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Nov 8, 2011 10:56 AM

Fuleen Review

I had some friends in town this past weekend and we decided to do some serious Cantonese - it was a toss-up between Ping's (more cheffy / creative) and Fuleen (more traditional, more esoteric proteins) and we wound up deciding on the latter. It had been awhile since I'd really had a big meal there - I've popped in now and then, just myself and my gf, but as with many Chinese restaurants it's best experienced with a group since everything is served family-sized. We ordered a LOT, and with a couple exceptions, everything was top-notch. Our feast:

Geoduck Two Ways: as usual, it was wonderful. Only a few others do this dish in Chinatown and Fuleen's is consistently the best. Simply prepared - first a pile of thin strips of "tail" raw on ice, beautifully briny and sweet, with a nice toothsome chew, and soy and wasabi for dipping if you so desired - I prefer it unadulturated. Second, chunks of fried belly meat - again, very simple. Just a pile of some of the best clam fritters you'll find in NYC. The prices go up and down for geoduck, this past weekend it was $70, a bit higher than the last time I'd ordered it (IIRC it was in the $50-$60 neighborhood a year or so ago). But given that you'd pay around the same, if not more, for an equal amount of Mirugai sashimi (and without any fritters, even!) it's a relative bargain, really.

Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves: bright, tasty, simple. Nothing to complain about here.

Water Spinach w/ Bean Curd Sauce: one of the better renditions of this dish in Chinatown, I find. The funky fermented flavor of the dou fu ru (fermented bean curd) comes through, but doesn't overpower. It's mild enough for those who normally wouldn't dig it, but present enough for those of us who can't get enough of the stuff. Delish, this is one of my always-order dishes there.

Steamed Flounder w/ Ginger & Scallion: a soild rendition of this dish. Fish was good and fresh, the sauce not as sweet as some others I've had.

Sauteed Conch & Scallops: among the best conch I've had in the city. Tender yet meaty, perfect texture, really delicious. The sauce wasn't terribly assertive - in fact, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what was even in it - so while the seafood really shone, it could have used a touch of something. Maybe a (tiny) bit of vinegar or ginger just to brighten it a little. They also do an all-conch version of the same dish for the same price, which is probably what I'll get next time. The scallops were good, mind you, just not as exciting as the conch.

Lobster(s) with XO Sauce: I make my own XO at home, so I have a hard time with most restaurant's XO Sauces. It's not a question of mine being better, per se - since there's no "real" recipe for XO Sauce, every place does it differently, and there's really no knowing what you're in for. Ping's makes it with dried squid (I think), shrimp and chilies in an oil base, but no ham that I could taste. At Fuleen it was a thicker affair, not as oily - and because it was somewhat homogenous in texture, one really couldn't tell what was in it. It tasted of dried shrimp and perhaps a bit of ham, ginger, and garlic - not bad, just not the way I make it. It was tasty, though - and you can't beat those great Chinatown lobster prices! Two bugs for $28.

Shredded Squid, Chili Style: the only dud of the evening, but that's partly because I had wanted un-fried squid, and this turned out to be a fairly typical breaded/fried dish. It was shredded into "squid fries" as we kept calling them. They were tasty enough at first, if nothing special, but as soon as they stopped being hot they congealed a bit and lost their crunch. Flavor-wise, meh. Tasted more of batter than squid, really. Not particularly spicy either, for something called Chili Style.

Crispy Black Jellyfish: One doesn't think of Jellyfish as "Crispy" looking at them, but here they were, almost cabbage-like as one of my companions noted. In a simple sesame / sou sauce, these were quite good - but not for everyone. I wouldn't order them every time, but we had a few adventurous eaters at the table, so it was worth it.

Salted Fish, Diced Chicken & Bean Curd Casserole: A great cold-weather dish, though I like the version at Congee Village (of all places) better, as it seems to have a bit more of the salted fish flavor. But then there are others who might prefer this slightly milder version. I like the version that replaces curd with eggplant, as well, but that one tends to be a bit mushy, and really needs a bowl of rice to sop up the juices.

Preserved Duck & Taro Casserole: Also a great winter warmer, this one throws people at first since the Taro is the main focus and the duck is really just used to flavor it. It was good this time, though a bit soupier (with floating chunks of taro and duck) than previous times I've had the same dish here. Could just be the taro broke down a bit more. But texture aside, the flavor is wonderful. Big fan of this dish.

I think that's everything... though I'm sure I'm forgetting a dish (or two...)

Anyway, great as always. Was good to have a group to dine with since certain dishes (like the geoduck) just aren't feasible with anything smaller than a four-top. Fuleen is often overlooked, partly because of their out-of-the-way location - the Chinese spots East of Bowery tend to stay off a lot of people's radar - but they're worth a trip for sure. One of the few seafood specialty places that I find does land meats particularly well, as well. At $45/pp (including the tax & tip) it's a little higher than the Chinatown average, except maybe places like Oriental Garden & Ping's, but a steal for the amount of food we got, even with the one expensive splurge item.

Congee Village
100 Allen St, New York, NY 10002

11 Division St, New York, NY 10002

Oriental Garden
14 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

22 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. Thanks for this great review. I am glad to hear they are still going strong. Would you rate it above Oriental Garden?

    6 Replies
    1. re: scoopG

      They're both slinging up super-fresh seafood, for sure. I hate to rank one over the other as it's not like I'm going to dine at both in the same night and have the same dishes back-to-back, so it's hard to say. I think for a 100% fresh seafood meal I'd lean towards OG. Once you start adding in mammals, fowl, dry seafood, etc, I might start leaning the other way. Some of OG's veggie dishes, while perfectly decent, are a bit perfunctory. But I haven't explored all their veggie menu yet. I think there might be some things - like dou fu ru sauce - that aren't listed on the English menu. IIRC I liked OG's XO a bit more, but it's been a little while - and YMMV on XO, anyway, since every place that makes their own and doesn't just dump some Lee Kum Kee out makes it differently. (boy, there were a lot of acronyms in that sentence...)

      1. re: sgordon

        whats your favorite dishes at OG? im planning on hitting that place up soon, but the reviews online are spotty as to whats good

        1. re: Lau

          I find all of their sauces really good, so it's often just pick-your-protein / pick-your sauce. I tend to shy away from the fried preparations, personally, as for me those become more about the batter than the fish - but I'd say that about any place. Like, I'd go for the sauteed squid over the salt-baked (which isn't actually baked, who knows how that moniker started..)

          Generally I'll try to hit the big three sauces - black bean, XO, & ginger/scallion. You can't go wrong pairing any (ocean) protein with them. Usually I like something briny like clams or mussels with the rich BB sauce, and maybe something milder - razors or scallops or conch - with the XO. Whole fish for the ginger/scallion, but there's no hard and fast rule. There are a couple of dishes that stand outside the "pick-a-protein/pick-a-sauce" category - the drunken shrimp can be good, as long as you're cool with watching the critters die a fiery death in front of you. There's also a scallop app, a single (large) scallop in shell w/ garlic that's really good, but a bit of a splurge at $6 for a single scallop that, while big, is really an amuse bouche. There was also a grouper dish with Virginia ham subbing in for the un-importable Jinhua that was pretty damn fine the one time I tried it. Been meaning to try it again, just haven't gotten around to it. They also do some decent casseroles.

          I've never had their oyster sauce - IIRC, it was only available with abalone, and I usually don't splurge for that. Don't know if they'd pair it with something else, never asked. Like XO, I'm pretty picky with oyster sauce - another one I've begun making at home, and I find the difference between homemade (even using canned oysters as a base) and store-bought, or what I get in most restaurants, huge. Like, they're not even the same sauce. So ordering a $60 abalone just to find I'm sour on the sauce would be a bit of a heartbreaker.

          For veggies I enjoy the snow pea leaves - they do two versions, one with crab and another with dried scallops. I'm a big conpoy fan, so I usually go for the latter.

          My only rules at OG are: 1.) go with a group, and 2.) skip the land critters. There are certainly passable dishes in the pork and chicken categories - I just figure you're in the house of a noted seafood master, so stick with Chef Wong's specialty. Though I've been tempted by items I've seen at other tables - last time we were there I saw some kind of minced duck lettuce wrap go by, like his take on a larb or something, and I might have given it a go had we not already ordered an ungodly amount of food.

          Oriental Garden
          14 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

          1. re: sgordon

            thanks for this, id def be going in a large group and id be going for seafood specifically

            how is the quality of their fish?

            ive been meaning to find a good place in NY that can serve fish the way i ate it growing up which was you steam it and then pour the oil over it. The thing is you need a good quality fish and i've found the fish they generally use are some type of fresh water fish that had a certain fresh water flavor that i'm not a fan of

            1. re: Lau

              I admit, I'm more of a shellfish fan than for finned seafood (not that I don't like it, I'm just big on the bugs) so while we'd usually get one steamed fishy-fish, it'll usually be mostly shelly stuff. And it's fresh, for sure - among the freshest in town. Usually the critters in the tanks are pretty lively.

              Not speaking Chinese outside a few random phrases and food terms, I've never engaged the staff there as to cooking techniques, etc. I'm not really into freshwater fish so much, myself - some river fish, maybe, but lake fish almost always no. Someone who speaks the language would be able to get a better sense of what they've got. Like I said, I've had the one grouper dish, which is saltwater, but I don't know if it's a menu constant. I've also seen various sea bass (close relative of grouper) dishes on the menu, but never tried any. Same for sole, and though a number of different fishes sometimes get tagged with "sole" inappropriately they're usually all ocean fish.

              Morimoto does a couple of hot-oil dishes. One is Chinese, a halibut (usually - I've seen it offered with salmon as well in season) with black beans & ginger, steamed and then finished with oil - his little tip of the hat to Chen Kenichi, perhaps. Also a couple carpaccios that get the hot oil treatment, though with more Japanese flavors.

              88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

              1. re: sgordon

                yah i think ive had it at morimoto a while ago, but im looking for the classic cantonese style...i need to learn the names of fishes better in chinese b/c i never know what they're called and the names in chinese are so different than the names in english that its not intelligible

                anyhow, ive been craving it b/c christmas is coming up reasonably soon and im thinking about CA b/c whenever i go home to CA there is a restaurant that my family friend owns and i call him up and he always prepares awesome home style cantonese for me and he gets that fish dish just right, goes to the mkt that morning picks out an awesome sure someone can do that here too just need to find the right restaurant

    2. nice review i've been meaning to go back here for a long time as i want to get that geoduck

      been meaning to finally check out OG for dinner too

      1 Reply
      1. re: Lau

        Echoing the thanks for the comprehensive report!

      2. Oh, the geoduck two ways is my favorite thing to order there! And their fish tanks always look clean. I was at South China Garden a couple of weeks ago and the tanks looked really sad (sorry, Lau -- know it's your favorite place). The waiter tried to push the (barely) live fish on me. I decided to stick with the other items.

        South China Garden
        22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

        1 Reply
        1. re: Miss Needle

          yah their fish tanks don't look great, i don't order the regular fish off the menu as you know, i order a more expensive one that's only written in chinese. the regular fish tastes too "fresh water" for me, but any which way i don't go to SCG for amazing fish i posted earlier im looking for amazing fish so hopefully OG can help me b/c a good cantonese style fish is probably my favorite way to eat cooked fish

        2. nice review, i am going to check out fuleen for lunch and test the kitchen' skill by ordering the sea bass casserole

          1 Reply
          1. re: AubWah

            does anyone know if the lunch special includes tax?

          2. Ten of us feasted at Fuleen recently. We took the less expensive route that sgordon did but vowed not to next time! Seven dishes, some beers and soft drinks set us back only $26 per person (including a princely tip). The place was astir, service expeditious. We probably could have ordered one more dish. (I think it is better than Congee Village). We had:

            Seabass Roll with Seaweed
            Baby Cabbage with 1000 Year-Old Egg and Salted Egg
            Pan-fried House Special Shrimp Cakes
            Green Chive Flowers with Soy Sauce
            Salt and Pepper Fried Bean Curd
            Whole Canadian Dungeness Crab with Dry Red Pepper
            Whole Steamed Cod with Ginger and Scallions
            Pan Fried Noodles with Seafood

            Fuleen offers over 70 lunch specials that include rice and soup: $5.75 take-out and $6.00 dining in. Tax not included.

            5 Replies
              1. re: Lau

                Oh yes! Have you been recently?

                1. re: scoopG

                  not recently, the last time i ate there was probably like 1.5 yrs ago something like that?

                  it was pretty decent when i went, i thought SCG was better, but i did enjoy my meal there

                  1. re: Lau

                    Is SCG the one that closed or is it OG?

                    1. re: scoopG

                      no south china garden closed, OG is still open

                      SCG was my favorite restaurant in manhattan chinatown, i have eaten there more times than any other restaurant in NY....was distraught they closed, i was pretty friendly with most of the staff b/c id been going there for so long