I've seen a few mentions of MuMu, the new Chinese restaurant that opened on Providence's Federal Hill, elsewhere on the board, but after my latest dining experience there, I thought it merits its own thread.
I'm among the few diehard Lemi's supporters who have been in mourning ever since that fine purveyor of authentic Hong Kong-style roasted meats (among other goodies) closed down. I don't think I'd eaten Chinese food in Providence since then, aside from a couple of dim sum excursions.
My fiancee and I decided to check out MuMu on a whim, based on Garris' (and others') review on this board, actually. The reviews were mostly positive, but we had relatively low expectations, since a lot of people talked about how the menu is only partly authentic. I'd like to argue that this isn't really a fair characterization. It's true that they offer a lot of the standard Americanized fare - sesame beef, crab rangoon, Kung Pao chicken, pepper steak, and the like. Even these items, though - the ones I've tried anyway, have a level of freshness and competence to them that you can't find at your neighborhood takeout joint. According to the owner, Sophia, the chef was hired direct from Beijing, and if there's something you want that isn't on the menu, chances are he'll be able to make it.
Also, hidden away in the "regular" menu are a lot of very authentic regional dishes, mostly the type of food you'd eat in Taiwan or Shanghai rather than in Hong Kong, if that means anything to you. The Dim Sum section of the menu boasts by far the best Xiao Long Bao (otherwise known as soup dumplings) I've had in Rhode Island - the secret to these is the little bit of congealed fatty soup on the inside. When the dumpling is steamed, the fat melts and voila! You need a soup spoon to eat them, so you don't lose the precious juices on the inside when you take a bite. Every other place that offers Xiao Long Bao in Providence makes them with a thick, doughy wrapper - more like a potsticker than a genuine Xiao Long Bao. These are about as close to the real deal as I've had on the East Coast. MuMu also has the best scallion pancakes in Providence, bar none. Every other place I've had them deep fries them - MuMu pan fries their scallion pancakes, just like the way my mom makes them. Really good. The Dan Dan Noodles were very good, as well. These are the sort of noodles you'd get at a little noodle shop in Taipei - you just can't get them anywhere else in Rhode Island. I'm looking forward to trying to Chilled Noodles with Sesame Sauce, the Shanghai Style Noodles, and the Fried Sticky Rice Cakes (these are all listed in the "Noodle" section of the menu, all very authentic dishes that aren't offered in other local Chinese restaurants).
Then there's the "Authentic" menu, which is a whole other section - one that doesn't seem as long as the one at, say, Lucky Garden, but like I said, this is deceptive. Many of the dishes on the regular menu are also excellent and quite authentic. We tried the Boneless Spareribs with Sauteed Garlic, which is like a fancified cha siu (Chinese roast pork). As good, maybe better (dare I say it), than the kind they used to serve at Lemi's. On a later visit, we had a chance to sample the steamed whole fish with ginger and scallion, which, if you're not squeamish about seeing a whole fish, eyeballs and all, I recommend highly. The fish was very fresh, very tender.
My recommendation when you go is to schmooze with Sophia (you should have no problem figuring out who she is, as she's very gregarious and carries herself like someone who's in charge). If you speak Chinese, even better, but her English is perfectly fine. Ask her to recommend the dishes that she thinks are the best and most authentic. Most of MuMu's waitresses are young Caucasian college student types and, not to steretype but, they aren't nearly as knowledgeable about the menu. Talk to Sophia - she'll hook you up.
In the meantime, here are my own recommendations:
1) Xiao Long Bao
2) Scallion pancakes
3) Dan Dan Noodles
4) Chinese Cabbage (ask for the small, authentic Chinese kind - not the Napa cabbage. These are closer to baby bok choy, prepared so that they're still crisp instead of soggy)
5) Steamed Whole Fish w/ Ginger and Scallion
6) Orange Beef (again, I would consider this an "Americanized" dish, but it's done so well - the meat tender, the sauce sweet without being overwhelming - that I'd definitely order it again.
Sophia also told me, several times, that their Peking duck is up there with the best in the world. It's a bold claim, but I'm excited to find out if it holds up.
Eat at MuMu. You won't regret it.
220 Atwells Ave.
(closed on Tuesdays during the summer)
Valet Parking available