alanr and I have been meaning to get over to FuLoon for a while after reading limster's raves about the place. We finally found ourselves needing dinner and with enough time to make it there and back tonight. Very glad we did -- as limster says, I think there's a new reigning champion in town.
The restaurant is in the middle of Malden Center stuck between a wig shop and a batch of nondescript strip malls. It looks like a typical suburban Chinese-American take-out joint except that all the people eating there were chatting in Mandarin. Seating is also Chinese-American suburbia classic, though with the curious touch of each stall having a painting of a Chinese zodiac animal overhead (oddly enough, I was seated at my zodiac year). Also curious that the Chinese name of the restaurant (Rui4-fu4 jiu3-jia1) is not the same as the English name (Fu-loon). This is common in Chinese restaurants, but a little odd that a Chinese transliteration doesn't match up with the characters.
There were only two of us, so we limited ourselves to four dishes and a starter (and managed to eat our way into considerable pain). I stuck mostly to the chef's special menu, which interestingly is paired with a picture book menu with elaborate descriptions of the cooking methods in simplified Chinese characters and Chinese and English names for each of the dishes. The FuLoon JingDu Pork Pancake (Rui-fu jing-du rou-bing, #19 on the take-out menu) came out last (as the Peking ravioli do at Qingdao Garden; guess they take the longest to make), but were worth the wait. The dish struck me as being like a good Peking ravioli pork filling stuffed into a scallion pancake. Dipped in vinegar. Yum.
We had some sort of variant on diced pepper chicken (I ordered ge-le-shan la-zi ji, #10, but wound up with a variant where the chicken was fileted and did not have bone chunks in them). This was quite good - little chunks of fried chicken served up in a mix of chiiles, ground up chiles and Sichuan peppercorns that is very reminiscent of the Chongqing la-zi ji that I keep gushing about at Sichuan Garden. I think SG has the slight edge in terms of bigger, tastier chunks of chicken and Sichuan peppercorns that deliver more numbing along with the citrus, but this was quite good. The boiled beef (Steamed Beef, Szechuan Style, si-chuan shui-zhu niu, #11) came out in a giant soup bowl, swimming in more of the ground chiles recognizable from the pepper chicken. But in addition to the heat, the nice mix of vegetables and the beef, we picked up on some other flavorings not always found in this dish - possibly even a shot of vinegar? - which gave this a depth that we were not accustomed to. That and heat to spare, bringing us back to the glory days of New Taste of Asia.
I skipped the ma-po doufu (being somewhat leery of anything that was on the Chinese-American part of the menu) and opted instead for "bean curd with special sauce" (Sichuan dou-fu hua, #18). This came out looking like my first few experiments at making real ma-po doufu with silken bean curd -- I could never keep the cubes of bean curd intact. These guys simply chose to take it to its logical extreme and grind up the bean curd until it's practically part of the sauce. Very tasty in any event, with a strong hint of black bean paste and some shredded peanuts on top. Odd that this one, also fairly intense on the chili sauce, was our break in the spice action, but there you have it. The vegetable was pine nuts with sweet corn (song-ren yu-mi, #16). Had a few sweet vegetables in it (also chunks of carrot) but the resulting dish was surprisingly not sickeningly sweet. Quite good actually, and a welcome break from the heat barrage. We couldn't manage dessert, which is a pity because they have a few of my old favorites, including tang-yuan (sesame sweet rice balls) and sweet crispy fruit (ba-si shui-guo). Will have to post more when I get back there.
Our total meal, which left two of us ready to explode and probably could have fed four or five pretty handily, added up to $75 after three beers (though the beer selection could stand some improvement, between Coors, Heineken, Bud and Tsingtao). I'm really excited to go back and try some of the other regional specialties and a batch of stuff I've never seen on a menu in the states before. It's a pity Malden Center isn't particularly convenient to anything in my life, but I"ll have to start making the trek out of my way to get there!