Sometime early in 2020, Fu Run (sometimes styling itself Fu Ran) closed up shop on Prince Street in Flushing. For the previous 10 years it had been the city’s go-to place for Chinese food from Dongbei, three provinces in northeastern China next to North Korea once known as Manchuria. The food in that corner of the country shows all sorts of outside influences due to its early industrialization, but once transplanted to Queens, several dishes stood out. Most prominent was a monster rack of ghastly red lamb ribs paved thick with cumin seeds; a casserole of toasted pine nuts and baby corn; and pork with spongy tofu and sour cabbage, the latter bearing a powerful ingredient resemblance to sauerkraut.
Unbeknownst to many of its adoring fans, owner Tina Zhang had opened another branch of Fu Run, called New Fu Run, at 50 Middle Neck Road, near Grace Street in 2017, among the placid, curving streets of downtown Great Neck. Right across the Queens border, that branch is still very much open.
While eight years ago, NYC had a bumper crop of restaurants from northeastern China, fewer remain today. Accordingly, some friends and I jumped in the car this past Sunday evening and eagerly headed for Long Island.
The newer version of Fu Run is quite a contrast to the more plain and proletarian original back on Prince Street. Elaborate chandeliers hang from the ceiling of a deep, wide, space with gray banquettes along one wall. Mahogany trim and beams zigzag around the room, while Chinese ink drawings of stampeding horses and undulant goldfish grace the walls. A bar dispenses wine and beer.
While rice is a staple of southern China, wheat dominates the north; one of its signature manifestations is scallion pancakes ($11). These are not the small dense pancakes seen in neighborhood Chinese restaurants, but big puffy brown seat cushions, so light they almost float off the plate. These were followed by the amazing tiger salad ($11), with not a lettuce leaf in sight. In fact, the salad was a haystack of fresh herbs lightly dressed layered with slivers of green chiles.
One of the tentpoles of Dongbei cooking was about to arrive, listed as country style green bean sheet jelly, ($15) that’s really the only appetizer you’ll ever need at Fu Run: It’s a pinwheel of julienned vegetables on a heap of greenish translucent pappardelle made with mung beans, the namesake green beans of the title. On top spreads a pool of thick nutty dressing, which turns out to be a cousin of tahini.
Further highlights of a wonderful meal included a bowl of buttery corn and pine nuts that made us feel like we were dining on an Iowa farmstead, and a dish of snow peas tossed with a garlicky sausage that tasted like kielbasa. Dumplings of pork and cabbage soon arrived, thick skinned like all northern dumplings are, chewy and delightful.
The best thing we ate was from the sweet-and-sour category — a series of dishes that were long ago adapted to Cantonese menus, but originating in the north. This one featured flounder with a crisp breading soaked with sugar and rice-wine vinegar, a dish often associated with Harbin, one of China’s northernmost cities. This version is more tart and less sweet than the Cantonese version I’m accustomed to. (Basically look under the fish section of the menu for one with a sweet and sour sauce.)
That said, the lamb ribs I remembered so vividly, then called Muslim lamb chops and $26 at the time, are now listed as lamb chops with cumin, and cost $38, which is still a good deal where quantity of lamb is concerned. On this occasion, the ribs were a bit dry, though the fried garlic and cumin-seed coating were as thick and fragrant as ever. But I wasn’t disappointed to find the bright red color of the bones gone. And I wouldn’t hesitate to order them again, but maybe not on a Sunday late in the evening as the traffic emptied out of downtown Great Neck, and it became a ghost town.