FuLoon Restaurant, 9/2/2007
- Dr.Jimbob Sep 2, 2007 04:26 PM
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!)
I have NO idea what everyone on Chowhound is raving about. We went last night (Friday) and it was awful. The waitstaff was nice, the room was empty at 8 pm. We had the hot and sour soup, which was just vinegar and hot, no flavor at all. The veggie peking raviolis were reeking of rancid oil, as were the flavorless veggie lo mein. The tea-smoked duck was tender and slightly moist, but I guess the flavor was too subtle for me, and I found myself dipping it into the ravioli sauce. I would have been happier with my old standby, peking duck. We also had a whole fish fried with sweet and sour sauce, and the sauce was interesting and the fish wasn't tasting of fried, but after everything else it was underwhelming. The heavy feeling in our stomach and the heavy disappointment we felt by not achieving a Friday night Chinese rush was only cured with some Toscanini ice cream.
That is funny, we got take out at the same time and were just raving about how good it was. We had the tea smoked duck, which was most and delicious, the garlic spare-ribs, which I like but my DC loves, and the fantastic mandarin cabbage, sezschuan chicken, pork with bean curd, and bang bang chicken. Maybe you just ordered the wrong dishes- I've never had any of them (other than the duck obviously). Give some of the things recommended on this board a try.
I swear I'm not trying to be sarcastic here, but it seems to me like a big part of the issue is that you ordered hot and sour soup, veggie ravs, veggie lo mein and fried fish with sweet and sour sauce. Except for the tea-smoked duck (which I have to admit I'm not a fan of myself), you didn't order any of the dishes that CHs have raved about: the wok-baked beef, the bang-bang chicken, the bean curd leaf with pork belly, the tofu with special sauce, etc. Instead, you ordered kind of pedestrian middle of the road dishes that frankly aren't likely to be great at ANY restaurant, even a good one like Fuloon. I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy your meal, but I'm not entirely sure you can complain that we steered you wrong.
Agreed. Frankly, even if you didn't follow specific recommendations from the board (which you didn't), you'd still have made the classic mistake of ordering what's most familiar to you. Try steering towards the house specialties. Fuloon even has a picture menu with descriptions of the flavors of each dish.
Even blindly picking and choosing from THAT menu would serve you much better than hot and sour soup and peking raviolis. There's certainly nothing wrong with those dishes, I enjoy them myself, just not here.
More agreement. A general principle in Chinese restaurants is that if you order middle-of-the-road Chinese American fare, you will get middle of the road Chinese American fare. This is true in Qingdao Garden, and it doesn't surprise me that it's true in FuLoon (I've tried the Peking ravioli there and was also surprisingly disappointed). Go with your own comfort zone, and you might not be comforted.
Excuse me if this is a repeat, i just posted a reply and it disappeared. anyhoo:
I do think that if ANY chinese restaurant can't make an ok ravioli or lo mein, I mean really disrespect the customer by making something with rancid oil, I cannot call that restaurant a decent one. Granted, some places have a few individual specialties. I also like to compare "comfort" choices to each restaurant (burritos, pulled pork sandwiches, pho) before I move onto the specialties, in order to judge the whole restaurant. So I'm judging the restaurant here. Overall, I think I was responding to the general rave of all of your reviews, rather than the specific dishes, and I'll pick up on that the next time. But this restaurant is off my list forever. I have NEVER had such a disappointing night at a Chinese restaurant with the "basics," and never really expect a bad night at such a decent-looking place. Chinese should be like pizza -- even the bad pies are at least edible. We did have two house specialties -- the fish and the duck -- and although they weren't made as poorly, they weren't memorable, either. (For the record, we also picked the soup, ravioli and lo mein because they were assured by the waitress to be vegetarian -- my bf is pesce veg).
I guess I should admit my baseline: I looooved Weylus, my fave Chinese is Billy Tse's in Revere/North End, and Jumbos and most of the dim sum spots in Chinatown -- they can do middle of the road fare AND authentic, we try different things each time, and we leave happy. I've had homemade Chinese in Beijing, and that was OMG fantastic. We're not exactly PuPu platter lame.
I guess I disagree with you about the "basics" comment. I'm pretty sure you didn't mean it that way, but it seems somewhat insulting to compare a place that specializes in one dish (i.e., a pizza place) to a place that specializes in a broad selection of Sichuan and related regional cuisines that happens to have workaday Chinese-American Cantonese-lite on offer in order to survive---and then to write them off because the landlubbers menu didn't blow you away. IMO, that's unfair to the place but, more important, to you!
That said, nothing should ever be cooked in rancid oil. Inexcusable. And I'm doubly disappointed that in a place where the chef (as opposed to a revolving line of cooks, like many Chinese places) is always in the kitchen taking pride in the food coming out, he would let that happen. Let's hope it was just an off night.
(1) Weylus and Billy Tse are Chinese American restaurants and (2) Jumbo Seafood and the dim sum houses in Chinatown are all Cantonese. Fine for what they are, some worthy of praise, and all either specializing in or prepared to accommodate requests for what you refer to as the "basics." Personally, when I want lo mein and Peking raviolis, my top choice is King Fung Garden (who make their noodles and dumplings by hand), but my day to day choices are China Pearl, China Sky, even Tiki Island (talk about kitschy Polynesian shtick!).
However, I would never order lo mein or Peking ravioli at Sichuan Garden, Sichuan Gourmet, Wangs, Qingdao Garden, Shangri La, Taiwan Cafe, New Shanghai, Wings, Gitlo's, or Fuloon. It's just not what they do well.
And frankly, you'll have to forgive my skepticism, but I've probably been to Fuloon (or gotten takout) I'd guess 20 times in the past 18 months. Each time I have ordered the Jing Du Pork Pancake, which is something of a hybrid between a scallion pie and a Peking ravioli. Crispy, layered pastry will filling much like a Peking ravioli. And definitely pan fried. In oil. Not only was it never anything less than delicious, there is no way it was ever cooked in rancid oil. That includes my most recent takeout order, which was on Friday night, the same night you say you ate there. Leftovers are still in my fridge. Can't wait to dig into them for lunch in front of the Pats game!
So, color me skeptical. If I experienced what you did I'd react the same way. It's just hard to believe that on your first visit to the restaurant, your food was cooked with such disregard for quality that you suspect the oil in which it was cooked was rancid, and yet on my 20-something-th visit on the very same night, my food was cooked with expert care.
I'd certainly understand if you never return, but you've really missed out on a hidden gem even after having eaten there.
Man I FINALLY got to Fuloon.
Last night, my birthday dinner, there were only three of us, but my husband agreed we could order as many dishes as I wanted to try--the leftovers would come home. So often when you go out in small groups you can't try that many new things, and once you find keepers, it is hard to displace them with an unknown!
Diane, who is a treasure!, moved us to a big round table when she heard what we had in mind. We looked like loons, but really happy loons!
Baked Beef in wok (my son rated this: sublime. I didn't know he knew the word!).
Chicken with Dates and Chestnuts
Yu Hsaing Pork
Green beans with garlic and pork
Jing Pao Duck
Not so great:
Pork belly with tofu knots (the knots were dry, pork was great!)
Tried to get but they didn't have--
Crabs with red pepper and garlic (next time!)
Everything was pretty mild, so now that we know the baseline, and these items were not listed as hot anyway, we can get them hotter.
ALSO, we will try the steamed beef next time, it sounds right in our wheelhouse. Plus Bang Bang Chicken, and the other pork belly dish chowhounders rave about whose name escapes me....anyone?
Has anyone had a noodle dish they loved?
The best bean curd dish? We generally like the tofu NOT ground up.
The restaurant itself was a pleasant surprise, I was expecting a hole in the wall.
The scorpion bowl, yes, we got a scorpion bowl, bringing back memories of college days in Harvard Sq, was really good too.
I should add that until last nite our running go-to places are Chilli Garden in Medford and Sichuan Gourmet, Billerica. I love them both for different dishes (CG: fresh bamboo shoots in sesame oil (we used to get an order each of these), kung pao chicken, old style sichuan chicken, pork with mushrooms, I LOVE the little dish of seasoned cabbage they bring you to nosh, I could live on that simple dish). SG: lo mein, grean beans, pork w/pickled gr beans, beef w/ hot gr pepper, Ma Po tofu. )
the other pork belly dish is called dong po rou or simply dong po pork. it's a big slab of pork belly slow cooked in a dark soy-based sauce and served on a bed of baby shanghai choy
it was an off-menu dish that i special ordered for a chowdown back in the winter. you would have to call in advance and pre-order it. there is also a braised pork shoulder on the menu that's really good. lots of skin, fat, and tender pork falling off the bone