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Fan Tang: What’s not to like?
Thursday, 28 June 2012
Photos by Wes Naman
Fan Tang works to carve out a toehold in Nob Hill as the Asian-inspired restaurant approaches its one year anniversary
By Mike English
I can’t figure out why more people aren’t eating at Fan Tang.

The last time I dined at this Chinese-Asian fusion eatery — two weeks ago, for a 1p Friday lunch — two other customers sat in a corner booth. That’s it. Three of us. Staff outnumbered customers. That can’t be good for business, and I find it confusing, because I actually perceive the food and atmosphere at Fan Tang to be … good.
Sure, there’s the 66 percent approval rating from 256 reviewers at Urbanspoon, which is not exactly lighting it up. And for some reason there’s been a subtly negative buzz about Fan Tang since it opened in August 2011. Maybe it was the picketers who camped outside for the first six months, paid to be there by a local union that was ticked off about not being hired during construction.

But I’m going to trust my taste buds and the experience I’ve had eating at Fan Tang about eight times, and suggest you give it a try, or a retry.

You’ve probably seen the restaurant. It sits on a prominent Nob Hill corner at Central and Carlisle. It was the former Club Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, then, some purple-painted nightclub I can’t remember the name of, then Obama campaign headquarters, and then it sat empty for a long time. A car ran into it and a sheet of chipboard was tacked up to cover the hole.

ImageA warm neighborhood welcome greeted the news that a Chinese restaurant, owned and operated by the family behind Chow’s Asian Bistro on the Westside and in Santa Fe, was planned for the site. As the remodel took shape (designed by Lee Gamelsky Architects) and a derelict building was brought back to life, people felt good about it.

I think they still should. On my recent lunch I ordered my Fan Tang go-to dish, Coffee Chicken with Rice (your choice of white or brown, $9.95). This is chopped chicken breast rubbed with finely ground French roast coffee, then glazed and stir fried in a sweet and spicy sauce. It might not be the healthiest way to eat rice and chicken. The sauce is heavy and sweet, which is the tendency with many dishes at Fan Tang. But dang, it tastes good.

The same can be said for the Walnut Shrimp with Rice ($10.95). There’s no denying the tastiness of the breaded and fried shrimp, roasted and sugared walnuts and sweet cream sauce. And the Spicy Shrimp with Rice ($10.95), made in the Sichuan style of hot/sweet/sour/salty, is another bold, addictive meal.

These three plates I’ve just mentioned are the restaurant’s “signature” dishes, and set the tone for the flavors you’ll find at Fan Tang, which no one would call subtle or light. (I sometimes wonder if the conceptual/fusion style of the food at Fan Tang is a good fit for Nob Hill, where — stereotype alert — crunchy granola types prefer their ethnic food authentic, some might say).

ImageBut again, I can go down the list of dishes I’ve eaten at the restaurant, from Cashew Chicken ($8.95) to Orange Peel with Beef ($8.99) to Garlic Broccoli and Tofu ($8) to Pad Thai ($7.29), and there hasn’t been a dud yet. Even a standard appetizer like the Vietnamese Rolls ($3.95), with fat slices of fresh avocado tucked inside, stand out as above average.

The atmosphere is pleasant, too, with a clean, tidy combination of booths and small tables and patio seating options. Orders are taken at a counter in the spacious foyer, then delivered, often with remarkable speed, to your table.

Maybe the Carlisle intersection of Central is a challenging spot to draw diners, especially pedestrian diners. Maybe Fan Tang just needs to hang in there until Nob Hill spreads east, which is happening slowly but surely. Whatever the case, someone please explain it to me: What’s not to like about Fan Tang?

Fan Tang
3525 Central NE, 505.266.3566
11a-9p, Mon.-Thu.; 11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.;
Noon-9p, Sun.
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