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Susanna Foo's Chinese Restaurant (Philadelphia PA)
||1512 Walnut Street,|
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(3) page: 15 and 21
Some folks call the cuisine at Susanna Foo's 'East Meets West,' others tout it as 'Fusion.' Still others find the culinary genius here a 'marriage made in heaven.' I find Chinese roots at the base and the underlining force, with French presentation and overall Chinese composition atop. That makes Susanna Foo's cooking a blending of the two greatest cuisines in the world, each dish loaded with subtle, hidden beauty, and a balance of both schools of cookery.
The entrance to the restaurant is subtly hidden, too. Look for it behind a simple yet elegant gold-scripted entryway. Be rewarded with its understated carpeted entry and low-key Chinese decor. Walk up two steps, turn right and soak in subtle colors, low seats, and a small desk. They greet you as does a lovely hostess backed by windows on two streets. This restaurant is on a corner and inside its own corner behind you are spectacular flowers and an elegant almost ceiling-height wooden sideboard.
The eating area also has muted colors accented with white napery and a small purple orchid or two in a small blue Chinese vase on each table. The wait staff, all male each time I have been there, provide additional contrast in their formal black attire. They provide almost, but not quite, perfect French service. What is perfect at Susanna Foo’s Chinese Restaurant is the ambiance and the food.
Do not expect typical Chinese food and typical Chinese restaurant prices. If you do, you will be disappointed. Rather, every dish is prepared and plated perfectly, every dish served elegantly, every dish has its price, and every dish tastes delicate and delightful and each one provides much more than you expect.
This reviewer drove from New York just to dine there on three occasions--one an Easter Sunday, a notoriously busy restaurant day. The reward was fantastic food, a sophisticated setting, dishes plated on white Rosenthal China, and superb Chinese meals with French-style desserts. What a way to end a meal! Allow me to recommend the luscious Triple chocolate Mousse with Berries and three chocolate sauces; it and other desserts are tempting treats for indulgence.
Appetizers are not to be missed, either. The Pan Seared Sweetbreads (served with) with Veal Dumplings say they are very spicy. Not true, just correctly made with Ancho Chili Sauce, and served with Sichuan pickled relish and crispy shallots. They are only a mite piquant crowned with a thin topping of pastry. Four of them and four dumplings sit atop steamed spinach which itself perches atop a little sauce; every item carefully plated in a deep soup bowl. Should you want to try them at home, the recipe for the veal dumplings is in the Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine book published by Chapters in 1995, and graciously Mrs. Foo provides it below. This book was reviewed in Flavor and Fortune in Volume 2(4) in 1997, and on pages 15 and 20, again in Volume 15(2) on pages 20 and 33. The Ancho Chili Sauce recipe follows it in the book.
In every dish, Ms. Foo’s Chinese taste mixes with current French presentations. On almost every plate there is decor in tiny pieces of tomato, baby beets, shredded vegetables, or creamy corn cakes, to mention but a few. Every one of them looks and tastes terrific.
The Dim Sum Sampler with Pickled Napa Cabbage sported pan-fried chicken and veal dumplings, spring roll, sui-mei, and Asian eggplant; it truly did 'dot-the-heart.' Each was delicate in size and taste and together they did not overwhelm or satiate before the main course.
Soups are available as are noodle dishes. On one visit, folks at the next table were enjoying Seafood Wonton Soup with Shrimp and Scallop Stuffing; I knew that beauty and savored it with them. At a table beyond, people could be heard delighting in Ten Vegetable Hot and Sour Soup. Halfway across the restaurant, yet others were enjoying Pan Fried Noodles with Seasoned vegetables and Lobster and Squid Pad Thai with Chives, Bean Sprouts and Tofu. Be careful, only order one of these. If your party is four or more, try it in place of one main entree; portions are large and main courses come on oversized dinner plates while appetizers, soups, and noodle dishes arrive in European-sized very deep soup plates. But do keep those desserts in mind when ordering.
Main courses are magnificent. The Grilled Mongolian Venison and Scallion Pancake with Glass Noodles came as seven thin rare barbecued slices. They were a mite piquant, placed around a tower of super-soft savory pancakes, and interspersed with two more superbly flavored slices. Each was interleaved with a fennel confit and a mite of tomato sauce; all were atop cellophane noodles. This dish was, for me, a winner on two occasions.
The Stuffed Prawns, Poached Salmon, and Diver Scallop platter had squid beautifully cross-latched and so very tender that it was a beauty to see and savor. The prawns were perfect and the scallops super in size and taste. The salmon was naked and unfortunately the only item in any dish at meal eaten that was nothing special.
Every main dish comes with special adornments not to be missed. The pair of Eight Treasure Quail has caramelized lotus seeds stuffed with Chinese sausage, taro root and glutinous rice and more; the Slow Roasted Arctic Char sports roasted shallots and ginger; the Pan Seared Tuna Loin delights with a rosemary and jalapeno pepper marinade on a three color potato salad bed; and the Crispy Duck has a star anise sauce, apple kumquat chutney, and a root vegetable puree to delight over.
Rice needs to be requested. When it comes, it is the only item to quibble over. On one occasion, it arrived slowly in its smaller than usual rice-bowl and barely filled. In the restaurant's defense, however, when all was consumed the seconds requested, they came appropriately filled and fast.
Selecting the kind of beverage you want offers fine choices; there are several good teas to be had. I always order high quality green tea which here, came packed into a small Japanese tea pot. There is need to request another teapot just with hot water so that the concentrated tannins do not take over the taste.
Susanna Foo’s Chinese Restaurant is worth the trip and lots of folks know about it. It was the 1997 James Beard Foundation award-winner as restaurant with the best chef in the mid-Atlantic region, has four stars from the 1998 Mobil Guide, is an ISACC Jade Chopstick Award winner, and Mrs. Foo is a frequent guest chef at major food events. This great restaurant is always great, even when Susanna is not there. I've eaten food she cooked especially for me, a meal when she was mothering every detail from the table we shared, and eaten there when she was not at the restaurant. I have also eaten her food 'on the road' so to speak. Each time, it was worth the drive (over one hundred miles each way from my place to hers) and worth the price (when there, plan on fifty dollars or more per person).
My recommendation--call for a reservation--go hungry and with a lot of friends--and return often to taste her creative cuisine. It is guaranteed to reward!
Note: This review appeared as part of a column titled 'Two on the Menu: Two Ways by Two Friends.' At the start of the column it said: Requests have poured in for reviews of the Jade Chopstick winners...the most frequently requested restaurant, Susanna Foo's. The other review (of Tindo) was written by Jim Leff, author of a forthcoming super source of undiscovered off-beat, delicious New York City eating places.
|Susanna Foo's Veal Dumplings|
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 pound fresh spinach
1 pound veal shoulder, coarsely ground
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, white part only
1/2 cup finely chopped basil or cilantro leaves
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 pound package round dumpling wrappers
1. Heat oil and when hot add spinach, cover the pan, lower the heat to medium, and sweat the spinach for two minutes, then drain, cool, chop, and set aside.
2. Mix veal, shallots, soy sauce, sesame oil, basil or cilantro, and ginger. Then add the chopped spinach.
3. Put two teaspoons of the meat mixture on a dumpling wrapper, fold over, lightly wet the edges to seal, and pinch the ends of the half circle together. (They can be frozen at this point for cooking later, or boiled immediately.)
4. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Boil about twenty of the dumplings at one time, and cook them until they rise to the surface; then drain and put on a serving plate. One recipe makes about fifty to sixty dumplings.