Edit: 2007-08-14 9:35pm
Click here to read my review of how Furiwa's catering service performed on our wedding day.)
You know that scene from the Incredibles where Mr. Incredible goes to visit E and her first comment to him is, "My God you're gotten fat!" My scale and I had one of those moments yesterday morning when I weighed-in and I discovered that I'd gained seven pounds since the start of the month; not a good thing. It didn't take long for me to realize that my recent foray into the delightfully delicious world of food blogging was the culprit. Over the past two months I've published 11 articles and amassed pictures and data for 35 more; a fairly obvious case of supply outstripping demand.
With a body that's highly efficient at converting food -> energy -> stored energy a.k.a. fat, and a passion for food, I've struggled with my weight my entire life. So unwanted weight gain of around five pounds is fairly familiar to me. I know exactly how to resolve it; resume counting calories, diet healthily, and increase the amount of exercise I take. By this time next month, I'll be back to normal. I know what I need to do. I've done it before, and it's fairly easy for me once I get started. So why oh I did the day my scale gave me a rude awakening also have to be the day I was supposed to do a menu tasting for my wedding banquet next year?
Furiwa Seafood Restaurant lies in the heavily Vietnamese belt that runs along the border of Huntington Beach, spanning the cities of Westminster and Garden Grove. In addition to its excellent pho and bahn mi shops, this area is also known for some of the best Cantonese cuisine restaurants in Orange County. Furiwa itself is a relative unknown, having garnered very little attention from the Chowhound community in North OC. Cat and I were turned on to it by the catering manager for our wedding site. Furiwa came highly recommended as a licensed and bonded wedding caterer, and was one of the few restaurants the hotel would permit on its grounds. It was also the only hotel-approved vendor that served Chinese-style wedding banquets. Hey, it pays to be the only game in town.
On the plus side, due to its unique relationship with the hotel, Furiwa is allowed to bring its own wok burners and fryers to set up in the hotel's kitchen. They hook their wok burners directly into the hotel's main gas line, thus allowing them to prepare and serve restaurant quality food in a banquet setting the way is was meant to be served; hot out of the wok, one or two dishes at a time, using just-in-time delivery. This will hopefully result in higher quality food than might be supplied by a vendor required to transport the finished product to the wedding site and reheat it.
Since Cat and I both work in the part of Huntington Beach bordering Westminster, Garden Grove, and Fountain Valley, Furiwa is ridiculously convenient for us. Cat and I already stopped by for an undercover preliminary tasting last month. Last night’s visit was with Cat's parents to finalize the menu.
We arrived at the restaurant at around 6:50pm. The first thing I noticed was the lack of clientele. At prime dinner time on a Friday night, there were only two occupied tables in a dining area large enough to seat hundreds. I had noticed the same low number of guests the last time Cat and I had visited, but had hoped it was just a fluke. Still, since we were doing a tasting for a catered event, it was all about the food.
While the exterior of the restaurant is a little run down, much like the strip mall that hosts it, the interior is actually fairly posh, with lacquered wood furniture, white linen tablecloths, and monogrammed china. Of course, the restaurant has obviously seen better days. An area along the back wall is being used as a storage area for extra tables, chairs, ladders, maintenance supplies, etc. The carpet and wall decorations are tasteful, but have clearly been around for a while. The wait staff's uniforms are clean, but visibly worn. The linens are also very clean, but not exactly fresh or new. In terms of its decor, Furiwa isn't a first-class Cantonese restaurant by any stretch. However, it observes enough of the niceties that I would consider it a top, mid-scale dining locale.
The service at Furiwa was quite good. The wait staff was fast and efficient, and did a great job of making sure dishes were cleared away and leftovers were packed up. At one point, my water glass remained empty for over half an hour. However, that's a quirk of service at most Chinese restaurants. You rarely get more water unless you ask for it. The teapot, on the other hand, was always full.
The catering staff was far less acceptable. While we were about twenty minutes late to our tasting appointment (we called ahead and let them know we were running behind schedule), the lady with whom we'd made the tasting appointment hadn't gotten there by the time we were seated. We were told that she was with another client and was running late. A little while later, her assistant, a young woman named Anne, came out and explained that she would be helping us with the tasting in place of her boss.
Things were fine as we began discussing the wedding menus Furiwa normally offers and choosing substitutions for some of the dishes. The sticky point came when I asked if we could substitute a beef dish in lieu of the Honey Walnut Shrimp. Anne responded by telling me about how special their Honey Walnut Shrimp was compared to others. I said that I understood that, but that there was at least one wedding guest who was deathly allergic to shellfish, and a few others who didn't eat seafood. Anne countered by telling me that Chinese wedding banquets were all about the ultimate luxury food, seafood, and that people who ordered Chinese wedding banquets understood this. I told her that since close to 80% of the wedding guests were going to be Caucasian, and since the comfort of our guests was our primary concern, we needed to make sure there were at least a few dishes which would satisfy people with different dietary considerations. At this point, every dish we had on the menu so far contained some form of seafood, shellfish, or shellfish product.
Things rapidly deteriorated from there. I, thinking of the wedding guests, insisted on including non-seafood dishes. Anne stubbornly insisted that things weren't done this way, and seemed particularly fixated on getting the Honey Walnut Shrimp onto the menu. She was also unwilling to remove any of the restaurant's signature dishes from our wedding menu. I finally lost my temper and told her to get the manager, Ken, whom I'd met and exchanged business cards with the last time I'd visited the restaurant. Once Ken arrived, a quick exchange in Cantonese and Mandarin (which Anne didn't speak) settled the issue. Our tasting would include the Honey Walnut Shrimp, a beef dish, and a chicken dish so that we could decide which we'd rather have. Ken handled our tasting from that point forward and was efficient, courteous, and utterly professional. I realize that from Anne's point of view, I was probably being a difficult customer. However, I wanted to make sure certain friends and family (from both Cat's side of the aisle and my own) had things they could eat at our wedding!
Enough with the drama, on to the food!
We started off with this Seven Star Appetizer Platter, which looked a lot prettier before we started taking it apart. We were so hungry at that point that by the time I realized I hadn't taken a photo of it yet, everyone was already on their second helping! The platter consisted of the following "delicacies".
- Cuttlefish marinated in a spicy chili sauce - Tart and spicy, this was one of my favorite items. The cuttlefish slices were nice and tender. The marinade was just sweet enough to counter the heat of the chili sauce without being cloying.
- Jellyfish marinated in a sweet and sour vinaigrette - The strips of jellyfish were appropriately crunchy. The vinaigrette, made with rice wine vinegar and sugar, was quite refreshing, if a little stronger than I would have preferred.
- Bamboo clams in a Chinese mustard sauce - Another favorite of mine from this platter. The clams were firm, yet soft and easy to chew. The sauce was probably one of the best Chinese mustard-based sauces I've had. Mayonnaise had been used to soften the impact of the peppery mustard while adding subtle flavor.
- Ham sausage - Made with seasoned pork that had been whipped into a paste and steamed, the texture was similar to Spam. I wasn't particularly impressed by this dish. Since it was resting on a mound of Chinese pickled vegetables, the subtle flavors of the ham sausage were completely overwhelmed by the sweet and sour flavor of the pickles.
- Chicken sausage - Similar to the ham sausage above, this dish was made with seasoned chicken meat which had been whipped into a paste and steamed. Once again, the flavors of the meat were drowned out by the pickled vegetables, although I could taste the faint presence of the chicken as it struggled to be heard.
- Head Cheese - Some sort of meat suspended in aspic and thinly sliced. From the looks of it, pork and pig ears were involved. I was told by Ken that there were also pickled oysters in there. If the pickled vegetables hadn't so successfully overwhelmed the flavors of the cold cuts, I might have been able to deconstruct the item better by taste.
- Shrimp - Not pictured since they'd all been eaten at that point. This was probably my least favorite item. The poached shrimp had a rubbery, chewy texture and were completely covered by a sweetened mayonnaise. Like the cold cuts, they suffered from being paired with the pickled vegetables.
As part of the fairly impressive presentation of the plate, the cold cuts and shrimp were displayed as part of a dome tureen with pickled vegetables in the center. From the flavor, I could tell the tureen had been prepared well in advance. As such, the juices from the vegetables had been fully absorbed by the meat, resulting in overwhelmed flavors and funny textures. I would have preferred to have tasted fresher preparations of these items. The general consensus at the table was that while the presentation had impact and the items were novel, the platter was probably too adventurous for a number of the guests. Furthermore, I wasn't fully satisfied with the quality of the tureen in the center. We decided to replace this platter with a Chinese barbecued meat platter that would accommodate our less adventurous guests, guests with food allergies, and guests who didn't like seafood.
Next up was a Crabmeat with Asparagus Soup. Large chunks of crabmeat were simmered in a thick, gentle seafood broth with pieces of tender, peeled asparagus stems. Beaten egg whites had been swirled in the hot soup to add additional texture and flavor. This soup has an instant hit with everyone at the table. However, it had some competition.
This thick and luxurious Fish Maw Soup was made using a deep-fried fish head, which had been simmered in a soy-based broth to make the soup. The head had been removed before serving, but small pieces of the batter and thin shreds of fish meat filled the soup, adding flavor and texture. It was a tough call.
The base menu set that we were working off of offered a Shark Fin soup, which hadn't particularly impressed me when I'd had it during my last visit. These two soups were our replacement options. Cat's mother really liked the Fish Maw Soup, which both Cat's father and I also liked. However, Cat strongly preferred the Crabmeat with Asparagus Soup to the Fish Maw Soup. Her father and I both agreed that the Crabmeat with Asparagus Soup was slightly better and would appeal to a greater number of guests. Crabmeat with Asparagus Soup was added to our menu, but I highly recommend both soups to anyone who visits the restaurant. Stay away from the Shark Fin Soup.
After the soups, we moved on to the contentious Honey Walnut Shrimp. It was very good, no doubt about it. The shrimp were battered, fried, and lightly coated in a sauce made using honey, mayonnaise, and orange juice, so they were nicely crunchy. The walnuts were crunchy as well, with a thin layer of caramelized sugar and sesame seeds that blended well with the bitterness of the walnuts, helping to cut the richness of the shrimp. The overall effect was very balanced.
Cat's father was very impressed by the shrimp. I also thought the dish was very good, but not much different from other Honey Walnut Shrimp dishes I'd had in the past. I still couldn't understand why Anne had been so insistent that we have this on the menu. Cat and her mother had no strong opinions either way. Since Cat's father liked the shrimp so much, the dish was added to our menu.
This French-style Crispy Beef was my dish of choice for our more terrestrially inclined and seafood challenged guests. Pieces of marinated filet mignon were diced, floured, and flash fried before being tossed in a sauce made with soy sauce, butter, course ground pepper, and other spices. The resulting dish combined the tastes and textures of a well prepared French filet mignon with a distinctly Cantonese flare. While Chinese chefs are known for being able to transform tough cuts of meat into delicious food, what they can do with high quality ingredients can be absolutely extraordinary. The dish was a hit and was added to the menu by universal agreement. As far as I'm concerned, this is a must-have dish at Furiwa, and one that I'll probably return time and time again to sample.
As an alternative to the French-style Crispy Beef or Honey Walnut Shrimp, Ken suggested that this Orange Peel Chicken might appeal to larger number of the Caucasian guests. The chicken was quite good, and similar to one of Cat's favorite dishes from the Red Onion Cafe, albeit of higher quality. Floured pieces of chicken were deep fried, then tossed in a mild sweet and spicy sauce made with Chinese fermented orange peels. But, no matter how well made it was, Orange Chicken was still Orange Chicken, and we felt that it would be too reminiscent of steam table Chinese takeout. Don't get me wrong. Comparing Furiwa's Orange Peel Chicken to the Orange Chicken offered by say Panda Express would be like comparing a Honda Civic to a Lexus LS; they're both cars but what a difference. Still, not quite the flavor we were looking for in our wedding menu.
Since we were considering dishes without seafood, Ken had this tasty dish brought out to us. An entire duck had been butter-flied, de-boned, breaded with panko crumbs, and deep fried. Served with steamed buns and a sweet and sour duck sauce, it captured the heart of Cat's mother. I liked it as well, although I couldn't help thinking of it as a giant duck katsu and imagining it with curry sauce and rice. My only complaints were that the duck meat was a little dry, that the skin had been removed, and that frying process had rendered out most of the tasty fat. Still, enough excellent duck flavor remained in the meat to satisfy me. Cat was not particularly enamored with the dish. Cat's father thought it was good, but not wedding menu good, and I agreed. The dish wasn't selected for our wedding menu.
The last dish we tried was Cat's personal favorite, and her dish of choice for the wedding menu; Crispy Boneless Chicken with Shrimp Paste. An entire chicken was butter-flied, de-boned, and coated with seasoned shrimp paste. The skin side was seasoned while the shrimp paste side was breaded with panko. The whole thing was then deep fried, sliced, and served. Plain, the chicken was awesome, with crispy skin, a gentle, complex flavor, and a springy texture from the shrimp paste. With either of the two condiments provided, sweet and sour duck sauce or course ground pepper, salt, and lemon, the dish was amazing. For us, it was a shoo-in. Cat's parents liked it as well, although her mother seemed a little disappointed that we weren't going with the duck. This is Cat's must-have dish at Furiwa. Whenever I go to sample the French-style Crispy Beef, I'm sure she'll be ordering the Crispy Boneless Chicken with Shrimp Paste.
Furiwa is an excellent restaurant. I must say that after tasting the food, I'm even more surprised at how empty it was on a Friday night. In my opinion, its cuisine is being overlooked in favor of, and overshadowed by, some of the better known restaurants in the area. The service from the manager and the wait staff was superb and the food was wonderful. The prices were highly competitive. The average dish on the regular dinner menu was around $12-$15, and the labor-intensive Crispy Boneless Chicken with Shrimp Paste was only around $20. I would recommend Furiwa for anyone looking for high-class Cantonese cuisine at a reasonable price. It's not the best Cantonese food I've ever had, but for it’s certainly one of the best I've ever had with that price point, creativeness, and flavor. It deserves some Chowhound consideration. Have dinner there and order the French-style Crispy Beef and the Crispy Boneless Chicken with Shrimp Paste. I guarantee you'll love it.
Since we were doing a wedding tasting, we were dealing with a lot of half orders and whatnot, so the bill I paid at the end of the evening wasn't indicative of their standard prices. Just expect to pay around $12-15 per dish for dinner, and around $20 for their more intricate items. Here's what we ended up selecting for our wedding menu:
- Five Star Appetizer Platter
- Crabmeat with Asparagus Soup
- Candied Walnut Shrimp and Shrimp Balls
- French-style Crispy Beef
- Crispy Boneless Chicken with Shrimp Paste
- Whole Steamed Fish
- Yang Chow Fried Rice
- Sliced Oranges
For a dinner party of four, I would recommend:
- Crabmeat with Asparagus Soup or Fish Maw Soup
- French-style Crispy Beef
- Crispy Boneless Chicken with Shrimp Paste
- Pan Fried Whole Scallops
Flavor: A- (They lost some points for the tureen in the Seven Star Platter)
Ambience: B+ (As mentioned before, the restaurant has seen better days)
Service: A (I'm ignoring the behavior of the catering associates. One no show and one more interested in having her way than in making customers with a several thousand dollar event account happy does not equal good service in my book. I'll post a follow-up article next year with pictures of the food from our wedding and a critique of how the catering staff handles the event. We'll see how they do then.)
ROI: B+ (In the middle range, but cheap when compared to the amount and quality of the dishes provided.)
Furiwa Seafood Restaurant
13826 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Edit: 2007-08-14 9:35pm
Read the review of my experience with Furiwa's wedding catering service: Furiwa Seafood Restaurant (Wedding Catering) - Garden Grove, CA [Eating]