A quick search around the Internet, leading to Wikipedia and a few other sources, reveals that as of 2003, there were only 17 restaurants in the U.S. licensed to sell fugu — the deadly Japanese puffer fish delicacy — and 12 of them were located in New York. The meal is considered a rare and expensive treat, eating it is the dream of many gastronomes. If prepared incorrectly, the fish easily contains enough poison (to which there is no known antidote) in its body to kill an entire dinner party of adults, as Homer Simpson famously discovered so long ago.
So, the big question was, would Fugu, Yummy Buffet’s replacement and Madison’s newest Asian restaurant, opening just last Saturday, actually serve fugu? The answer, unfortunately, is no. However, the restaurant does boast a nicely revamped interior dining space, an impressive two full menus, one of Asian Fusion cuisine and one of traditional Sichuan recipes, and fairly reasonable prices with very healthy portions.
Fugu features an adeptly remodeled look. Walking in the door, the customer is greeted by a d�cor of stained fine grain wood, a soft beige-range green paint scheme and small ornamental embellishments like a glowing puffer fish Chinese lamp over the entrance — a far cry from the greasy dingy florescent lighting and tile decorations of the departed Yummy Buffet. A rather large air duct runs the length of the dining room ceiling, but has been somewhat disguised by a coat of green paint and plastic leaves.
The restaurant, as already mentioned, features two complete menus. The Asian Fusion menu features Chinese and Thai cuisine one might find at any decent quality Asian restaurant in town: various curries, stir fries, a selection of chicken, beef, shrimp and pork dishes served with familiar sauces from Kung Pao to Sweet and Sour, egg rolls, spring rolls and anything else you might expect plus a nice selection of specialties.
The traditional Sichuan menu, claiming to be the most authentic Chinese food dining experience in town, is a bit more exotic. While the menu features Asian food staples like dumplings it also features choices like pig’s ears with chili sauce, ox tongue and tripe with chili sauce and pork intestine with garlic shoots.
Off the Asian Fusion menu, my guest ordered the red curry seafood casserole. After asking the waitress what were the more popular dishes, I chose the water boiled beef in chili sauce off the Sichuan menu. We agreed to split the fried calamari off the fusion menu.
The calamari arrived promptly, the service was rather attentive, and after a false start where we were served the dish without the accompanying sauce, the fried mini squids proved delicious. Though a basic take on calamari with only a light breading and no infusions of exotic flavors, the dish was served neither too oily nor too salty and struck an excellent balance between firmness and softness. The sauce, a sweet sauce with just hints of chili flavor, was exquisite.
The main courses arrived soon after. The presentation of the foods was excellent, with an appetizing array of color choices.
The seafood curry was very creamy and smooth, like you’d expect from any curry. The scallops, and my guest agreed, were well prepared with a very pleasing texture. The portion size was quite large, skimping on nothing.The beef was incredibly tender and the garlic slices, greenery and chili sauce added excellent complementary flavors.
The only major disappointment with this meal was that the dishes were a bit bland and not very spicy, as indicated by the menu. The calamari was much more sweet than spicy. The curry had very little spice to its creamy taste. And even though you could clearly taste the chili, with bits of peppers still in the sauce, the beef only flirted occasionally with a modicum of spiciness.
The meal cost just over $20 a person with ample leftovers and the tip.
Overall, the two menus offer a staggering amount of choices, with the Sichuan menu adding many new and unfamiliar dishes to the Madison canon of Asian cuisine. The service was competent and the portions and presentation were both impressive. The calamari appetizer was the highlight of the meal. The rest of the food was good, but not great. While not a perfect dining experience, dining at Fugu is an enjoyable way to spend an evening’s meal. And again, there is no fugu.