Let the new kids on the block, many with nonsensical number names like 3ta and 3eight3, pluck pedestrians off Castro Street. Not to be left behind, 20-year-old Fu Lam Mum just opened a hipper little cafe across the street called Hong Kong Bistro.
The mother ship Mum, with 66 seats and zero decor, still specializes in reasonably priced fresh seafood. From the outside, you wouldn't necessarily think anything good was going on. But this restaurant has servers who know the food and care enough to guide you through a slightly tricky array of menus.
A book-length menu features seafood appetizers, soups, noodle and rice dishes, main dishes and creative spellings such as Shork's Jin and Steamed Squad. Some specials are posted on the wall, in Chinese except for the prices. Same with the preset multi-course dinners, which run $48 for four people, $78 for six, $108 for 10. If you don't read Chinese, don't worry. Ask your server. Also on the table is a card with English and Chinese names of other daily specials and the rule: "Can only choose 1 item." That's how special they are.
These are not free-range fish. On a recent visit, fish in the tank barely moved, and the crabs were packed like sardines. However, after wok-frying in a light ginger sauce with scallions, the crabs' living conditions become a distant memory. And after scraping every bit of sweet, delicate meat, we wanted to vacuum the shells. Prices change with the catch. Recently a small cracked crab was $20, and ling cod was $8 a pound.
In Cantonese style, sauces and spices don't hog all the attention. They just highlight fresh seafood. One night years ago we brought our children to Fu Lam Mum, and a nearby table was treated to the sight of the just-scaled fish they were about to eat. It was so fresh, it flopped off the platter.
Soup also arrives with a flourish. The server sets it down, removes the lid, ladles it out for you, then steps away, arm behind the back, and says, "Enjoy." And means it.
Fu Lam Mum specializes in shark's fin soup, not an environmentalist-pleaser. The shark's fin soup with chicken ($20) featured tender white meat in a thick, gelatinous broth made from shark's fin cartilage, the expensive ingredient. The soup arrives in a lidded clay pot over a burner, and for $20 it should.
House special seafood soup ($8.75) was more special in its earthy mushrooms than its tiny shrimp and tasteless surimi, the crab lookalike.
But both stars of the shrimp sauteed with fried milk balls ($10.50) were plump and tasty. Fried milk balls are like sweet, cheesy corn dogs. One or two are plenty.
For something really special, have the Yang Chow fried rice ($6.95), studded with cubes of aromatic barbecued pork. Clam in black bean sauce ($8.50) is another go-to dish.
On the other hand, the nightly calamari special ($7.50) tasted more like its larger cousin, the cuttlefish. Large slices of meat, with no tentacles, were coated and fried. For flavor you had to depend on the accompanying onions, jalapeno and toasted garlic.
Fu Lam Mum has a good selection of vegetable dishes, including the well-regarded hot braised eggplant ($7), but be sure to ask about the sauteed seasonal vegetables. Recently available were baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, green beans, asparagus and pea shoots. The gleaming and healthful pea shoots ($7.99) got a kick from half cloves of toasted garlic and hefty slices of ginger.
As for beverages, you may need only the very good brewed tea that comes right away, with the menus. Or have a beer. The wine is abysmal.
At the end of both visits, we received complimentary cups of warm red bean soup.
Families and work groups populate Fu Lam Mum, which stays open till midnight and serves its lunch specials ($5.95, with steamed rice) from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and again after 9 p.m.
Fu Lam Mum
246 Castro St., Mountain View
Daily 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight