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Restaurants & Bars 25

Fuleen Review

sgordon | Nov 8, 2011 10:56 AM

I had some friends in town this past weekend and we decided to do some serious Cantonese - it was a toss-up between Ping's (more cheffy / creative) and Fuleen (more traditional, more esoteric proteins) and we wound up deciding on the latter. It had been awhile since I'd really had a big meal there - I've popped in now and then, just myself and my gf, but as with many Chinese restaurants it's best experienced with a group since everything is served family-sized. We ordered a LOT, and with a couple exceptions, everything was top-notch. Our feast:

Geoduck Two Ways: as usual, it was wonderful. Only a few others do this dish in Chinatown and Fuleen's is consistently the best. Simply prepared - first a pile of thin strips of "tail" raw on ice, beautifully briny and sweet, with a nice toothsome chew, and soy and wasabi for dipping if you so desired - I prefer it unadulturated. Second, chunks of fried belly meat - again, very simple. Just a pile of some of the best clam fritters you'll find in NYC. The prices go up and down for geoduck, this past weekend it was $70, a bit higher than the last time I'd ordered it (IIRC it was in the $50-$60 neighborhood a year or so ago). But given that you'd pay around the same, if not more, for an equal amount of Mirugai sashimi (and without any fritters, even!) it's a relative bargain, really.

Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves: bright, tasty, simple. Nothing to complain about here.

Water Spinach w/ Bean Curd Sauce: one of the better renditions of this dish in Chinatown, I find. The funky fermented flavor of the dou fu ru (fermented bean curd) comes through, but doesn't overpower. It's mild enough for those who normally wouldn't dig it, but present enough for those of us who can't get enough of the stuff. Delish, this is one of my always-order dishes there.

Steamed Flounder w/ Ginger & Scallion: a soild rendition of this dish. Fish was good and fresh, the sauce not as sweet as some others I've had.

Sauteed Conch & Scallops: among the best conch I've had in the city. Tender yet meaty, perfect texture, really delicious. The sauce wasn't terribly assertive - in fact, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what was even in it - so while the seafood really shone, it could have used a touch of something. Maybe a (tiny) bit of vinegar or ginger just to brighten it a little. They also do an all-conch version of the same dish for the same price, which is probably what I'll get next time. The scallops were good, mind you, just not as exciting as the conch.

Lobster(s) with XO Sauce: I make my own XO at home, so I have a hard time with most restaurant's XO Sauces. It's not a question of mine being better, per se - since there's no "real" recipe for XO Sauce, every place does it differently, and there's really no knowing what you're in for. Ping's makes it with dried squid (I think), shrimp and chilies in an oil base, but no ham that I could taste. At Fuleen it was a thicker affair, not as oily - and because it was somewhat homogenous in texture, one really couldn't tell what was in it. It tasted of dried shrimp and perhaps a bit of ham, ginger, and garlic - not bad, just not the way I make it. It was tasty, though - and you can't beat those great Chinatown lobster prices! Two bugs for $28.

Shredded Squid, Chili Style: the only dud of the evening, but that's partly because I had wanted un-fried squid, and this turned out to be a fairly typical breaded/fried dish. It was shredded into "squid fries" as we kept calling them. They were tasty enough at first, if nothing special, but as soon as they stopped being hot they congealed a bit and lost their crunch. Flavor-wise, meh. Tasted more of batter than squid, really. Not particularly spicy either, for something called Chili Style.

Crispy Black Jellyfish: One doesn't think of Jellyfish as "Crispy" looking at them, but here they were, almost cabbage-like as one of my companions noted. In a simple sesame / sou sauce, these were quite good - but not for everyone. I wouldn't order them every time, but we had a few adventurous eaters at the table, so it was worth it.

Salted Fish, Diced Chicken & Bean Curd Casserole: A great cold-weather dish, though I like the version at Congee Village (of all places) better, as it seems to have a bit more of the salted fish flavor. But then there are others who might prefer this slightly milder version. I like the version that replaces curd with eggplant, as well, but that one tends to be a bit mushy, and really needs a bowl of rice to sop up the juices.

Preserved Duck & Taro Casserole: Also a great winter warmer, this one throws people at first since the Taro is the main focus and the duck is really just used to flavor it. It was good this time, though a bit soupier (with floating chunks of taro and duck) than previous times I've had the same dish here. Could just be the taro broke down a bit more. But texture aside, the flavor is wonderful. Big fan of this dish.

I think that's everything... though I'm sure I'm forgetting a dish (or two...)

Anyway, great as always. Was good to have a group to dine with since certain dishes (like the geoduck) just aren't feasible with anything smaller than a four-top. Fuleen is often overlooked, partly because of their out-of-the-way location - the Chinese spots East of Bowery tend to stay off a lot of people's radar - but they're worth a trip for sure. One of the few seafood specialty places that I find does land meats particularly well, as well. At $45/pp (including the tax & tip) it's a little higher than the Chinatown average, except maybe places like Oriental Garden & Ping's, but a steal for the amount of food we got, even with the one expensive splurge item.

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Congee Village
100 Allen St, New York, NY 10002

Fuleen
11 Division St, New York, NY 10002

Oriental Garden
14 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

Ping's
22 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

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