At Fan Fried Rice Bar, No Soy Sauce, Just Sublime Fried Rice


There is not a trace of soy sauce in the fried rice at Fan Fried Rice Bar. “That would be cheating,” said Paul Chen, the owner and chef of this tiny counter-service-only spot in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Mr. Chen, who grew up in Taiwan, is no traditionalist. His compact menu includes a version of fried rice strewn with slab bacon and the spices off an everything bagel. But on the issue of soy sauce he is adamant: It’s a coverup, an attempt to mask imperfections.

His baseline fried rice, the double egg O.G., is a lovely unkempt heap. In the wrong hands, the grains could easily wind up brittle or in clumps, but here they’re notably fluffy, at the ideal midpoint between loose and clingy. The rice comes threaded with half-scrambled eggs and tastes cleanly of scallions, salt and white pepper, which brings an invisible, low-key heat.

It’s so simple, I’d call it elegant if the word didn’t belie what’s great about the dish: its everyday-ness. This is the fried rice I always hope to find, nostalgic and uncomplicated — the kind of food you eat quickly, gratefully, without even pausing to register the pleasure of it.

For home cooks, fried rice is typically glorified leftovers, less a matter of recipe than frugal housekeeping, using up the odds and ends in a kitchen, seeing to it that nothing goes to waste. Freshly steamed rice, still damp from the pot, won’t do; it’s often better the next day, cooled and stiffened a little. At Fan Fried Rice Bar, Mr. Chen uses same-day rice, but cooks it with less water so it’s drier and doesn’t stick.

The key is the wok, an apocalyptic inferno, smoking over a burner that shrieks like a jet engine. The restaurant’s resident wok master, Peng Mai, a native of Guangzhou in southern China, coats the bottom with egg as a protective layer to absorb some of the oil and keep the rice light.

Amounts of ingredients and spices vary. “We don’t like cooking with recipes,” Mr. Chen said. “With the wok, you have to adjust.” One constant: The rice goes in last, swiftly taking on the flavor of all that’s preceded it.

The double-egg fried rice is comfort enough, but even better gilded with a bone-in pork chop. The meat is tenderized by a mallet with spring-loaded needles that break down fibers without sacrificing succulence. Soy sauce is allowed here, mixed with Shaoxing wine to bathe the pork, before it’s dredged in sweet potato starch for a featherweight crust.

Mr. Chen settled in New York five years ago while pursuing a career in fashion and beauty. As a homage to his new hometown, he takes pastrami, with its old-school deli funk, dices and deep-fries it, then tosses it in the wok with peanuts, chile paste and numbing Sichuan peppercorn, just enough to disorient the tongue.

Another fried rice is littered with fat red checkers of Mexican chorizo, wafting spices meant to evoke a taco — sacrilege, but somehow it works. The meat bears a whiff of cumin, under crisp radish, cotija cheese and a slug of jalapeño sauce, the flavors loud and in unison.

Even a Hawaiian-themed fried rice (with a wink of a mai tai paper umbrella) is improbably good, the pineapple’s sweetness muted, yielding to ham and shrimp with their hits of brine.

A few snacks round out the menu. Best among them are popcorn chicken, nubs of white meat in crunchy shells of sweet potato starch and glutinous rice flour; and tubby links of Taiwanese pork sausage, made to Mr. Chen’s specifications in Flushing, Queens, with a pulse of cinnamon and five-spice.

Taiwanese golden kimchi is less kimchi than pickle, layers of Napa cabbage and carrot doused with sugar and rice vinegar. It refreshes but has no sting. Mapo tofu, with pork swapped for dried shiitakes (resuscitated and poached in a gingery broth), is puzzlingly mild, missing its trademark buzz.



Source link