Fey - promising sichuan menlo park
I'm happy to report positively on Fey at 1386 El Camino in Menlo Park, right near Naomi Sushi (on the same side) about a block from Ducky's and Beltramos'. The restaurant was previously Tien Fu, and Tien Fu had a somewhat run down americanized look that scared me off - never tried it. Fey has a new sign - bright and cheery, so I put it on the eventual list, and that card turned up today. I like chinese take out on Sunday, and with the vacation weekend, today is virtual sunday.
Yelp's reviews were promising. There were a number of 1 and 2 star reviews from people who didn't like the mu shu or the lemon chicken. Good start.
According to Yelp, "
In the late 1990's, the most famous Chinese/Sichuan restaurant in Peninsula, and one of the most famous ones in the bay area, was Little Sichuan, located on 21st St, San Mateo. It was owned and managed by a lady from China.
At beginning of the century, it was moved to Little Sichuan on 4th St, San Mateo. The owners include the original owner, and a few other people.
During mid 2000's, the original owner left, and opened her own Classic Sichuan restaurant in Millbrae, on Millbrae Blvd.
Now, the same owner is the owner of this new Fey, and manages it by herself. I.e., you should expect the food at the same level as the original Little Sichuan or the Classic Sichuan.
I can say with my own eyes there is a very cheery older chinese woman (50's or maybe a little more?) running the show. When I picked up my togo order she said "you like spicy! all the dishes spicy! so we make it spicy." - and she tried to get me to come in sometime later, saying the food is better eaten there where it is hot. The narrow space has been revamped in a somewhat modern black and silver motif, with almost all booth seating on either side. They may not have a big round chinese banquet table - but the place is inviting. Two of Menlo Park's finest were coming out when I was going in; I'm glad it a slow night for them.
On to the food. The menu isn't quite as broad as China Village (was), but there's a big long section called (in english) "family traditional private kitchen", with things like Spicy Frog and 1000 chili chicken and dongbo pork knuckle and the like. One dish I've never seen: green tea shrimp. So a good long sichuan menu.
The cumin lamb was out of this world. Massive amount of peppercorns and ma la, maybe a hair too much salt, nice and chewy. Dan Dan Mien was pretty good, although balance could have been slightly improved, after mixing the oil and peppercorns permeated and maybe + the vinaigre a little but pretty great. I also ordered Ma Po Tofu but we didn't even touch it. Portions are much larger than Crouching Tiger - $40 of take out (with a tip) was dinner for 4.
I loved that I didn't have to order spicy. You might remember my rants - I just want it the spice level the dish is known for. This was all that. I think she's decided to just do it home style, or maybe I did get unusual treatment due to my ordering.
For a first cut - this place deserves serious visits. The meat quality is higher than Da Sichuan. Even better, it's closer to my house.
I was just alerted by a friend of the inclusion of Fey on Michelin's 'Bib Gourmand' list.
At first, given the comments here, I was surprised Fey is recognised over Da Sichuan (let alone several other Sichuan restaurants around the Bay). But I've not heard of this list before, actually, and given the other restaurants included there I'm not sure the list compilers really know Asian food.
edit: I've not been to Fey, so just tossing this out there for those of you who have.
There's a separate thread on the Bib Gourmand list. It's a spinoff of the main Michelin content, released annually in advance to generate buzz, as in that other thread, and it gets lots of online comments from people who have not actually used the Michelin Guide or gotten familiar with most of its content. (I've used the Guides for reference info since they appeared here -- certainly with fewer review complaints than Zagat or Yelp, let's keep things in perspective -- and before that, European editions since the 1980s. I've never paid attention to the Bib Gourmand list in the SF-Area Guide, but it gets disproportionate discussion here because of its online release.)
A Michelin recommendation (in the Guide listings themselves, not the Bib Gourmand list which is just a highlight), mentioning cuisine-specific dishes and steering readers away from the non-Shanghainese items, is one reason for the popularity of the young inexpensive Shanghainese restaurant Bamboo Garden, subject of another active thread here:
Stopped there for lunch today, thanks to this forum. I had the ma por tofu lunch special: very picante (helps with the hay fever) with a nice underlying blend of spices that came through. Meatier than other versions I've had. My partner tried the Hunan squid, which needed one more note, I thought. The price was amazingly low for the quality and quantity. We're definitely planning an evening trip with more people in tow so we can try more of their dishes.
Ate lunch because place I wanted to go (Gombei) closed for lunch at 1:30 and I missed it by 5 minutes!
Really disappointing - but I did order an "americanized" dish since I was in need of comfort food. The good - hot and sour soup - balanced flavor maybe a little too much veg - but I'm not complaining VBG
BUT - the sweet and sour shrimp was awful, tiny shrimp in a huge amount of SOGGY batter. Sauce wasn't great just a little out of balance.
I stopped by for lunch since I was having my car cleaned and it was going to take 30 minutes.
First, I was in and out in about 25 minutes. The place was, if anything, overstaffed. There were the three chinese ladies, a guy owner type, and then about 4 bussboys. No problem with lack of staff at 12:30 on a Saturday [ that part of town was really empty because of the big game, so they may normally have more diners ].
I got the bon bon chicken app, and it was pretty good but not great. It was all spice and oil, no numbing. Still, pleasant.
I got talked into a "twice cooked tofu" dish. It had the hunan leeks and green peppers and lots of cabbage, and was a little dull but overall kind of nice. I've always liked tofu prepped that way, with the sauce soaking into the tofu. Salt level very high.
Overall, at $25 for lunch (no specials obvious), pretty expensive but I got a lot of food. There's better szechuan around, but I still think it's tolerable.
estnet - sweet and sour shrimp. D'oh. You must have been thinking comfort food but there's nothing comforting about poorly prepared food. I'm slightly reminded of going out to HMB for crab last weekend, and there were two tourists sitting next to me at Princeton Seafood. They got a crab salad. They saw me digging into a whole crab and didn't get that --- I think they must have been fussy, not wanting to wade into a crab. Still, that was an exquiste crab.
Fey is a bit of a puzzle. It seems consistently understaffed when I dine in, but they are able to deliver take-out orders to the front counter promptly. Dishes that on one visit are literally crunchy with Szechuan peppercorns will be missing the essential ingredient on another. I can't tell whether the problem is on the order pad or in the kitchen, but I hope eventually to crack the code because the good times are quite good.
Spicy Boiled Fish Fillet - there are two variations on the menu. #155 "Chongqing Spicy Boiled Fish Fillet" for $13.95 is a generous portion in a light, nicely flavored broth with tons of bean sprouts. I was surprised that the soups is spicy without the heavy layer of spicy oil; I'm not quite sure how they do it. #158 "Spicy Boiled Fish [or meat]" $11.95 had the customary oil but the spicing doesn't seem to fit as well with fish fillets. Definitely recommend #155.
Cabbage - #122 "Spicy Stir Fried Cabbage" $7.95 is one of those maddeningly inconsistent dishes. While the cabbage is consistently tender and naturally sweet, if the Szechuan pepper is omitted, it's dull.
Pancake "chow mein" - #141 "Beijing Style Stir Fried Pan Cake" $7.50 can't be good for you, but hand-slivered pancakes make a delicious alternative to hand-cut noodles. I think there are shreds of pork in this dish.
Fried Chicken - #152 "Chongqing Spicy Diced Chicken (with Red Chili)" $9.95 features small pieces of bony chicken that are quite hot and a bit on the salty side for me. They seem like more of a beer snack than a main course.
Cumin Lamb - #48 "Xinjiang Fried Cumin Lamp" $11.95 was tender and tasty, but I had it so long ago I can't recall the details.
Whole Fish - #162 "Hot Braised Whole Fish" $15.95 was a huge portion, nicely cooked. I'd describe the sauce as savory but unexceptional.
String Beans - #128 "Dry Cooked String Beans" $8.95 were good but not special.
Frog - #148 "Hot & Spicy Frog" $9.95 isn't something I'd try again. The pieces were meaty, but a little too fishy, and the sauce was gloppy.
Symptom: Same dish sometimes crunchy with hua jiao, other times missing that essential ingredient.
Usual diagnosis: Different cooks making dish. (If you find a Sichuanese cook who knows how things are supposed to taste, it will be a matter of pride to render the dish that way. Just like Costas Eleftheriadis at Napoletana Pizzeria refusing to make "substitutions" even when customer is an Important Silicon-Valley CEO who is used to getting his way.)
William gave me the leftovers from a dish that he says is not on the menu. They saw it on another table and ordered the same. It's made with the salty pickled green beans cut into smaller pieces with charred dry red chiles and fried spareribs. The spareribs were well-trimmed St Louis style with a thick meaty cap that was buttery tender. William said that when freshly prepared, the outside crust was somewhat crunchy. I found it delectable as a microwaved leftover and imagine that it's even more so enjoyed at the restaurant.
P.S. When Mr Yao of China Village talked with me about Fey, he said that the chef from Millbrae's Classic Sichuan went back to China and that's why Classic crashed and went backrupt.
I wonder if there's a separate, complete "Chinese" menu, as often true in US Chinese restaurants? (For the same reason that the owner said, upthread, she couldn't make everything fully spicy "because of the neighborhood," i.e. the local market she's serving as well as she can.)
There's only a single printed menu, and a pre-set family dinner menu you can get by direct request but which is not printed. They have daily specials that aren't printed anywhere. Just ask the servers about daily off-menu items--- they're knowledgeable and easy to talk to.
Nothing on the menu seems to correspond to the dish Melanie's brother spotted, and it wasn't listed as a special last time I stopped in. It looks good though!
Thanks for checking. My one time in the restaurant, the servers addressed us in Chinese. No Chinese language only menu was offered. My brother says he hasn't seen a specials board or other menu either.
The take-out box is kind of a mess, but lacking a name for the dish, that's the only way I could fully communicate what it was!
I agree this is a special place.
Some interesting dishes that are worthy:
47. Xinjiang Private Kitchens Lamb ($16.95) – came in a 2 foot long dish with braised lamb, potatoes, and carrots. The meat was extremely tendor and fell off the bone. Surprisingly, not too gamey.
81. Tea Smoked Duck ($11.95 half) ($19.95 Whole) – very smokey, juicy, boney, a must for duck fans.
124. Spicy Shredded Potato ($7.95) – a classic Sichuan dish that was cooked to a very al dente state. A medium amount of heat.
136. Hot Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce ($7.50) – the hot version the previous noodle dish. Also worth ordering.
140. Beijing Style Cold Bean Jello ($7.50) – white savory jello that balances out the heat of other dishes. Also well done. Hard to pick up with chopsticks.
49. Xinjiang Kebabs ($4.50 each) were overcooked, tough, and too chewy. The flavor profile was decent though.
Finally got my review up:
I had a chance to try Fey four weeks ago with my brother. On the later side on a Monday night, I was surprised to find the place nearly 2/3s full. My experience was much more mixed than others who have posted here.
Good start with the complimentary pao cai and star anise peanuts.
Spicy beef combination with cold beef and trip (fu qi fei pian), $7.95 – Just average. Decent textures, but lacking in complexity and depth of flavor/spicing.
Xinjiang fried cumin lamb (zi ran yang rou), $11.95 – One of the signature dishes at Little Sichuan and very good here too. Careful searing of the lamb slices paid off in layered flavors and crusted texture, good hit of complex spicing. Too cluttered with extraneous red and green bell peppers, but easy enough to ignore them.
The problems with the dan dan mian are detailed here,
Spicy boiled tender fish (shui zhu yu pian), $11.95 – Plentiful pieces of fish filet but a dumbed-down and simple rendition of what should be a very complex dish. No Chinese celery, the only greenery was some Napa cabbage. Nor was it very spicy, and this is usually the hottest dish on the table. A little bit of powdered peppercorns over the top, not much of an oil slick. BORING.
Sichuan dry cook chicken wings (Chongqing la zi ji), $9.95 – Offered a boneless or bone-in option, we ordered it as wings. Nice and juicy and quite high on the spicy hot “la” meter but not that much “ma” numbing spice. William had tried this before and said it was consistent. A good version but could be better if not so stingy with Sichuan peppercorns.
Spicy shredded potatoes (qiang tu dou si), $7.95 – I’d tried to order this non-spicy. Our waitress said, “How about just some spicy peppers?” and after asking for no chiles at all and getting a head shake, I conceded. Judging from the soggy and overcooked texture . . . and this dish is all about hitting the right waxy texture . . . I suspect that batches are prepped far in advance and reheated.
With spicy food, I like some plain white rice. I asked for rice bowls, and our waitress brought us some soup bowls/saucers with a wide rim that are too large to hold in the palm of the hand, as shown here,
Figuring that she had misunderstood me, I handed it back and asked again for rice bowls. She replied that these were all they had. I blurted out, “Are you kidding me?!? You don’t have a single rice bowl somewhere in the back?” Then I apologized as I’d obviously embarrassed her and explained that I’m sure she understood that it was impossible to eat rice from such a bowl. She nodded, “ I know, I know.”
So, $65 for two people later . . . the cumin lamb was worth ordering and the chicken wings were good enough.
Then I heard from my brother that at dinner with a friend here last week, the cumin lamb fell far short. Enough so that my shy brother pointed out to the waitress that it was different and not seasoned well. She replied that it was the same as always. Then he explained that he had eaten this dish at Fey four other times and it was better before. William did say that the dry fried intestines they had were the same as ever. Is this is a one-off with someone else cooking the dish or a permanent step in dumbing down the food for the neighborhood?
Dan Dan Mein was a let down. It's thick with a paste I initially thought was sesame, but which struck me as definitely peanut butter when I ate the leftovers the next day. No preserved vegetables and no ground pork--- just a few strips of stir fried pork. Heat is from seeds and flakes of peppers rather than a strained chili oil. Despite my requests, there was no sichuan peppercorn flavor.I felt some tingling at some point, but not sure if that was sichuan peppercorns or my imagination.
Interesting... 麻辣 , which would indicate ma la (numbing spice) is written next to the spicy Sichuan cold noodles and the Spicy Tripe Noodles, but not the DDM.
re: Melanie Wong
Very different. Fey's version was drowning in sauce. And it was all sauce and noodles-- there were so few pork shreds I suspected they accidentally fell in. Unlike your experience, the noodles were cooked without a hitch.
I actually liked Crouching Tigers version a lot more. Their flavors were westernized, but in a good way, and the large amount of pork made it a one dish meal.
We finally had a chance to try Fey last night. Arrived at prime-time, 7:00 or so. Place was jam packed. Just the 2 of us so wait wasn't that bad, maybe 15 min or so. What a wonderful addition to the Menlo Park area! So good to have a restaurant of this caliber close to home.
Here's what we had:
#42 Smoked Tofu Pork with Sichuan Pickles $9.50
#48 Xinjiang Fried Cumin Lamb $11.95
#139 Sichuan Spicy Cold bean jello (hot oil) $7.50
#142 Stir fried Sichuan Salty Long Beans $9.95
Each dish was beautifully prepared with precise knife work and complex flavor. I highly recommend the Smoked Tofu Pork with Sichuan Pickles. This dish just sings with flavor. The precisely cut pork strings, smoked tofu and Sichuan pickles show much care and was addictive.
The Stir Fried Sichuan Salty Long Beans were indeed salty but in a totally appetite stimulating way. The beans were cut into about 1/4" pieces so precise as were the other ingredients. There was what looked like finely ground meat but I'm not sure if it was pork or maybe chicken. Haunting flavors.
The Cumin Lamb was good but the proportion of meat to veg was a bit skewed. Again, intense flavors.
And the Spicy Cold Bean Jello in Spicy oil: This is another dish that I'm liking more each time. This version included toasted soy beans as a garnish. Again, very tasty but no Sichuan peppercorn in evidence.
We really loved all the dishes but the absence of Sichuan Peppercorn was disappointing. I believe that what might have happened was the misconception that we didn't want authentic flavors in the dishes. When we were seated a dish of fried wonton wrappers amply dusted with coarse sugar (!) was placed on the table. I looked at them and wondered where was the dish of spicy cabbage or something on that order. When our server came near I asked about it and she went and got us some. I guess they don't want to waste them on folks who might not appreciate this appetite stimulator. I can't imagine anyone wanting to eat sweetened wonton chips before a meal...
When it came time to order I began with the Bean Jello in Spicy oil - our server tried to talk me out of it but I reassured her that we have had this dish and like it plus we are not afraid of "spicy"! Same with the other dishes. Query about spicy, me telling her yes, spicy. Dishes were not spicy so next time I'll have to be more emphatic.
On the seating: In front there are a number of booths that seat 2-6 or so. The middle section has round tables that seat 6-8, maybe 10. The next room back has larger round tables. In the back there is a room that can be closed with double doors - last night there was a huge round table with what looked like 16 diners.
Everyone in the restaurant looked like they were having a grand time, including us. We are looking forward to working our way through the menu. I hope they will be able to maintain the quality they have now and that business continues to be good. The hostess mentioned that Friday and Saturday nights are very busy but that it is quieter on week nights. We'll have to go back soon to check that out.
"I can't imagine anyone wanting to eat sweetened wonton chips before a meal..."
Sounds like Chinese American places in the Northeast, which put fried wontons on the table with a sweet "duck sauce" and hot mustard for dipping. Outside of a few places in LA, I have never seen this on the west coast, and I've definitely not seen it in the Northeast coated in sugar.
Thanks for reiterating the need described above about ordering things spicy. Lots of sichuan dishes taste fine with dumbed down spicing, but I can't imagine that bean jello dish being very good without heat or sichuan peppercorns.
Interesting about the Northeast places with the wonton w/sweet "duck sauce". And yes, I really missed that numbing/spicy ma-la thing from Sichuan peppercorns especially on the bean jello dish. It was great but would have been just that much better. I will have to see what happens next time...
Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I first learned about FEY at last week's Hunan chowdown and hoped that some of those who'd tried it might post.
I'll mention that when Classic Sichuan opened, the owner brought her chef from Little Sichuan. Then that chef moved to Crouching Tiger and Classic Sichuan went downhill and eventually closed. So more important than who the owner is, I'd be interested in knowing who's in the kitchen. Interestingly, the owners listed on the ABC license for FEY and Classic Sichuan do not overlap.
My brother has debriefed me on his two meals there this past week. He went with a friend who has been there a total of three times (twice in one day!). He said the spicing is not that hot. The owner said she can't make it full authentic spice because of the neighborhood (Mr Chau's customers, alas), but will make it spicier on request.
He liked the cumin lamb and the chongqing chicken (or whatever it's called on the menu) well enough to order them both times. He commented that the cumin lamb had a crispy char that made them special, as well as the complexity of spice. He tried the Dong Po rou, saying the fat was sweet but the meat was too stringy on the outside. He liked the dry sauteed tripe (intestine), salty stringbeans, and mapo doufu (made with firm tofu!) too.
Compared with Da Sichuan, he likes the full bore spice there, but Fey is closer to his home. Fey's chongqing chicken is juicier with crisp skin vs. the drier profile of Da Sichuan's.
He hasn't ordered any water-boiled dishes yet or seafood. He's interested in seeing how spicy Fey can go.