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On The Menu: Fujian Restaurants

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Restaurant Reviews

Summer Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(2) page(s): 23, 24, and 28

Jenny's Seafood restaurant, 135-40th Road, Flushing, NY; phone: 718 539-2200 is the fanciest and most sophisticated Fujianese restaurant we tried to date. Service and ambiance are good, the Fujianese food very good to great. Everyone we have recommended it to, goes back many times; that speaks for itself.

The Eel in Wine Sauce Soup sets the pace as a starter; it is spectacular. The eel, whole and almost cut through, is one inch in diameter. It swims around, circling the bowl in a clear broth accented with red wolfberries. Though the restaurant would not reveal amounts, we thought a cup or more of imported Fukien Loh Chiew wine enriched the soup as did the delicious though fatty eel.

Duck in Red Wine Sauce, Chicken in Red Wine Sauce, too, show off color and flavor of the red wine sediment they use. That sediment is also known as red wine paste or red wine lees. It is a speciality of the province and a dish using it was on every table each time we have eaten there. Foo Chou Spareribs are very good in their rich dark brown sauce and Steak with Onion Chinese Sauce competes for flavor greatness.

Fishball Soup once caught our fancy. It is a lovely light broth with wonderful fish balls. The Oyster Pancake does not always win our love. The oysters are sometimes fishy, canned we guessed, but when truly fresh, this flour paste with egg, bean sprouts, scallions, and green leafy vegetable mélange topped with peanuts can charm.

Pan Fried Noodle Foochou Style includes octopus, celery, shiitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts and is topped with shredded carrots and sesame seeds. Like its Oyster Pancake cousin, it can be great or greatly over-rated, especially when lacking salt and other seasonings; or when it includes canned oysters.

Chicken with Fermented Red Rice is typical and typically special. The chunks of poultry are deep red, and decorated with scallions and a tomato rose. They are a must for those who want to understand Fujianese food. So is duck or other meats made similarly; Fujianese foods with this red wine sediment that flavors the dish must be tasted, it delights.

The take-out menu and another for Chinese customers has more typical dishes than does their regular menu. The younger staff tries hard to translate; and the owner, Mr. Chen, can be helpful. We saw him do just that for his Chinese clients but did not always get the same treatment until we got to know him.

Foo Chow Restautant; 68 East Broadway; phone: 212 274-8659 in New York City's Chinatown, keeps similar hours. On Thursday and Friday, it takes a break and closes at one in the morning, the rest of the week you can drop in until the wee hour of two. The owner told us that they like to stay open for the buses that return from Atlantic City.

This plain, plastic table-top eatery dispenses food on plastic dishes to be consumed on plastic plates. Don't be put off, the food is many steps above the ambiance. Braised Lamb Soup is deep red, made with the Fujian rice wine sediment and rather strong New Zealand lamb. It is the only dish we did not like. Noodle Family Style intrigued. Though white and plain looking, it tastes terrific, almost buttery, but without a trace of visible fat. Its few pieces of pork come mixed with scallions and Chinese cabbage and they color the pale thin white noodles. Though plain-looking, almost everyone knew to order this dish. We copied them and are pleased that we did. Spare Ribs with Special Sauce was another popular item, and a winner, too. One-inch rib pieces came with cubes of taro and black mushrooms, everything lapped with a dark and delicious sauce, decored it was with carrots and snow peas. On another occasion, Rabbit with Thin Noodle Soup came in a tasteless broth with little else.

Hot and Sour Soup is piquant and good, loaded with fish balls and a variety of vegetables. The Oyster Cake was more starch than egg, its seventy-five cents reflects its contents. Both Frog's Leg with Tender Leek and Duck with Foo Chow Sauce are fragrant and flavorful. Lichee Pork on Rice is a clever item to share at dinner; there is not much of it. Skip the menu's Cantonese or Sichuan dishes and take advantage of its Fujian food; most are better than you think and better than they look.

Fu Zhou, 34 Eldridge Street; phone: 212 343-3905 sits on the eastern fringe of Manhattan's Chinatown. This very tiny place has a TV blaring in the rear and a dumbwaiter squeaking on the side. Local Fujianese workers pile in and enjoy the many foods of their heritage. They savor the price and the food; the cost is two fifty at lunch and three items are yours from the dozen or so dishes at the front and on the steam table. This is truly a New York City bargain.

We tried boiled eggs sitting in a soy sauce broth, tofu in a brown hot sauce, dried fish, fish balls in broth, noodle dishes, and many other selections. Some were wonderful, others good, and some were just mediocre. The items change frequently and everyone in a dark brown sauce (more than half of the lot) make coming here worthwhile. The owner and his assistants do not speak English, but we simply pointed at items on the steam table; and we used their regular menu, it is bilingual.

Fuzhou Special Soup was fascinating and loaded with an egg white froth. It did look a little like Hangzhou's West Lake Soup but the resemblance is superficial. Starch thickened and wine flavored, it is filled with cut pieces of baby corn, button mushrooms, flowerettes of cauliflower, slices of celery, and a name unknown white fleshed fish. The owner stood awaiting our evaluation. Our hen hao brought a huge smile, our next dishes and considerable appreciation followed.

Steamed Rice Cake with Seafood has the obligatory rice cakes stir fried with silk squash, dry squid, celery cabbage, shiitake mushroom slivers, straw mushrooms, scallions, and small pieces of cauliflower with ever-so-little white sauce. As in the noodle dish at the previous restaurant, the minimalistic sauce has a hint of butter, though we see no traces of it.

Sweet and Sour Fish comes with two whole, though small, flour dipped crispy deep-fried fish marinated in a red wine lees sauce. The minced red and green peppers and slivers of carrot, radish, and ginger have too much salt for my taste. Chicken with Chinese Vegetables is neither salty nor pretty. Its winter bamboo shoots and white meat of chicken have two tiny pieces of broccoli, a few small specks of carrots, and a thick sauce. The produce is fresh, the dishes flavorful, but salty, the water on our table gets drained.

The customers who help us order on our first visit recognize us on a second one. They advise that they come often. On that visit we enjoy Fish Mein with Soup; and have Sauteed Crispy Bean Curd, Sauteed Asparagus in Wine Sauce, Mutton with Noodle, and a dish that just says Squid. With the exception of the mutton, which is tough, these simple home cooked dishes recommended by our new friends are appreciated as is their help.

Shiao Du Hui, 135-19 40th Road, in Flushing; phone 718 762-1955 is a new Fujian restaurant in Queens. Unusual, is the fact that there is not one chicken dish on the menu. Not a rarity, are the specials in Chinese, taped to the walls. There is a complete menu for four or five there; from it one can eat handsomely for $49.95 plus tax and tip.

Even better, in the menu folder itself, is a page at the end with unusual pricing. On it, if you read Chinese, are several dozen dishes. Two can be ordered for $12.95, each additional one requires another five bucks. This page is green, no doubt because it saves lots of greenbacks. It also gets you free soup to start and orange slices for dessert. The dishes are small, but great value, and the soups make the meal, as they should in any Fujianese meal.

This place is small but the foods sampled are brimming with taste. Many are classic and not found elsewhere. Starting with Fish Ball (Meat Stuffed) with Soup, you can get the classic dish of this province. The soup is light as are the eight fish balls centered with beef. Enjoy the Boneless Duck Hand with Black Bean Sauce. These duck feet are almost boneless and stir-fried with red and green peppers, black mushrooms, celery, and two kinds of bamboo shoots. The sauce, though gray with speckles of black, explodes with flavor.

Cold Jelly Fish Head is not usual, nor the head. It is multifinger-shaped and it cooks for a long time, they tell us. When dipped into one of the best red vinegar sauces ever, this is a fantastic appetizer, if you don't bristle at chewy jellyfish, we surely did not, it is a winner.

Ordering Steamed Pomfret with Foo Chou Sauce was an experience. Firstly, we are told they do not have it; that is in response to: Is it fresh? Then we are asked if we can wait twenty minutes. Our yes is followed by a fast chap, jacket covering apron, who goes to buy the pomfret. When back and cooked, it comes covered with the typical deep red sauce speckled with red rice. It is redolent of the rice wine sediment typical of the region. This dish is beauty, brilliantly colored and tasty.

The above Fujianese restaurants are examples of both restaurant-style and home cooked Fujianese foods. Those with the latter are special havens for recent immigrants. Other restaurants, our sources and our jaunts indicate, are serving foods of Fujian yet to be tried. All of them are in the borough of Manhattan. We plan to check out: Spring Boy at 81 Allen Street, Fu Zhou at 137 East Broadway, Fu Zhow at 84 Eldridge Street, and New York Villa at 81 Christie Street. Someone also mentioned that there was a Hawaiian Fujian restaurant, but it has not been located.

Speaking of advising, we were told that there was one, maybe more Fujian restaurants several thousand miles away in Portland Oregon. Called and e-mailed folks there and they did not know of them. What I did learn after going to Oregon is that Fujianese they are not. Thanks to the aid of two friends met in Costa Rica, Linda and Sarah, we did drive about there, and though Fujianese one place sounded, it was not and no others could be found.

One place is called FuJin and is on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. When inside this local store-front eatery, we quickly learned that it served, as the menu says: "Szechuan & Mandarin Cuisine." The closest thing to foods from Fujian was their 'Fujin Soup,' a subgum or mealnge of sorts with chicken, shrimp, beef, vegetables, and more in its very thin stock. When I asked the manager/owner about restaurants from the province of Fujian, he did not even know what I was speaking about. After some explanation, he suggested we go to San Francisco saying: "They have everything there.” To set the record straight, we were unable to locate a Fujianese restaurant or anyone who knew where one might be outside of China. Guess that makes finding so many of them in New York a real find!

If you know of any Fujianese restaurants anywhere, or restaurants featuring the foods of this province, advise. And speaking of telling, allow me to tell you that Pei Mei Fu’s Chinese Cookbook, in Volume III is the only cookbook we know with a menu of foods from this province. Thanks are due to Hsi Ming who reminded about this source. The menu in this book is titled: 'Fu-Kien Style Formal Dinner' and it lists fourteen dishes from Stuffed Chicken Wings with Ham to Peanut Dumplings in Soup. There are recipes for all of the dishes, said to be from the capital of the province. They are included in this third volume of a great books by Fu Pei Mei who is, we say: the Julia Child of Taiwan.

The dinner in the above book includes a recipe for Sliced Crispy Duck with Red Wine Sauce and notes that: "Hoisin sauce can be used in place of red fermented rice paste." It also includes a recipe for Deep-Fried Crispy Boneless Eel; and recommends marinating the eel in the red rice paste.

The recipe for Meat Ball Soup Fu-Kien Style suggests making Yuan-Pi, or the dried pork sheet used in it and adding a lot of cornstarch to the ground lean pork, then rolling it very slowly until it becomes a very thin sheet, then drying this mixture. The meatballs in the Fu Pei Mei soup are made with ground pork, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, eggs, black pepper, cornstarch, sesame oil and soup stock. I like the technique of placing each one of these rolled balls on dried pork strings, brushing them with oil, and then steaming them.

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