FULOON CHINESE CHOWDOWN in MALDEN 7/19/08
- opinionatedchef Jul 19, 2008 08:06 PM
Wow. Somewhere around 20 very full and very happy people sauntered slowly out of the Fuloon CH feast tonight, about 2 ½ hours after they had sauntered in.
We had filled 2 large tables. Our table of eight ordered and devoured the following:
Wok Baked Beef*
Chicken with Dates, Chestnuts and Cashews*
Pork with Cucumber and Bean Starch Noodles*
Bean Curd Leaf Pork*
Whole Fish Szechuan Style
Tea Smoked Duck
Mandarin Cabbage w/ Chili Peppers*
Yu Siang Eggplant
Kanshue Green Beans*
Tofu with Special Sauce, topped w/ Ground Peanuts
Chewy Sweet Rice logs with Red Bean filling, coated w/ Sweet Sesame Powder(kinkaku in japan)- gift of house
Melon w/ Strawberries and Grapes – gift of house
Soup of Sweet Rice Balls filled with Toasted Sweet Sesame paste *
I heard not one complaint about the food the entire evening.People ‘loved everything.’ None of our dishes was prepared fiery though I know the chef would gladly accommodate such a request. The most popular dishes disappeared first- the beef, the green beans, the chicken,. the pork pancakes(though they were also the first dish to arrive.) We could have given the dishwasher the night off, as every serving platter left our table in a state that could only be described as ‘clean as a whistle.’ The platters’ food proportions were average to generous and everything was anihilated except the Tofu with Special Sauce.(We all agreed that we enjoyed it, but there had to be one dish that didn’t get finished!) The wallet dent was, including tip, $26 pp.(twice as much as the other table, who ordered a similar list of foods, but fewer.)
The starred items above were mentioned by our table’s CHs as ‘single favorite dish’ and/or ‘revelation of the evening’. Wok Baked Beef was the top favorite, with its velvety exterior and its addictive sauce of caremelized soy.The most unusual ‘not seen before’ dish was the Bean Curd Leaf Pork. Dried tofu skin had been rehydrated, tied into knots and steamed, then stir fried w/ mahogany glazed nuggets of succulent pork belly. Such interesting textures.
Ditto the slivered Pork with slivered Cucumber and Wheat Starch Noodles. These latter were cool and refreshing,like pale green glass fettucini (mung bean flour maybe?) and were complemented by the fresh crunch of cucumber and a very savory sauce that tied in the pork with the other elements. Very good dish for a hot muggy summer night.( Same w/ the cold silken tofu app. touched w/ scallion and sesame oil.) I have had another dish of unusual green noodles at Sichuan Garden in Brookline Village, but the Fuloon dish is far superior.
The only dish that disappointed me, personally, was the Tea Smoked Duck, which I found to have disappointingly lifeless and meager meat (compared to the stellar succulent and abundant dense moist meat on the Smoked Duck at Mulan.)
I was fascinated by the Cabbage dish. It had a marvelous smoky charred quality (perhaps aided by szechuan peppercorns?)punctuated by an addictive note of vinegar. The Pork Pancakes were quite extraordinary- a great invention. Flaky scallion pancake dough was formed into a disc and stuffed with a thick filling of Peking Ravioli- like pork and ginger mixture, then griddled til crispy and hot., cut into wedges and served with a soy/vinegar dipping sauce. Like a wicked good Chinese hamburger.
For me, after eating at a lot of Chinese restaurants, what was particularly special about the Fuloon experience was that every single dish had its own distinct and flavorful sauce. I was never looking around for some condiment to give the dish some flavor or oomph.
What a delight!
The manager, a middle aged Chinese woman, was very helpful in tweaking our menu choices so we did not order similar dishes. Our server was definitely not attentive enough but that might not be a problem for smaller tables. The back room was completely non descript in character but we had plenty of characters to make up for that! The front room was dark and cool with attractive banquettes and low lighting.
After all was cleared away, about half of our satiated CH crew stayed behind and got to know each other better, swapping fav. restaurants etc. Everyone thanked Vincent for making the wonderful evening possible. I know I’ll be returning very soon to Fuloon and I’m betting that CHs known or unknown to me will be present when I return!
I was the note-keeper of the other table. Here's what we ordered and enjoyed:
Cold Cucumber Appetizer
Wonton with Special Hot Sauce
Bang Bang Chicken
Bean Curd Leaf with Pork
Tea Smoked Duck
Peking Style Pork
Whole Fish, Szechuan Style
Yu Hsiang Eggplant
Mandarin Cabbage with Chili Pepper
Our desserts were the same as the other table (rice rolls and fruit)
Our table favorites were the Steamed Beef, Wonton app and cabbage. We really liked the duck too - having never eaten it before, I can't vouch for its quality relative to other restaurants - but I loved it. The Bean curd leaf dish was really different (in a good way) and lovely to look at. The knots of bean curd skin tossed with cubes of caramelized pork belly were delicious. Those were our favorites, but I will happily reorder any of the items we ate.
The spicy dishes were flavorful but not super hot, so most everyone could eat everything at the table. I am sure the chef can hot things up for you on request.
This was my first visit to Fu Loon and I'll definitely be going there again. I was told that they serve their full menu at lunch too - so don't think you're limited to dinner time.
Our per person costs (with tip) came to $13.50 each (drinks were additional).
re: Sunday Cook
Yep, what everybody else said, especially:
* I loved that Mandarin cabbage dish. I didn't have a single bad bite all evening, but I'd never had anything quite like the cabbage.
* It was great, fascinating, and bizarre to put names with faces with online handles. And yes, it was weirdly easier to remember handles.
And I'll add:
* I was really glad someone (was it you, autopi?) ordered the chive pancake. The pork pancake deserves all its garnered accolades, but I've actually found myself thinking about the chive one even more. Definitely not a run-of-the-mill scallion pancake, this used the same basic cooking template as the pork pancake, then used a chive mixture as the stuffing.
* The special sauce from the tofu dish sure tasted different than it does on a Big Mac.
Thanks again, autopi, for organizing. Had a great time.
re: Sunday Cook
I echo everyone's else's sentiments about the company. It was a real pleasure to finally meet so many fellow hounds and I am looking forward to further "meet-ups."
As for the chow, the dinner was personally very satisfying because of the opportunity to try so many different items that I would NEVER had ordered on my own, such as that spicy cabbage (!), the steamed beef (!!), which was so tender, but swimming in a bowl of Szechuan peppers that looked scary - it was not as bad as it looked, and the tripe appetizer (!!!), which normally I wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole, but was one of my favorites at our table.
First off, a big tip of the hat to Autopi for organizing this gathering. What a great opportunity to finally meet with many of the online personalities that I have gotten to know, admire and respect over the years. Putting the face to the screen name was a real treat even if trying to remember "real" names was a bit daunting.
This meal for me was like going to see my favorite band and having them play all of my favorite songs. Someone from the "hamburger" table may have to chime in here, to the best of my recollection this is what we had.
Bang Bang Chicken
Spiced Shredded Tripe
Wontons with Special Hot Sauce
I always forget about the wontons when dining at Fulloon, it was the first dished served, and what a way to start off the meal. Not to speak for anyone else, but I think one of the big app surprises was the tripe and how approachable and clean tasting it was, there seemed to be a lot of pleasant surprise surrounding this dish.
We had seven mains:
Tea Smoked Duck
Peking Style Pork (served w/ delicate moo-shu pancakes)
Szechuan Style Whole Fish -Bob Dobalina and I contemplated gnawing on the head (which aside from bones was the only thing left) but thought better of it as to not not mess with decorum of the rest of the meal. Probably a good move.
Manadrin Cabbage with Chili Pepper
Bean Curd Leaf w/ Pork
Yu Hsiang Eggplant
As mentioned by OP- chewy sweet rice logs, on the house and we had a delightful fruit platter consisting of cantaloupe, grapes and strawberries. As we started to polish off this desert, we noticed that the platter it was served upon was in the likeness of a large hamburger, complete w/ special sauce, hence the nickname "the hamburger table." It was cute.
I've had the Peking Style Pork before on it's own, but its salty/sweet flavor profile really sang out as a foil to some of the spicier dishes. An awesome example of two entirely different dishes complimenting one another. The Yu Hsiang Eggplant was new to me. Great flavor, a bit on the sweet side.
As a table, we attempted voting on favorite dishes but found it to be a tough task. Everything just worked so well. I left satiated and full, but not to the point where I had to be rolled out. I'm definitely going to use the other table's choices as a template for some dishes I have yet to try.
Thanks again to Autopi for organizing and to all those who attended.
I was sad to have missed this event. Thanks for all the great details and information.
I'd be interesred in hearing feedback from anybody who's been to FuLoon and tried their version of Satay. I recently ordered a Jumbo Shrimp with Satay Sauce and was intrigued/puzzled to discover that the sauce was a combination of mayo (heavy) and (perhaps) a light touch of sesame oil. There was no hint of peanut whatsoever (which I always understood to be the base of the sauce) and no coconut milk either (typical in Indonesian versions.)
I did not enjoy this dish at all, unfortunately, which is a first for my trips to FuLoon. From now on, I will stick to my faves, which included many of the above mentioned dishes (as well as the Triple Delight with Crispy Rice.)
I'd welcome feedback from anybody who's tried FuLoon's version of Satay.
I'll add my thanks to autopi - I've been to FuLoon once before, on one of the CH outings last year, and really enjoyed it, but haven't had a chance to return, so it was great to go again and be able to sample a lot of dishes. I agree that there wasn't a dud in the lot. And yes, it's really fun to put faces to the handles that I know so well from the Boston board.
Barmy and I were at the table with finlero and opinionatedchef. The chicken with dates and chestnuts and the wok-baked beef were the standouts for me, followed closely by the chive pancake. Much as I enjoyed the pork pancake, however, I would have gladly traded one of the two orders we got of that dish for a round of the wontons with special hot sauce - somehow we forgot those bad boys in the hubbub of getting our order composed.
Speaking as someone who travels by public transit, one of the most pleasant surprises to me about FuLoon is that for someplace so far out of my usual area of travel, it's really not that hard to get to. There are excellent directions on the Places link for walking from the Malden Center stop on the Orange Line.
375 Main St, Malden, MA 02148
Pretty much the good things everybody's already said. I was at Sunday Cook's table. My small bite of the other table's bean curd w/special sauce put it on my to-try list. I think it's a version of the same dish that Chilli Garden recently added to its appetizer menu, which I also liked. Did anybody else notice the *presentation* of that cabbage? (You probably had to dig in early on.) The thin strips were cross-laid (for lack of a better word) in layers. A small detail, but heck it was just cabbage. The off-menu cucumber salad, with coarsely chopped garlic (I think salted and rinsed, so not overly pungent) was extra welcome on a hot muggy night. (Wang's makes a comparable version.)
So what exactly IS Bang Bang Chicken? I was utterly charmed by the name, but I had already pressed two dishes into the rotation (the chicken with dates and chestnuts and the bean curd leaf with pork were both at my urging) and I didn't want to steamroll anyone.
That said, some love must be given to the cold tofu app we had. I'm pretty certain it really was nothing more than cold soft tofu tossed in sesame oil, but it was bracing and delicious.
As for the Tofu With Special Sauce, the only reason why there were leftovers was that the bowl held about two liquid quarts of soft tofu in sauce! Heck, I had thirds and there was still a ton left over. Said leftovers are stowed safely downstairs in the fridge, and I'm thinking that about 12 hours from now, I'm going to fry up the leftover rice with some egg and a small shallot while I gently reheat the tofu.
The one disappointment for me as well was the tea smoked duck, and having had this dish now both here and at Jo Jo Taipei, I'm starting to think I just don't like this dish. I don't know why: tea good, duck good, smoking gooooooooooood. But both times it's just been kind of dry and mingy and blah. The whole fish was excellent as fish -- a perfectly cooked tilapia -- but I wasn't really getting much out of the sauce.
Most unexpected treat of the night: learning (on the walk from Malden Center station to the restaurant) that Autopi is a fellow Sun City Girls fan and chatting about their former guitarist, Sir Richard Bishop, whom the three of us saw at two separate shows on the same tour last fall.
Very sorry I couldn't end up making it --- would love to meet you all in person some day!
It sounds like you had jiu3 cai4 he2 zi, which is often translated as "chive pancake". Fuloon does indeed make one of the best around.
I love so many dishes at Fuloon but the duo4 jiao1 bai2 cai4 (Mandarin Cabbage w/ Chili Peppers) is so simple, but one of the very best. I like your description of the simple but elegant presentation, and the note that there are very few dishes at Fuloon that repeat the same flavours.
Glad that more people are finding out about this wonderful place.
I was at BFP's table. Like everyone else, I found the Chowdown to be most enjoyable: great food, great fun meeting fellow hounds, great conversation to boot.
Bang Bang Chicken is a cold dish composed of shredded chicken breast, cucumber, and a sesame-based dressing. The dressing can be a bit spicy. It is very easy to make. I have tried several recipes and seen variants with bean sprouts instead of cucumber.
Like BFP, I surmised that the cold tofu appetizer was simply soft (silken) tofu (1 cm cubes) with dark (Asian) sesame oil and some slided (about 1/2 cm) scallion. It was very refreshing on a hot and muggy evening. Guess what is in my refrigerator RIGHT NOW?
As BFP says, the Tofu with Special Sauce was quite soupy and very tasty. Our bowl of rice came quite a bit after it first arrived; we had forgotten to order rice! The TwSS really needed to be eaten over rice. I am sure I would have had quite a bit more if the rice had been on the table earlier!
I know for a fact that Tea Smoked Duck can be wonderfully good. I have made it at home. It is not too difficult and kind of a fun project. Mine came out moist and smoky and a little salty. However this dish disappointed me on Saturday evening. Our table's duck was dry and too salty for my taste.
Some comments about the food have noted that it was not particular spicy. This may be due to the fact that our table got "medium spicy" to accomodate one of our members. In a previous trip I shared a "regular spicy" meal with some friends and and some dishes were definitely hot, but in a very pleasant and not overwhelming way.
This was my third trip to Fuloon and I certainly will be back!
P.S. Two good Szechuan cookbooks that I have used are The Good Food of Szechuan by Delfs and Mrs. Chian's Chinese (or is it Szechuan?) Cookbook. The stains on the pages mark my favorite recipes. The first of the two cookbooks is very approachable and has any number of recipes that might be attempted on a weeknight with delightful results. The second is far more labor-intensive to cook from but the results are always worth the effort. They are both probably out of print. My copies are quite old.
oooh barmy, dooo get the smoked duck at Mulan. It will show you what the dish should be. they call it 'smoked duck taiwanese style' rather than 'tea smoked' but it still tastes tea smoked to me. anyway, it really is worth the trip there just for that alone. so meaty, moist and succulent, and imbued with that alluring smokiness.
while you're there, i highly recommend the unusual dishes(that i've only had at mulan)- rolled up smoked beef and leek in a scallion pancake- like bread; and the smoked pork and leek with lotus root. we also really like their eggplant in spicy garlic sauce.
Bang bang chicken is a classic Sichuan cold chicken appetizer. It's made of shreds of boiled chicken, buried in a lovely sauce of soy, chili paste, Sichuan peppercorns, a little bit of sesame in some form or another, and a batch of other stuff. Why it's called "Bang Bang" (literally stick stick in Chinese) is a little bit of a mystery -- some think it's because the chicken was originally shredded with sticks. I've read Peter Hessler's memoir of teaching in Sichuan Province, and he describes these tough-as-nails porters who lugged large buckets of stuff on poles up these nearly vertical hills, and those porters were called the stick-stick army (Bang Bang Jun). I wonder if they were somehow involved in the naming of the dish.
Anyway, bang bang chicken is one of the simplest things to make. Super 88 sells a variety of premade Sichuanese flavor packets and their bang bang chicken packet can be dumped into a bowl of shredded boiled chicken and the result is pretty good. Fuchsia Dunlop has a recipe in her book Land of Plenty, and pretty much every time I've made it, it's gotten raves (the tricks are to get good Sichuan peppercorns ... my preferred source is Penzey's, and I also throw in slivered raw scallions and slices of fresh mango, not traditional but very very well received).
I second the Fuschia Dunlop recipe. Actually, Beetlebug gave me Land of Plenty as a gift (thanks BB!) and every Sichuan recipe is great (pic and report of bang bang chicken, and other recipes on the Home Cooking board at links below). In her book, Dunlop subscribes to the theory that it's called bang bang chicken because of the wooden cudgels/sticks ("bang") used to hammer the back of the cleavers to cut up the chicken.
Strange-Flavor Chicken (guai wei ji si) or Bang Bang Chicken (bang bang ji si).
MARCH COOKBOOK OF MONTH: Fuchsia Dunlop
I'm hoping to get to Fuloon soon.