Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fancy Lee and Monsoon Dish up Asian Fusion in Babylon

For some reason, I always crave Asian foods during the New Year holiday season. Who knows why. Maybe because my body sees the salty goodness as a rebellion against turkeys and pork loins and all the rest of the traditional holiday foods we have downed over the past two months. Luckily, my hometown is not lacking in options. 

Asian restaurants like Fancy Lee, Monsoon, Aji 53, Sumou and more dot Montauk highway from west to east -- perfect representations of how restauranteurs dealing in Asian cuisines have built their business plans to cater to the mid- and upper-class residents of the suburbs of NYC. My town and others like it are brimming with customers who love the idea of sushi-meets-nightclub-meets-expensive cocktails in a modern interior. Throw in some upscale chicken and broccoli for the land lovers and voila: ya rollin' in $$$. All of these places will stay busy as long as they keep the dim lights, pumping music and ever-evolving sushi roll options. I'm down for any of these places -- if someone else is payin'.
I went to the newest Bohlsen baby, Monsoon, a few months ago and enjoyed my meal. Three of us shared a few dishes involving edamame dumplings and pork buns to start, wide noodles, a monkfish dish, General Tso's chicken and bok choi kimchee above.  Nothing was life-changing, but it was all good. Monsoon is actually going for the full-on nightclub classification. On the day I went, a Monday, by the time I left, people were only being admitted to the bar via guestlist, and a DJ was warming up. Intense. 
More recently I went to Fancy Lee, an old diner that at some point a while ago turned Asian. I'm not sure when this latest incarnation was born, but Fancy Lee is quickly rising as a contender in the Main Street Asian-fusion war. Both the New York Times and Newsday have praised the small dining room in the last month or so. The atmosphere, loud music and huge menu are all there. 

Our big party split a bunch of appetizers, the best of which being a baby back ribs dish that the Times recommended. For my main I got my go-to, shrimp with lobster sauce, and went halfsies on my other go-to, Singapore noodles, with Charlie. The portions were huge, but I'm not obsessed with either rendition. Others had sea bass or tuna dishes and loved them, and the sushi rolls got nods from the whole table. Oh and I had a damn good mojito. But overall, I wasn't super impressed. 

Bottom line is, I like this pan-Asian cuisine, but I'm not as enthused as everyone else. Sushi rolls with fruit and doused in spicy mayo are delicious, even if I'm not eating the fish I think I ordered. (Yes, that is a thing.) But, really, I wish that more suburban chefs would cook their native cuisines as they truly are: foreign, unique and challenging to the eater. I'm tired of this expensive cookie-cutter idea that is becoming so widely accepted and accessible in my town. I want something real.

Monsoon: 48 Deer Park Ave., Babylon, NY. (631) 587-4400

Fancy Lee: 101 W. Main St., Babylon, NY. (631) 422-0422 

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