Fu Yuang – Albuquerque, New Mexico
“I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish!
I’ve eaten so much fish, I’m ready to grow gills!
I’ve eaten so much liver, I can only make love
if I’m smothered in bacon and onions”
~ Hawkeye Pierce
MASH 4077, Korea
For eleven years, televisions across the fruited plain were tuned in to CBS where the antics of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) enthralled audiences with a unique blend of crude hilarity and heartfelt humanity. Set in South Korea during the Korean War, the series centered around a group of resilient doctors, nurses and support staff in an isolated hospital compound which saw more than its share of wounded. We grew to love the ensemble cast of Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, Hot Lips Hooligan, Henry Blake, Frank Burns and Max Klinger.
Not only did each half hour episode depict–sometimes rather graphically–the horrors of war, it painted a rather poignant and entirely accurate picture of sacrifice and hardship. Man’s inhumanity toward man was not only portrayed on the battlefields, but in the kitchen presided over by a cook as much outside his element as a vegan at a chophouse. In its infinite wisdom, the Army assigned Private Igor, a trained mechanic, not to the motor pool where he belonged, but to the kitchen where he concocted such unappetizing dishes as creamed turnips, spam lamb and cream of weenie soup.
Fed up with the never-ending parade of powdered food and the post-prandial gastronomic distress (not to mention taste bud torture) it caused, Hawkeye instigated a near revolt when Igor offered him a choice of liver or fish. “Are we gonna stand for this? Are we gonna let them do this to us? No! I say, No! We’re not going to eat this dreck any more! (chanting) We want something else!” Indigenous cuisine was apparently even worse because no matter how bad Igor’s chow was, Hawkeye and crew didn’t walk down to the nearby village for a meal of delicious Korean food.
My father-in-law, who served in the Korean War (where he says he passed out blankets) once told me most Koreans in war-ravaged Korea barely eked out a subsistence and basically lived day-to-day. On the rare occasions in which he partook of Korean food, it didn’t agree with him (an understatement). Because of those experiences, it would be another sixty years before he next ate Korean food. In 2003, we took him to Fu Yuang, Albuquerque’s premier Korean restaurant. At Fu Yuang he fell in love with a cuisine he thought he’d never eat again and had no idea would be so good.
Like my father-in-law, Chris Lovato served in Korea where he met his wife Kye (and ostensibly, enjoyed much better Korean food). After his military career, the Lovatos settled in Albuquerque where they began a three decade plus Korean restaurant venture that continues today. Chris passed away in 2008 and Kye has since retired, but their restaurant remains in good hands with their effervescent daughter Mia Lasco succeeding her mother in the kitchen. Mia obviously paid very close attention; she’s every bit as good a cook as her mother was. The front of the house is also in good hands with Mia’s husband Chris, the hyper-energetic host and waiter, making sure everyone feels welcome.
Fu Yuang, which translates from Korean to “prosperous garden,” has been comfortably ensconced in the Scottsdale Village shopping center since 1993. Prior to that, the Lovatos owned and operated the beloved Fu Shou House just outside Kirtland Air Force Base. Aside from the outstanding food, one commonality all Lovato family restaurants have shared over the years is friendly, attentive service. Fu Yuang is as convivial and inviting a restaurant as you’ll find in the Duke City. It is sparsely decorated, nearly austere when compared to the over-the-top flamboyance of some of the city’s Asian chains, but it offers a quiet coziness, reasonable prices and generous portions of the best Korean food in New Mexico.
The best of the restaurant’s appetizers, all of which are excellent, is the exquisite golden fried mandu (Korean style dumplings), luscious pockets of beef served with a soy sauce based dipping sauce with a flavor profile that is sweet, tangy, piquant and savory. Alas, sometimes the day’s ration of mandu goes fast and you might have to start your meal with something else. A good choice are the crab and cream cheese stuffed wontons, an appetizer for which at other restaurants you might have to form search party to locate anything but the wonton wrappers. Not so at Fu Yuang where the cream cheese practically oozes out as you bite into it. This is a rich treat sure to please everyone at the table and it’s not cloying as at some restaurants.
As it is at many Korean restaurants, Fu Yuang’s most popular entree is bulgogi, Korea’s signature dish which many Americans refer to as Korean barbecue. Bulgogi is a harmonious marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes presented on a sizzling hibachi. It is the perfect entree with which to introduce diners to Korean food. They will quickly fall in love with the thin strips of lean beef marinated in fresh garlic and soy sauce then stir-fried nearly to the point of caramelization with yellow and white onions and carrots. At Fu Yuang, the meat is tender with nary any sinewy or fatty pieces. The “barbecue” sauce is wholly unlike any American barbecue sauce you’ve had. It’s not “lacquered” on as some American barbecue sauces are, but its sweet-citrus (the hint of pineapple is notable) profile is addictive.
If your tastes lean toward the spicy or piquant but you don’t want to stray far from the sweet and savory tastes of bulgogi, the Taejigogi Kochu’jang (just call it spicy pork) might call out to you. Extra lean pork slices are marinated in a chili pepper sauce then stir-fried with carrots and yellow and green onions. Like the bulgogi, it is served on a sizzling cast iron hibachi that arrives at your table steaming. Similarly, rib aficionados will absolutely love bulkalbi, organic bone-in beef short ribs marinated in Fu Yuang’s sweet and savory soy and garlic sauce then stir fried. Similar in taste to bulgogi, these bite-sized ribs are lean and absolutely delicious.
While Korean meals traditionally feature small plates of sundry appetizers and side dishes all served at the same time, they are served only by request at Fu Yuang. Assorted salads (known as namul) comprised of pickled, spiced and hot and spicy vegetables accompany kimchee, the fiery cabbage-based staple of Korea which is heavily seasoned with garlic and chile (and at Fu Yuang is also seasoned with anchioves). The best description I’ve read of these appetizers equates them to “like Korean tapas, only better.”
Fu Yuang’s menu includes several “Jieges & Gook” or dinner soups. Similar to Vietnamese phos, they are served in swimming pool-sized bowls ideal for sharing (not that you might want to considering how good they are). If your tastes lean to soup of the nasal-clearing variety, it’s the Yukejang which will call loudest. Not quite as piquant as served at other Korean restaurants, it is still redolent with the olfactory arousing aroma of chili pepper paste. Served at nearly scalding temperature, this rich red-orange hued elixir includes spicy beef, fresh garlic, daikon radish slices, bean sprouts, yellow onions, green onions and chapch’ae noodles.
In yet another memorable episode of MASH, Major Frank “Ferret-Face” Burns panicked when he saw local farmers burying what he believes to be a landmine. Hawkeye revealed “It‘s a kimchee pot, Frank. Kimchee. Pickled cabbage. They ferment it in the ground. There are millions of these buried all over Korea.” This episode served to reinforce stereotypes many people have about kimchee which can certainly have odoriferous properties. In comparison to kimchee I’ve had at the homes of Korean families in the Air Force, Fu Yuang’s rendition is rather mild. It’s also not as piquant as other kimchee I’ve had, but it’s still a very good kimchee.
“Bibimbap” may sound like a word describing a hip hop beat, but other than bulgogi, it may be the most popular and well-known Korean dish in existence. Some cynics actually decry it as leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish. There may be some merit to that description. Bibimbap starts with rice served in the hot stone bowl in which it is prepared, the rice at the bottom of the bowl crackling as it continues to cook. Layered atop the rice are slender strips of perfectly seared sirloin and namul, the aforementioned pickled and spiced vegetables in all their flavorful and colorful glory. The dish is then crowned with a single fried egg. You will then stir in gochujang, a Korean chili pepper, to taste.
Bibimbap can be literally translated to “mixed meal,” because it’s constructed from sundry items often already prepared. If this is a leftover, you can have me over for a Bibimbap dinner any time, but it’s a good bet it won’t be nearly as good as Fu Yuang’s rendition. It’s simply the best I’ve ever had. There are many reasons it’s the essence of deliciousness, the least of which is the coalescence of flavors and textures, the mixing of great individual items combining to form rare greatness.
Fu Yuang certainly excels in Korean food, but the menu also includes two entire pages of Chinese specialties in the categories of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables and fried rice. The Chinese food is fairly Americanized (sweet and sour type entrees), but better prepared than Chinese food at most Chinese restaurants. Variety (as if you could ever get tired of the wonderful Korean entrees) or temporary insanity might be the only reasons to order Chinese food over Korean food at Fu Yuang, but on the one time in which we’ve had Chinese food (a memorable lemon chicken), we found it quite good.
If you are in a sweet and sour mood, the Korean version of sweet and sour pork or chicken is excellent. Unlike the thickly breaded meats lacquered with a crimson candied sauce served in many Chinese restaurants, the sweet and sour sauce at Fu Yuang is nearly transparent and the breading is very light. Best of all, the sauce most definitely has a sour pronouncement; it does not taste like candied meat. The pork has nary a hint of sinew or fat. It’s tender and juicy and slathered with just enough sauce for flavor.
The lunch menu is relatively abbreviated though you can order off the diner menu during the noon hour as well. Lunch specials include the very best egg drop soup in Albuquerque as well as two crab and cream cheese wontons. The egg drop soup is of a thick consistency with generous bits of chicken and miniscule pieces of carrots, onion and celery. The soup has a very smooth, comforting flavor and is always served hot.
Fu Yuang is one of Albuquerque’s most vegetarian friendly restaurants, offering a variety of options–and not solely of the salad variety, but if salad is what will sate you, the Korean salad is not to be missed. A generous plateful of organic greens drizzled with a sweet sesame vinaigrette is good enough to make converts out of carnivores.
There are other restaurants in Albuquerque which serve Korean food, but none have been doing it as long or as well as Fu Yuang. Had Private Igor served food as wonderful as Duke City diners enjoy at Fu Yuang, even the perpetual get-out-of-the-Army schemer Corporal Klinger would have reenlisted.
3107 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 20 October 2011
# OF VISITS: 9
BEST BET: Bulgogi, Bulkalbi, Golden Fried Mandu, Taejigogi Kochu jang, Korean Sweet and Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken, Bibimbap