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F.A.N. Authentic Chinese Cuisine review: Deer Park restaurant offers real Sichuan cooking

F.A.N.'s owner, Tenny Lo, shows us how to make dry-braised calamari: deep-fried chunks of squid tossed with slices of lotus root and potato, red onion and lots of red chili peppers and spicy-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

F.A.N. Authentic Chinese Cuisine

534 Commack Rd., Deer Park, 631-586-6888, www.fanchinesefood.com

COST: $$

SERVICE: Attentive and solicitous

AMBIENCE: Bright and spiffy

ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday noon to 9:30 p.m; wheelchair accessible (though restroom may be partially blocked); parking lot

Used to be, a sighting of cumin lamb or dan dan noodles would have me leaping into my car and speeding to the restaurant in question. But now, regional Chinese eateries are popping up on Long Island like wood ear mushrooms after a rainstorm. It’s not just in the Stony Brook area, where thousands of Chinese university students provide a ready-made local clientele, but in points west such as Great Neck (Kitchen Melody), Franklin Square (Cheng Du), Syosset (Zou Ji) and Deer Park, where F.A.N. Authentic Chinese Cuisine opened in August.

F.A.N.’s owner Tenny Lo, a college student who grew up in Syosset, was overseeing the construction of a new family home in Dix Hills and found that neither he nor the Chinese construction crew could countenance any of the local Chinese takeout options. The business major decided to go into business. He took over the modest, strip-mall storefront, formerly Iron Chef, and transformed it into a destination restaurant. It’s a neat, bright spot, with white walls and tabletops, black chairs and charming decorative accents such as little animals made from colorful napkins that look down from a ledge behind the booths. The servers are every bit as endearing.

While Lo’s family is from the city of Tianjin, about 70 miles southeast of Beijing, his kitchen is largely Sichuan, with some interlopers from Taiwan, Shanghai and the American suburbs. The menu can be a challenge to navigate because the categories — appetizers, noodles, soups, rice, poultry/pork/beef/lamb/seafood, steamed dishes, vegetables, authentic Sichuan dishes, chef specials and spicy pot — all overlap. Noodles in chili sauce (dan dan noodles), for example, was found among the hot appetizers; pea sprouts in house special soup was listed in the chef’s specials.

The safest strategy here is to read every page, and I’m glad I did because I would not have wanted to miss that extraordinary soup whose rich chicken-pork broth was milky with an emulsion of salted duck eggs and sesame and olive oils (a preparation called “golden sand,” which features in a number of other dishes on the menu). The soup was lavishly topped with snow-pea leaves and loaded with flavor-bombing wedges of both salted and smoked duck eggs and little red goji berries.

Tamer but no less satisfying was the West Lake soup, a specialty of Hangzhou that can be bland but here was a symphony of savory solace with its tender crumbles of beef with gently scrambled egg whites.

I’d pass on the soup dumplings (blah) in favor of the wontons in chili oil topped with lots of scallions and sesame seeds, or the steamed pork dumplings, whose filling seemed to be all sweet pork, no filler. I wasn’t wowed by either the dan dan noodles (somehow spicy and watery at the same time) or the Beijing-style noodles with soy bean paste, but I found out later, when complaining (politely) about the noodles themselves that they were gluten free. So, if you’re looking for gluten-free dan dan noodles, your ship has come in.

I’m going to urge adventurous diners to order the appetizer of surf clams with green Chinese mustard. It looked benign enough, rosy-tongued clams (common at sushi bars) intermingled with cucumber slices and napped with a green sauce I assumed was made from Chinese mustard greens. My pal and I both took big bites, looked at each other first in shock, then in tears and, finally, in laughter, as we realized we had both been well and truly walloped by sinus-searing wasabi.

After that, none of the Sichuan entrees seemed terribly spicy. Our favorite was the dry-braised calamari: deep-fried chunks of squid tossed with slices of lotus root and potato, red onion and lots of red chili peppers and spicy-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. But cumin lamb was a disappointment, with no verve or punch.

If spicy isn’t your thing — and even if it is — don’t miss the green scallion sauce egg fried rice, a shockingly verdant heap of tender rice flecked with egg.

There’s no alcohol at F.A.N., but tea service is several cuts above usual. “Regular” tea, served for free, is loose-leaf green served in an iron pot. You can also order one of six special teas such as aged pu’er, Longjing green or Fujian white for $6.95.

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