To celebrate my brothers birthday, we decided to test out the San Mateo location of Fatima, a first for all of us. Our Auntie Laura was visiting from Thousand Oaks and we talked her and Auntie Lizzie into joining us. Their chowhoundish instincts were intrigued by the idea of Islamic Chinese food (halal meats and no pork). With seven of us, we were able to try a good sampling from the menu, guided by chow favorites recommended in ChowNews #3 and #10 and the posts below.
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Cold Ox-Tendon, $2.95 As Yimster described, this was shaped in a mold allowing it be cut in thin, uniform slices. Satisfyingly chewy yet tender with nice five spice seasoning.
Lamb with Pickled Cabbage Warm Pot, $13.95 Thinly sliced lamb blanched in the hot broth with mildly tart winter napa cabbage was served in an enormous soup tureen. Surprisingly delicate taste for a preparation that also feels so homey. William was really taken by the balance and subtlety of this dish and chose it as his favorite.
Mu Shu Beef with Egg Topping (with 8 Pan Cakes), $9.95 Throw out your notions of Americanized mu shu offerings. This was a whole different animal. The intensely flavored stir-fry of slivers of beef with red and green peppers, onions, scallions, and a nice hit of smokiness from pressed and smoked tofu shreds was heaped on a plate and crowned with a browned, fluffy and moist thick omelet disc spanning the width of the plate. We portioned the whole thing into eight pie wedge-shaped servings and tried to swaddle each portion in the pancakes rubbed with hoisin sauce with varying success. Messy, but so delicious. Liked by everyone, this was my favorite dish.
Water Spinach (kang xin cai) with garlic sauce (seasonal, not on the menu) This was the hollow-stemmed morning glory in season now, also known as ong choi in Cantonese. The selection here was more tender and less stringy, and hit just the right donenesss to bring out the best flavor.
Bean Curd with Spicy Sauce, $7.25 Lightly fried tofu cubes were smooth and creamy inside with just enough nubby texture on the surface to catch the medium-hot garlicky thickened brown sauce. Some bits of braised beef and mysterious vegetation added interest. William was also particularly struck by the technique and careful spicing exhibited in this dish.
Sliced Fish (Fresh, not Fried) with Spicy Sauce, $12.95 The one clunker of the night was the dish recommended by our waitress, and we paid the $4 premium for fresh and not frozen fish. I had asked her whether the style of sauce duplicated our bean curd dish, and she had said that the beef with the tofu would give it a different taste. The sauce on the fish seemed a bit sweeter, but they were too similar to have together on the table. Plus, the fish filets were muddy tasting and coarse. Everyone had a bite and then left the rest.
Lamb with Leek, $8.95 Nicely browned, yet moist and tender lamb slices were tossed pale green slivers of leeks and smoked pressed tofu shreds. The dusky and exotic spicing and flavor of a hot and well-seasoned wok made this special. This was the most popular dish of the night.
Three Flavors Dough Slice Chow Mein, $6.25 The housemade knife-shaved noodles were tossed with slivers of beef, chicken and prawns for the three flavors. Again, the warm and haunting flavor contributed by the wok added another dimension. Stephanie noted that these were cut thicker and were a bit less resilient than the noodles she likes so much at China Village in Albany and she picked this as her favorite dish.
Sesame Bread with Green Onion, $5.50 This was supposed to bee the flatter scallion pancake so that we could contrast the two styles. But no matter, as we ended up liking the puffy bread with green onions better than the version without. It was nice by itself, and also with a bite of the lamb or the bean curd dish and especially to mop up those sauces.
Sesame Bread without Green Onion, $5.50 This was a little scant on sesame seeds and could have used a touch more oil to give it more richness of aroma and flavor.
Red Bean Pan Cake, $3.25 Flakey and nicely crisped and browned from careful griddling, this was a nice example of a red bean paste stuffed crepe to end our meal with a little sweetness.
Our tab came to less than $15 inclusive per person and William had a couple lunches worth of leftovers to take home. Overall, the dinner got a big thumbs up from everyone, including the Cantonese aunties. Many thanks to our colleagues in chow for the recommendations that made it cinch to order right our first time out.
Fatima Seafood Restaurant
1208 S. El Camino Real
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