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Review: The Woo family continues building upon its well-deserved legacy with Fu at Hard Rock Hotel

Photo by Todd Lussier
Photo by Todd Lussier

Any real fan of Chinese food knows the options on Spring Mountain Road are better and much more affordable than anything you’ll find on The Strip. Nonetheless, the major casinos are packed with Chinese restaurants and pan-Asian joints offering Chinese selections. Some are great, and many are mediocre. But they all serve a very simple purpose: courting the lucrative Chinese tourist market.

So it’s no surprise that shortly after opening its first high-limit Asian gaming salon, Hard Rock Hotel has decided to open a posh Chinese eatery called Fu just a few feet away. Normally, I’d have little interest in that type of blatant marketing ploy. But Fu is more than that. It’s the latest effort from the Woo family, which has been serving great Chinese food in various on- and off-Strip locations for more than 35 years.

Ming See Woo and her family immigrated to Las Vegas from Hong Kong more than 40 years ago. She opened her first Las Vegas restaurant, Mayflower Chinese Restaurant, with her husband Henry in 1976. From 1991 through 2008, she and her son Peter helped bring fusion cuisine to our town with Mayflower Cuisinier. When that closed, Peter, his brother Tony and his sister Theresa operated the short-lived Woo at The Palazzo, with Peter in the kitchen, and Tony and Theresa running the front of the house. Now, two years after that restaurant shut its doors, Theresa, Tony and their mom have joined forces to bring us Fu.

Fu (which translates to “luck”), is located in the HRH Tower space that previously housed the small-plates restaurant Johnny Smalls. It’s been tastefully redesigned in an Asian motif, with the old tenant’s obtrusive central bar removed to give it a more spacious feel.

The menu is a mixture of dishes Caucasians will recognize from Panda Express, a sprinkling of more traditional Chinese items, and modern twists clearly meant to cater to the Hard Rock crowd. Johnny Smalls’ ghost haunts the menu with nearly a page of Asian “tapas.” They include small, sharable portions of everything from steamed mini chicken buns ($6) to baby back pork ribs with honey plum glaze ($12). Other offerings include four types of noodles ($8-$17), seven kinds of fried rice ($11-$14), seven noodle soups ($12-$15), four varieties of the Chinese porridge congee ($8-$13) and more than 30 entrees such as Peking duck ($29), honey walnut shrimp ($19) and general’s chicken ($17).

The menu, however, only tells part of the story. Theresa tells me they will prepare numerous high-end specialty dishes for the high-rollers across the way (although most will probably be consumed at the gaming tables). Don’t look for them on the menu. But if you’re in the mood for some abalone, for example, call ahead to see if it’s available.

The night my wife and I visited, we stuck to the menu, sampling some small-plate items, noodles and a single entrée. My favorite dish, surprisingly, was the lettuce wraps ($10). Forget the chicken blanketed in thick, oppressive sauce you’ve had countless times, and open your mind to Fu’s delicately spiced Thai basil version.

Everything else we sampled was good, although we had some minor complaints about each. The garlic noodles ($8) were amazingly flavored, but a tad dry. Ginger-scallion chicken in a clay pot ($18) was also delicious, but neither ginger nor scallions dominated its flavor profile. An order of “crispy salmon firecrackers” proved to be several pieces of delicious fresh salmon wrapped in wontons that were wonderfully cooked, but completely lacked the spice implied by their name. And the pork and shrimp sui mai ($9) were fairly generic. With the exception of those dumplings, I’m betting most of these problems will be remedied as Ming See gets used to being back in a commercial kitchen.

Whatever ethnic pandering might have inspired it, the return of the Woos to the local restaurant scene is good news for Chinese dining fans. I have no doubt they’ll find an audience that goes well beyond the gamers they were brought in to impress.

Fu, Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road, 522-8188. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.