FuLoon Restaurant, 9/2/2007
alanr and I have been meaning to get over to FuLoon for a while after reading limster's raves about the place. We finally found ourselves needing dinner and with enough time to make it there and back tonight. Very glad we did -- as limster says, I think there's a new reigning champion in town.
The restaurant is in the middle of Malden Center stuck between a wig shop and a batch of nondescript strip malls. It looks like a typical suburban Chinese-American take-out joint except that all the people eating there were chatting in Mandarin. Seating is also Chinese-American suburbia classic, though with the curious touch of each stall having a painting of a Chinese zodiac animal overhead (oddly enough, I was seated at my zodiac year). Also curious that the Chinese name of the restaurant (Rui4-fu4 jiu3-jia1) is not the same as the English name (Fu-loon). This is common in Chinese restaurants, but a little odd that a Chinese transliteration doesn't match up with the characters.
There were only two of us, so we limited ourselves to four dishes and a starter (and managed to eat our way into considerable pain). I stuck mostly to the chef's special menu, which interestingly is paired with a picture book menu with elaborate descriptions of the cooking methods in simplified Chinese characters and Chinese and English names for each of the dishes. The FuLoon JingDu Pork Pancake (Rui-fu jing-du rou-bing, #19 on the take-out menu) came out last (as the Peking ravioli do at Qingdao Garden; guess they take the longest to make), but were worth the wait. The dish struck me as being like a good Peking ravioli pork filling stuffed into a scallion pancake. Dipped in vinegar. Yum.
We had some sort of variant on diced pepper chicken (I ordered ge-le-shan la-zi ji, #10, but wound up with a variant where the chicken was fileted and did not have bone chunks in them). This was quite good - little chunks of fried chicken served up in a mix of chiiles, ground up chiles and Sichuan peppercorns that is very reminiscent of the Chongqing la-zi ji that I keep gushing about at Sichuan Garden. I think SG has the slight edge in terms of bigger, tastier chunks of chicken and Sichuan peppercorns that deliver more numbing along with the citrus, but this was quite good. The boiled beef (Steamed Beef, Szechuan Style, si-chuan shui-zhu niu, #11) came out in a giant soup bowl, swimming in more of the ground chiles recognizable from the pepper chicken. But in addition to the heat, the nice mix of vegetables and the beef, we picked up on some other flavorings not always found in this dish - possibly even a shot of vinegar? - which gave this a depth that we were not accustomed to. That and heat to spare, bringing us back to the glory days of New Taste of Asia.
I skipped the ma-po doufu (being somewhat leery of anything that was on the Chinese-American part of the menu) and opted instead for "bean curd with special sauce" (Sichuan dou-fu hua, #18). This came out looking like my first few experiments at making real ma-po doufu with silken bean curd -- I could never keep the cubes of bean curd intact. These guys simply chose to take it to its logical extreme and grind up the bean curd until it's practically part of the sauce. Very tasty in any event, with a strong hint of black bean paste and some shredded peanuts on top. Odd that this one, also fairly intense on the chili sauce, was our break in the spice action, but there you have it. The vegetable was pine nuts with sweet corn (song-ren yu-mi, #16). Had a few sweet vegetables in it (also chunks of carrot) but the resulting dish was surprisingly not sickeningly sweet. Quite good actually, and a welcome break from the heat barrage. We couldn't manage dessert, which is a pity because they have a few of my old favorites, including tang-yuan (sesame sweet rice balls) and sweet crispy fruit (ba-si shui-guo). Will have to post more when I get back there.
Our total meal, which left two of us ready to explode and probably could have fed four or five pretty handily, added up to $75 after three beers (though the beer selection could stand some improvement, between Coors, Heineken, Bud and Tsingtao). I'm really excited to go back and try some of the other regional specialties and a batch of stuff I've never seen on a menu in the states before. It's a pity Malden Center isn't particularly convenient to anything in my life, but I"ll have to start making the trek out of my way to get there!
In some ways I'm fortunate that Malden is in my neck of the Fells, and I certainly count FuLoon among them. I've only been for Dim Sum, but enjoyed it thoroughly.
Why do I see so little mention of Medford's Chilli Garden on this board? I learned of it from a food writer at Hunger Brunch a couple of years ago. She said that Chris Schlesinger and Ihsan Gurdal eat there often, so I gave it a shot. Sure enough, Chris, Ihsan and Valerie soon came through the door. We shared all kinds of szechuan delights and Chris tried to force wine on us (it's BYOB) which I was forced to decline as my wife was newly pregnant at the time and, well, fair is fair.
I once brought their braised duck feet to work for everyone to try, and would you believe it, they were a tough sell. Who woulda thunk it?
I wasn't there for dim sum, the menu would suggest that it's ordered a la carte off the menu. <http://fuloon-restaurant.com/Menu.aspx> has the details.
I walked past the lunch buffet setup as I was waiting for my dinner. It's a batch of hot lamps with trays of stuff of various types, similar to other Chinese buffet places that I remember from my misspent youth. But in addition to the everyday stuff like General Gau's and kung pao chicken, there are also a few authentic regional specialties tossed into the mix, like those lover-ly lover-ly pork pancakes.
Limster, thanks for the tip on the Shandong stuff. alanr and I are both dedicated fire-heads, so I wanted to try out the Sichuan stuff to start off, and given that there were only two of us, I wanted to try the fiery stuff first (a decision that I'm sure I'm going to regret over the next 48 hours). But I did notice a batch of other stuff too, and I think I'm going to organize a big mixed crew so that we can try out a big pile of stuff. Were there any particular Shandongese things that you thought were especially worthy of sampling?
As much as I would like to take credit for it, lipoff was one of the first hounds on the scene with detailed reports: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/308680
I'd say that the cooking there was a serious cut above Qingdao and Wang's for Shandong cuisine, and would also recommend trying more of those dishes.
I can't believe it. My fiance works at the big office building across the street, and I'd always assumed it was just some take out dive. Very, very interesting. All Seasons Table is pretty good for Chinese-American and some pan asian stuff, but I'll definitely have to give Fu Loon a shot soon.
Malden center is not a bad little spot for chow.
Fuloon is in my current top 3 SZ restaurants (the other 2 are S. Garden (Woburn and Brookline) and Chillli Garden. I should point out that I work in Woburn so all of my experiences have been for lunch ( but always order off of the regular menu), with the exception of Fuloon for dim sum a few Sundays ago. The S. Gourmet locations are too far for me to fully explore on a regular basis.
Fortunately, the older hostess at Fuloon has taken me under her wing and has helped guide me through the menu so that I don't get dumbed-down versions typical of BCGWG syndrome (Bald Caucasian Guy w/ Glasses). I find the picture book menus to be a real help since I don't read or speak chinese, and I find often that there are discrepancies between the English dish translation and what is actually served.
I'm a huge fan of the Steamed Beef, Szechuan Style (#11) and have trouble going two weeks without any. I also find the bang-bang chicken , a cold app (#61) to have a good bite yet refreshing due to the cool temperature. I've had good luck with the MaPo Tofu (Hot & Spicy Bean Curd, #144). The silken, tender tofu is a serious challenge to my chopstick skillz, but my fave is still Sichuan Garden's.
Since Lipoff's post I have been dying to try the Jiang Pao Duck (#1) which is not spicy, but a whole duck for lunch seems a little over the top to me.
When I visited on a Sunday, the dim sum was from buffet tables and they have a small selection of a la cart items on the menu as well, noted above. The food was turned over frequently during my visit and what I had, I enjoyed (keeping clear of the Americanized selections)
The trend I have noticed with the area Sichuan restaurants is that each has it's strengths and weaknesses and it takes some time and research to find out what those are and I have benefitted from some of the great posts here to help me with that journey.
The Chef at Fuloon, Zhang Wenxue ( who I see popping out the the kitchen from time to time), has some seemingly impressive credentials and I hope to explore his talents more thoroughly. So if Dr. Jimbob, if you were inclined to put together a big mixed crew, it would be something I would certainly clear my calendar for.
Let me give you some other places to check out while in Malden. On Exchange Street which is off Main St. is a great little place called Tivoli's (open evenings only - menu changes often - husband/wife team - everything fresh and different) and the Exchange St. Bistro. Also, on Main Street across from the big brick church Sacred Heart is a bar/restaurant named Vinny's with karaoke and music There is O'Neill's (Irish/American flair and a nice bar to watch games) and a new Cambodian place (the name escapes me -something Table but people are raving about it) on Pleasant Street. Further up Pleasant on the left is another Irish place (tiny) called Honey Fitz that has entertainment. Has been there for years... Also, there is a bowling alley with pool tables and billiards called Ryan's (I believe) right on Main Street (hard to see with parking in the back). Trying to make your trip to Malden an adventure!!
So, maybe make it
Don't forget the tiny hole in the wall, Vinnie's Pizza (different than the place across from Sacred Hearts) at 198 Salem Street. I really like their pizza - Dominic is a great guy, too. I used to live right up the street from there (and found out recently that my daughter used to bring our dog there for pizza when he was a pup - he's nine years old now!)