's great.

                        For bao, I wouldn't want it any thinner, or it'll lose its character to the sauce.,

                        1. re: wayne keyser

                          Not char su but roast pork. It isn't for cooking but just dipping in sauce and eating. My FIL is picky about meats made just for popping in your mouth and eating so he prefers to cut it himself. That was the problem the last time we went to Fu Mei and got char su. The char su itself was really good,but they cut it into irregular sizes, the smallest 1/2". My husband had asked them to cut it thin. My FIL was in the restaurant business and believes presentation is as important as the food so if it's not cut right, he'll complain.

                          1. re: chowser

                            How do you compare the roast meats from Great Wall to the Eden Supermarket? I have tasted the crispy skin pork at GW and it was good, but I do like the duck and charsiu at Eden. Have not had the charsiu or duck at GW. Would be interested in y'all's opinion. And I like the baked goods at GW, but if anyone can come up with a better local Chinese bakery, I am so there!