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Sunday, February 6, 2005
Exert the power of
Set menus at Chinese restaurants are supposed to be an expedient, cost-effective way to dine. Feed four for $24! Six for 36! Something like that.
The set price for four dishes plus a choice of one lobster or crab dish for $49.95. Dishes are individually priced from $6.95 to $8.95, so, doing some quick math, I figured four dishes would not add up to $40. I asked about the cost of crab or lobster and was told it was $11.95. Doing the math later, I figured that if I had gone the a la carte route, the meal would have cost $43.90, saving us about $6, but I hadn't factored in the soup and tapioca dessert also included with the meal. So, there's not a lot of cost savings, but you won't be spending extra, either.
Think of the challenge of the set menu as a learning experience, a chance to explore dishes you might not otherwise sample. On my own I'd probably order such tried-and-true favorites as salt-pepper shrimp ($9.95), steamed seabass ($8.95) and clams with black beans ($8.95). Without these fallbacks, I settled for a taro chicken casserole ($8.25) that was a pleasant surprise. Borrowing from Thai cooking, the sauce featured a touch of coconut milk, adding to the creaminess of the taro, which was cut into Spam-like slices. Chicken was chopped into bite-size pieces, although diners are forced to gnaw around pieces of bone. Slices of lup cheong, the oily Chinese sausage, round out the dish.
Because of the New Year, we added jai (monk's food, $7.50) to our list. The vegetarian dish of bean thread noodles (representing long life), fried tofu (house blessings), carrots (wealth), gingko nuts (silver ingots), black mushrooms (spring and opportunity), tree ear fungus (longevity) and other greens, was mellow, without as much of the pungency associated with fermented beancurd used in the dish. Traditionalists may miss the flavor, but younger Chinese and non-Chinese may prefer this lighter version.
A light touch was also employed with the walnuts on the honey-walnut shrimp ($9.95), ordered off the regular menu. The dry, toasty nuts proved more popular at our table than the shrimp.
From the austere jai, we followed with the decadence of lobster in a basil and black bean sauce. As we expected, the basil was negligible, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the lobster.
And the last of our four picks was the mysterious "dry oyster" with long rice casserole ($7.95). As we searched the dish for any trace of oysters, we realized, to our disappointment, that "oyster" was just a shortcut for oyster mushrooms. The dish was good, but too similar to jai to share the same table.
In spite of such a mistake, anyone would have left Fook Lam feeling lucky to have been able to enjoy such a meal.
Celebratory meals for 10 run $168 to $328 at Fook Lam. For extreme decadence, Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant at the Ala Moana Hotel is offering an Emperor's Dinner for 10 for $2,000.
|very good, exceeds expectations;|
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