New Fu Run
50 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-708-1888, furunrestaurant.com
SERVICE: Solicitous, knowledgeable and, for the most part, able to bridge any cultural gaps
AMBIENCE: Spotless and elegant upgrade of suburban Chinese
ESSENTIALS: Open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wheelchair accessible, takeout available, full bar, parking lot around back.
You could enjoy a perfectly pleasant meal of hot and sour soup, shrimp with broccoli and pork fried rice at New Fu Run in Great Neck.
But that would be a waste of appetite.
This sparkling, 2-month-old satellite of Flushing’s Fu Run (est. 2005) specializes in the cuisine of China’s Dongbei region, the northeasternmost area that used to be called Manchuria. Diners used to the standard Chinese-American repertoire will find the food gutsier and heartier than Cantonese, less incendiary than Sichuan. The kitchen makes lavish use of cumin, star anise and licorice root — not to mention fermented cabbage, potatoes and lots of animal body parts.
There are comparably authentic Chinese restaurants on Long Island — most of them centered around Stony Brook — but what distinguishes New Fu Run is that it aims to serve diners of all backgrounds.
Owner Tina Zhang, who moved to Manhasset a few years back, is part of a larger migration of Chinese immigrants from Queens to Nassau. “I know a lot of people on Long Island — Chinese and American,” she said, “who would love to eat authentic Chinese food without having to travel to the city.”
New Fu Run’s first advantage over Flushing is parking: A municipal parking lot is right out back and there is an entrance from it directly into the restaurant. The spotless dining room is elegantly appointed with a modern décor that features both traditional red Chinese lanterns and an opulent crystal chandelier. The glossy menu shows photographs of most of the dishes, and the well-informed, English-speaking servers wear earpieces (like Secret Service agents) to communicate any allergies or preferences directly to the kitchen.
Start your meal with one of the many cold appetizers. I’m currently stuck on country-style beef with cucumber, thin slices of shank that have a pleasing crunchy-chewy texture and are brightened with chunks of cucumber and lots of fresh cilantro.
My preferred way of figuring out what to order in a Chinese restaurant is to follow the lead of the Chinese-speaking customers sitting near me. That’s how I came upon the stew cabbage with pork and vermicelli. Turns out sauerkraut is a Dongbei staple. Here it is combined with slivers of pork, cellophane noodles and airy cubes of fried tofu in a hearty, appealingly tart soup served in a gleaming porcelain tureen.
Another showstopper that adorned most of the tables was stew mixed fish with homestyle cookies whose “cookies” are golden cornmeal cakes baked right onto the rim of an enormous black wok. In the wok’s well: small yellow croakers in an aromatic brown broth scented with whole star anise and scallions. Our server warned us (repeatedly) that the fish had bones, but they were cooked so perfectly the fillets lifted right off.
We took a Cantonese seafood detour with a mean salt-and-pepper shrimp, big head-on ones that have been dusted with cornstarch before being flash-fried and showered with salt, pepper and flecks of fried garlic. The shells are delicate enough to eat.
New Fu Run’s signature dish is cumin lamb chop, a rack of lamb ribs that hasn’t been seasoned so much as overwhelmed by cumin: The ribs are blanketed with a thick crust of cumin and black sesame seeds and your hands are the only means of conveying them to your mouth. As much as I liked this dish, it provoked a complaint I don’t think I’ve ever had in a Chinese restaurant: It needed more salt to bring it to life.
Lack of salt also marred the braised pork joint, an otherwise flawless hunk of shoulder that put me in mind of an exotic pot roast.
Another misstep: Noodles with minced meat sauce featured a deep, dark sauce of meat with fermented soy, nicely offset by cooling batons of cucumber, but the noodles were overcooked.
Potatoes are a staple in China’s Northeast, and they are featured all over New Fu Run’s menu. Don’t miss the triple delight vegetables, a salty-sweet stir fry of potatoes, eggplant and red and green peppers, each one perfectly cooked and slicked in a salty-sweet soy-based sauce.
After three visits to New Fu Run I’ve only begun to plumb the riches of the immense menu — and I have yet to convince the wait staff that I truly like bones, heads and organ meat. It’s going to take a lot more eating, but rest assured: I am up for the challenge.