Grand Feast at Fuloon!
Almost forty Hounds descended on Fuloon for a Grand Feast! Here are some pics to whet your appetites!
Thanks so much to Fredi for organizing this. It was particularly great for those of us who couldn't handle ordering a whole entree buried in dried hot peppers (as a few of them were) to enjoy *some* of that heat as delicious samples. Also delighted to get to try the off-menu banquet dishes, and to meet the chef.
For inspiration (I'll let others fill out the descriptions!) here's a list of what we ordered:
* Wontons in Hot Chili Oil,
* Pork Pancakes
* Tripe (This is in honor of the Crew’s adventuresomeness, to encourage you all to be adventurous, too!)
Grand Banquet items: (The chef wanted to take this opportunity to make some dishes that are too complicated for the regular menu! You're welcome to pre-order them for any meal - they are large orders - just call Fuloon and ask for DianeShe also may re-name them!)
* Dong Po Pork
* Minced Eggplant with Garlic;
* Rolled Fish
* Hainanese Chicken (This was a misnomer , my fault)
* Chicken Wings with Garlic
Some "greatest hits" and new sampling:
* Wok Baked Beef or Wok Baked Chicken
* Spicy Cabbage
* Jiang Pao Duck and Tea Smoked Duck
* Whole Fish, Szechuan style and Sweet and Sour(?) style
* Steamed Beef Szechuan Style and Steamed Fish Szechuan Style
* Kanshue Green Beans, traditional style
* Tofu in Special Sauce
* Watercress with Garlic
Dessert: A beautiful presentation of very fresh fruit, with a bit of blueberry sauce
A great meal!
Also, a note on Szechuan peppercorns: For those of you new to these, they are wonderful and unusual. They will “hit” you with a numbing sensation, at the same time that they give a “kick” to the dishes! Fuloon is known for these.
And for those of you who'd like to organize ChowDowns (it was easy!):
We would just STRONGLY "suggest" that you pick the date and time BEFORE posting - it's havoc, otherwise!
And if you'd like to start a ChowCrew (a regular eating bunch!):
The "rolled fish" was thin fillet rolled around some shredded vegetables and fried (think fish spring roll) with a lightly sweet sauce. I liked it but wouldn't go out of my way. Other opinions?
Minced eggplant with garlic: tender braised eggplant topped with chopped raw garlic. A hit.
Chicken wings with garlic: Something I would not have thought to order and I would have been so wrong. Fried (very nicely) wings topped with a mountain of perfectly golden, toasty fried minced garlic (and some red chili pods). Makes me want to check out their other "garlic" items.
The "Hainanese" chicken was actually the Home style chicken (from the picture menu). One of those bone-in chicken cubes buried in red chili and sichuan peppercorns dishes, and a great version.
Spicy cabbage: I've had both cabbage dishes from the menu and don't remember pickled red chili (at least in this quantity) in either. Does my memory fail or was this different? (I really liked it.)
I, too, loved those lightly fried chicken wings w/toasty garlic & peppers. The spicy, home style, chicken really had a strong, long afterburn to much drying of tears & mopping of brows. The eggplant was one of the richest versions I've ever had. The Dong Po pork was just downright sinful & the accompanying baby bok choy, simply divine.
With you on the rolled fish -- pleasant, but not that special.
I could barely believe how creamy that eggplant was.
And I agree about the chicken wings -- would never have bothered to order them, and would have missed an exceptional dish. Thinking of the amount of prep work it would take to chop and fry all that perfectly-done garlic (well over a cup per dish) blows me away. The tripe was also very garlicky.
Thanks again Fredid for organizing this! Everything was really great and worked out well.
Personal favorites was Dong Po Pork. That was pork goodness!
Steamed Fish Szechuan Style looked so deadly with chili oil and peppercorns but was REALLY delicious, spicy but not deadly so and oh so fragrant.
The real surprise was the Spicy Cabbage and that was really exceptionally tasty with a very very complex flavor. I would never have guessed or ordered it.
When's the next one?
It was indeed a Grand Feast. Many, many thanks to fredid who organized everything with care and aplomb --- from the idea, to the menu, to making sure every hound had a ride, a nametag, wonderful food, and got to make new friends.
My dining companion and I (a Beijing born gourmet of impeccably high standards) arrived a little late, and so missed some of the appetizers. The tripe was all gone by the time I arrived, which I can only assume was a testimonial to its deliciousness. The last hong2 you2 chao1 shou3 (Wonton with Special Hot Sauce) was enjoyed by my DC --- I think this delicate wrapper busting with flavor from both protein and hot oil may have been her favorite bite of the afternoon. Both the rui4 fu2 jing1 du1 rou4 bing3 (FuLoon JingDu Pork Pancake) and cong1 you2 bing3 (scallion pancake) were outstanding as always. Several at our table concurred that they really enjoyed the simple, but high quality black vinegar provided as a dipping sauce.
What came next was a parade of off-menu banquet dishes (you can order them too, just call in advance, although be warned that these are intended to serve about eight people each!). First up was an unusual kind of stuffed fish. This was thin, white fish, the stuffing placed inside, and then the fish was rolled up around it and deep fried. The stuffing was a mixture of sliced vegetables and mushrooms I believe, with a delicate flavor. It was topped with sliced hot peppers, a light sauce, and plenty of parsley. I thought this had an excellent flavor; my only complaint is that I thought the breading was a little heavy. It reminded me a bit of Japanese katsu.
Next up was a similarly enormous plate of fried garlic chicken wings. This was a mound of chicken wings underneath a larger mound of fried garlic, a few green onions and red hot chili peppers. I am not normally a fan of chicken wings, but these were perhaps the best that I've ever had. More than the chicken, what I liked most about this dish was the fried garlic. I've never had garlic in that manner before, and it brought out a texture that I didn't know it could take. I think it was fried to just a moment before it would turn hard, black and bitter (a mistake I've made myself), but instead was at crunchy perfection. Personally, I'd like this topping on another base even more, but this was very intriguing.
The fried garlic dish was followed by eggplant with scallions and fresh garlic. Same garlic, totally different taste and texture. These were long, thin slices of eggplant with the garlic and scallions in the center. We were supposed to mix the dish ourselves. I like garlic, but thought maybe the garlic was a little strong in this dish. Still, this was one of the best dishes of the meal as well.
Next came the Dongpo Pork. I didn't have this dish, so I'll leave it for others to comment more. But this is the real deal Dong1 po1 rou4, with square cut pieces of pork belly --- both fatty and lean parts. My DC liked the lean half and seemed very satisfied.
A large plate of ge1 le4 shan1 la4 zi ji1 (Hot Diced Chicken Szechuan Style) came out next, filled with plenty of Sichuan peppercorns and hot chills. This is an excellent dish in general, and while on occasion here I find the frying too heavy or the oil doesn't taste fresh, today (as more often than not) it was just about perfect, being both hot and numbing. This was probably the spicest dish of the meal.
This was followed by a steamed whole fish, also covered in garlic, green onions and hot peppers. I believe this is the Hu2 nan2 duo4 jiao1 quan2 yu2 (Whole Fish with Chili Pepper), although I believe other tables received the da4 qian2 gan2 shao2 yu2 (Szechuan Style Whole Fish). It may sound like many dishes so far have been made with the same sauce, which I might describe as "garlic, allium and hot peppers". However, this is not the case --- the preparation of the sauces might sound similar, but each has a different taste. I liked this fish, and the sauce. There was some disagreement here. My DC thought that the fish taste was the strongest note, but that it didn't taste very qing1 ("clean and bright"). I thought that the sauce was the strongest note (not a bad thing). Perhaps we disagree, or just had different parts of the fish . . . and I may have spooned more of the broth onto my fish!) The only difference between this dish and what I usually have had in the past at Fuloon was how it was served --- today it came in a deep porcelain bowl, almost like a casserole pot, shaped as if it was meant for fish. I think this presentation a lot and it was nice to have more of the broth around and not worry about it spilling out from a shallower plate.
I believe the next dish was ma2 la4 fei4 teng2 yu2 (Fresh Fish Filets in Special Hot Sauce) although some tables received Si4 chuan1 shiu3 zhu3 niu2 (Steamed Beef, Szechuan Style). I'd prefer to translate this as "boiled" instead of steamed, since what one receives is a large bowl filled to the brim with water, hot oil, Sichuan peppercorns, hot chili peppers, and cabbage, with slices of fish or beef interleaved. I prefer this style with beef, rather than with fish, although I think that's more a personal choice about the texture. I had one fish slice that I didn't enjoy so much, although the man seated next to me said this was his favorite dish of the meal, so I tried another fish slice and enjoyed it much more. Certainly the sauce was excellent, and I enjoyed eating the cabbage out of it as well. It looked spicer than it was --- real chili-heads might have found it a bit mild actually.
The only real disappointment of thismeal was the guo1 kao3 niu2 rou4 (Wok Baked Beef) which is normally one of my most favorites. Normally the beef is silky smooth with a deliciously caramelized texture on top. Today I found the beef to be uncharacteristically tough, and the wonderful carmelization of the sauce to be absent. I tried a little of the guo1 kao3 sha1 die1 ji1 (Wok Baked Chicken) from another table, and found it to be much better, with smooth chicken and better sauce. Still, comparing the Wok Baked Beef that I know and love from the past, I think I prefer it to the chicken. Incidentally, all of the "Wok Baked Series" are much better than the "Sizzling Dishes" or tie3 ban3 (iron plate) dishes on Fuloon's menu.
Our last main course was the one I had been waiting for, the jiang4 bao4 ya1 pian4 (Jiang Pao Duck). It arrived beautifully garnished, with plenty of sliced cucumbers and green onion springs, and pancakes. Normally this dish also comes with a vaguely sweet plum dipping sauce ("Hoi Sin") and a grated, slightly sour, bean paste, both of which were absent today. Neither was missed, as the duck meat was succulent, the sauce terrific, the vegetables bright and fresh and the pancakes chewy. My DC thought that the pancakes should have been thinner --- "they should be translucent!" and she ate the duck by itself, but I gratefully consumed her half-eaten pancake. I think this is also a matter of taste. =) But what a dish! This was also the last time I've had the duck at the end of the meal. With it's slightly sweet underpinnings, I can see how this makes sense. Somehow, though, I think I still prefer it at the begining of the meal (usually I have it right after the appetizers), but this is an interesting question.
We also had several vegetables. Our table received duo4 jiao1 bai2 cai4 (Mandarin Cabbage with Chili Pepper) and gan1 bian1 si4 ji4 dou4 (Kan Shue String Beans) and we also taste a bit of the chao3 xi1 yang2 cai4 (Watercress with Garlic) and the Si4 chuan1 dou4 hua1 (Bean Curd with Special Sauce). Don't underestimate the vegetables! The cabbage dish remains one of my very favorites at Fuloon. I'm afraid everyone may have been stuffed by this point, but it's such a seemingly simple but impressively complex dish with layers of flavor and a combination of textures, without being at all oily. There are many kinds of chopped peppers that pair perfectly with the cabbage. The string beans are also impressive, adorned with an almost smoky flavor, they are cooked in such a way to still remain crisp on the outside, while pliable inside. I thought the watercress was just fine, although nothing special, and the dou4 hua1 is always enjoyable. I prefer the almost jellied texture of this dish to the more firm ma2 po2 dou4 fu (Hot & Spicy Bean Curd), which is also very good and quite similar.
My only other dissapointment of the meal was the white rice. Because this wasn't ordered in advance, I think preparing white rice for forty people may have been a challenge, but I can't help that I found the rice a little dry and hard.
Finally, dessert was an artfully arranged plate of sliced oranges, enormous strawberries, very juicy grapefruit, and a kind of blueberry sauce, which was very refreshing.
What a treat to try a series of new dishes while also indulging in old favorites. Fuloon's immensely talented chef never ceases to surprise me with new and inventive dishes, and his coaxing of complex flavors out of deceptively simple looking preparations. In addition to a menu that is generally broad and deep, an array of special banquet dishes, I would say that Fuloon has at least four "Signature Dishes" --- the Jingdu Pork Pancake, the Jiang Pao Duck, the Wok Baked Beef, and the Mandarin Cabbage with Chili Pepper.
One final thought --- $35 a person was such a bargain for this banquet that I wish it was a bit more expensive. Why do I say that? I would hope that if the prices were slightly higher it would be possible to have just a bit more consistency. Make no mistake, I think the quality is already very high, but I also wish it were possible to avoid to occaisonal tough beef, dried rice, or weak cup of tea. For such a delicious meal, served a in nice setting with gracious service, it's already more than a bargain.
I uploaded to a bunch of my pictures to the Flickr page Fredi mentioned above. If anyone is interested, I used a Nikon D700 DSLR camera with a Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 AF lens (a macro lens). Most of the pictures were taken at f/8 and a few at f/11. I'm never sure what the right lens to use for food is, but I figured for a banquet style meal with the dishes in the middle of the table, the 60mm focal length would a good choice. By the end of the meal, the natural light coming in from the windows to my left made for more interesting compositions.
Great write-up lipoff, and many thanks to our intrepid leader fredid for organizing a great chowdown (largest ever?).
My favs were the wontons in chili oil, Jing Du pancakes and Dong Po Pork (best I've ever had). The crispy fried garlic that came with the wings is something I'll have to play with at home. Interestingly, although I enjoyed the Jiang Pao duck, my Beijinger DC didn't like it at all.
Have to do the embarrassing thing of replying to my own post to correct a grammatical slip up: it is my dining companion who is the Beijing born gourmet of impeccably high standards. I am a Boston-born gourmand who likes Chinese food perhaps too much. =) Please accept my apologies for the ambiguity!
She also didn't like the Jiang Pao Duck so much. One might speculate that Beijingers see Beijing Roast Duck as the apotheosis of duck preparations, although a sample size of two might be two small to draw any hard conclusions. I still maintain my love for the Jiang Pao Duck, although it tastes different than most Chinese food. It's a bit sweet, unlike any other Chinese duck preparation with which I'm familiar. But not an Americanized sweet. Still I think it surprises people used to more common ways of preparing duck, which are also usually "whole bird" recipes, not duck slices.
Also, incidentally, while there was a dish labeled as Hainanese Chicken on our banquet menu, what was served in this slot was definitely bone-in ge1 le4 shan1 la4 zi ji1 (Hot Diced Chicken Szechuan Style), albeit served in a larger portion and on a larger plate than a single order right from the normal menu. Hainanese Chicken is a very different preparation --- a whole chicken boiled in a rich chicken stock, and served sliced into a larger pieces with the bones attached. If you want to try this, go to Vinh Sun or Penang in Chinatown.
I have to also thank Fredi and anyone else who contributed. It was a very well-planned event from the name tags to the reminder to bring to-go containers.
One thing I'm curious about was the heat level. I saw some Hounds sweating profusely but didn't find myself overcome with stinging spice. I can't tell at this point if my tolerance for heat has grown or if the chef maybe toned it down for our large group? I'd love the input of others who have eaten there before.
I don't think there will ever be a wonton or dumpling or bun or ravioli I don't like, so I'd have to abstain from giving feedback on the wontons since I'm so terribly biased.
I also adored the creaminess of the eggplant and would surely order it again except that I was already craving rice by this point to alleviate the oiliness of the dishes.
Thanks for the addition of the tripe. I often get bored with the usual proteins.
LOVED the Dong Po Pork. Sweetly spiced layers of crispy, chewy, sticky, silky pork belly... what a gorgeous, decadent treat.
As I said, I often get bored by everyday proteins like chicken, but the complexity of spice in the Hainanese chicken left my palate thoroughly entertained.
Not-so for the wok-baked beef. For our taste, my boyfriend and I both found it somewhat bland, unimpressive, and as lipoff noted; tough (albeit tasting fine.)
Same, for me, for the chicken wings. Great texture but I was fairly bored by the flavor. Though I love garlic, I am not accustomed to eating it so toasty brown. Perhaps this is my own shortcoming.
The tea-smoked duck was lovely. The first hit of flavor is from the sweet (maybe plum?) sauce, then that tea smoke, and finally the marinated duck leave me definitely willing and wanting to order this again.
Green beans are another food I tend to find somewhat boring, but not so with the Kanshue gb. Well seasoned and good texture.
I loved the company at my table as well. It is GREAT to be able to talk food with strangers and not feel as if I'm speaking another language. You guys were great. :D
Just to follow up on two things I had brought up.
The H Mart (massive Asian market that I couldn't remember the name of-- shocking, right?) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/654950
And The Dining Alternative (Chef Peter Ungar's private fine dining experiences are a worthwhile investment.) http://www.thediningalternative.com/
I didn't find the heat of any of the spicy dishes toned down, but then, our table didn't have any of the truly fiery things like the whole fish Szechuan style: the Not-Hainanese-Chicken (a dish that's called Paradise Mountain Chicken at one of my other favorite places, Shanghai Gate) is traditionally hot but not nuclear-meltdown-hot, and that's about where this iteration was.
One of the things I've always liked about Fuloon is that the hot dishes are never about one-dimensional amped-up heat. There's always other things going on even in the most fiery dishes. Despite being born on the Texas/New Mexico border and claiming culinary allegiance to both states, I am *not* in fact a raging chilehead, so I appreciate that.
And we liked you guys, too! You should come down for more of these events!
Our table's Szechuan chicken WAS close to "nuclear-meltdown-hot"!!
I'm pretty heat seeking - so that's saying something! One friend (galangatron!) - also VERY used to great heat! - described it as FEROCIOUS! But it was complex...
As someone else said, happy to share, couldn't have finished a whole plate myself!
Fredi, thanks again for getting this together! i was in again today for lunch, had the wok baked beef (I tried the chicken at the feast, but not the beef) and it was really really good. Not at all tough, and the the flavor, with that cilantro was so good; Szechuan style chow fun, really good but nothing uniquely szechuan about it; and string beans szechuan style, with ground pork. What great food, and great people!
Thanks Fredi for organizing this event..
All the apps- Wontons in Hot Chili Oil, Pork Pancakes, Tripe- were great and not just run-of -the -mill. I was surprised I liked the tripe so much being the first time and a cold dish.
My favorites were Dong Po Pork, Wok Baked Beef, and Jiang Pao Duck. The Dong Po Pork should be on the regular menu. Some of you Fuloon veterans mentioned that the Wok Baked Beef was not up to par but I found it wonderful. The presentation was exciting. The sauce was complex and not overly sweet. I did not find the beef too tough. I'll take lipoff's word for it and look forward to an even better version in the future.
I truly enjoyed my table's company and look forward to attending events like these in the future. It was fun meeting people whose posts you had read and enjoyed. It makes for a more personal experience.
oh my god. i just drooled on my keyboard. wow! i would love to join you guys next time!!!! great reports. now i'm starving...