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[whitespace] Daniel Wong
Fire and Spice: Daniel Wong shows off Fung Lum's Pacific lobster platter, one of the specialties at this high-end South Bay Chinese dining establishment.

Dynasty Dining

Fung Lum takes patrons far away, to another time and place

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

EVERY TIME I CROSS the threshold into Fung Lum--even for a quick take-out dinner--a mysterious experience unfolds. The South Bay disappears and I am in another time, perhaps 1000 years ago, stepping onto the carpets in the court of a Cantonese palace. Everywhere I look, I see lacy teakwood and handcarved tableaus, gilded cornices full of gold, and beautiful hanging lanterns. The sweet scent of teakwood perfumes the air, breathing life into opulent surroundings--impeccably maintained and polished to a shine.

Fung Lum is truly a great place to get away and take refuge from the treadmill of daily life. Don't rush through your meal here like you might do at some other Chinese restaurant. Spend time. Let the servers pamper you and they will go beyond the call of duty. Most of them have been on staff for many years--some since the beginning--and they understand the subtleties of elegant service. Best of all, they will remember your face on a return visit and offer warmth and friendship. They are also well-versed in the nuances of provincial Chinese cooking and will guide you to dishes that reflect the authentic flavors of their homeland.

Royal furnishings and other exotic visual pleasures may wrap this establishment in a stunning garment, but the central theme of excellence emanates from an unseen kitchen where well-trained chefs from China cook with the grace of sorcerers. From the very beginning (1975), when the Pang Family first brought Fung Lum to California, the kitchen has embraced the highest standards of cooking based on ancient techniques created by chefs who were also philosophers. Prepare your palate for dishes full of sensuous flavors and bright natural colors. Prepare for rich sauces reduced to glossy consistency by the use of heat--not by cornstarch or other thickening agents.

I have tasted nearly everything on the menu and have enjoyed just about all of the dishes I've been served. A Fung Lum specialty since 1950, and an ideal one to open a meal here, is the fried squab ($14)--crispy and delicate--or the tea smoked duck ($14), luscious and woody, crackling-skinned and cut, handy for the fingers. On our latest visit, we sampled Mu Shu pork ($9.50), assembled with the customary shredded pork and matchstick vegetables, in a light sauce with pancakes and hoisin sauce. Though we would have liked a more delicate pancake to wrap the goods in, we were satisfied nonetheless with the straight, natural flavors that came to life with swabs of the fruity hoisin.

If your palate swings to the sea, swim down the menu to the Seafood heading, where Fung Lum offers a large and specialized selection of Hong Kong-style dishes--many of which are made with tank-fresh fish and shellfish. I've had delicious steamed whole rock cod (seasonal price), clams with scallion and ginger, as well as with black bean sauce ($11.50), and most recently, plump boat-fresh prawns with sweet roasted pecans coated in a sauce of mayonnaise and condensed milk. An enduring favorite remains the steamed whole lobster in a clear broth fragrant with scallion and ginger. Ask David or Daniel Wong for that special sauce to spoon over the lush lobster meat. You can also have whole fresh crab, either salt-baked and lightly deep-fried with juices steamed into the meat, or cooked again with titillating scallion and ginger.

Some dishes have been adjusted for the American palate, but don't worry, the kitchen is prepared to cook them in the Chinese style if you ask them to. For example, chicken in black bean sauce ($11) is usually altered to include only the breast meat because, I was told, Americans don't like to fuss with bones (or shells for that matter). This is a reasonable adjustment, but not authentic to the style as it is served in China. When the meat is still attached to the bones the marrow deepens the sauce with richness, flavor and color. My guest and I liked it so much, we took to the remaining liquid with spoons--a bad habit learned from the French, who appoint tables with utensils designed specifically for this purpose.

Fung Lum does not fail to appeal to the vegetarian palate. They offer a select line of bean curd, egg, rice and noodle dishes. Braised bean curd ($8.50) in a clear sauce with mushrooms and tender greens is the house specialty. For something different, ask for salt-baked bean curd (off the menu) lightly deep-fried with scallions. Look closely and notice how the veneer of salt preserves the unique creaminess of the curd. One could easily get addicted to Fung Lum's version of Young Chow--known to some as Yangchow--fried rice ($6.75), tossed in the wok with bits of barbecued pork, shrimp, eggs and scallions.

My only disappointment this visit came at the end of the meal when I asked for crispy fried milk for dessert. Apparently not enough people order this exquisite confection, so it is no longer available.

When you come here, you must remember that Fung Lum is not your ordinary Chinese restaurant. The prices are higher and rightly so. This is a fine dining establishment, a white linen affair, where the chefs are trained professionals, where décor is beautiful and kept that way, where servers come to you as gracious hosts, where time is suspended. Fung Lum is an experience that appeals to diners who want to rest easy and eat well. When the occasion comes around--and I do mean occasion--take a seat amid the palatial trappings, smell the teakwood, and raise a glass to yourself. You deserve it!

Fung Lum
Address: 1815 Bascom Ave., Campbell
Phone: 408.377.6955
Hours: Lunch 11:30-2 daily; dinner 5-10 daily
Cuisine: Haute Chinese

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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