All that glitters
Folsom, CA 95630
Nothing pisses me off in a restaurant host like severely underestimating the wait time, unless perhaps it’s failing to even look up when a guest arrives. The hosts at the opulent and attractive new Fat’s Asia Bistro in Folsom did both. We were quoted a half-hour’s wait; in their book, they wrote down that they told us 40 minutes. We were actually seated after an hour of straw twirling at the bar. I know projecting table turnover is an inexact science, but that’s quite a margin of error.
Throughout, we got neither eye contact nor even a remotely friendly hello from either of the remarkably bitchy people behind the host station. Fat’s has an intercom system for announcing when reservations are ready, and frankly it does everyone a disservice: When a host has to come and find you in the bar, he or she is a lot more likely to look at you and try to remember who the heck you are.
It’s a shame things started off that way, because our bartender was garrulously entertaining, and our eventual server was sweet and efficient. By the time we got to our table, we were rushed and starving. Had we known the wait would be as long as it was, we could have ordered some of the very tempting appetizers at the bar.
Instead, my husband sipped a huge, deceptively fruity, powerful Fat’s berry margarita (the cocktail list is long on tropical picks). We watched the bartender leap for top-shelf bottles (he only knocked one over), flip bottles in the air, and ask and use the name of every single person he served. His shtick was Tom Cruise in Cocktail meets Woody Harrelson in both Cheers and White Men Can’t Jump.
We also watched the guy sitting next to us gnaw on some sticky, succulent-looking ribs and devour a plate of chicken in lettuce cups. Hungry, we ordered the latter, plus a dim-sum basket, as soon as we sat down at our table. The lettuce-cup chicken had a great contrast of texture and temperature: The chicken was piping hot and savory, if a little flat in its flavor (I would have liked a bump-up in the ginger). The lettuce was properly cold and crisp, though it was dripping wet. The thick plum sauce alongside added a nice dimension of sweetness. The dim-sum basket, presented in a bamboo steamer, included delicate shrimp har gow in translucent wrappers; juicy pork shu mei (perfect with spicy black-bean sauce from the condiment tray); and disappointing Shanghai vegetable dumplings, with tough wrappers and a bland filling so soft it edged on slimy.
Our server was helpful with our questions about the varied selection of entrees. There’s a wide range of Asian food here, from Malaysian vegetable chow fun to Korean beef bulkogi. The Fat’s empire has been built on classic Chinese-American specialties, so I was interested in a special of spicy pork chow mein. Our server increased my interest by saying that it was in fact spicy, whereas a lot of the dishes marked “hot” on the menu actually weren’t.
My husband’s Thai seafood in fat pot was a case in point; its asterisk belied its sweet smoothness. It was certainly pleasant, a pale, coconutty Thai curry brimming with very tender seafood and perfectly flaking chunks of fish, but its fire was tamed for American tastes.
The pork chow mein wasn’t incendiary, but it had a nice balance and a little kick, with the tender pork and sauce playing off the wiry crisp and chewy noodles. We also got a side of garlic green beans, which arrived cold and were a little too bland and tender-crisp for my taste; I like them cooked until blistered and very garlicky.
There’s a to-go counter. Because we were running late, we ordered dessert from there and shared it at home. It was a three-tiered round of mousse in white, milk and dark chocolate—very pretty, though it lacked a true flavor punch.
The same might be said of the setting and overall experience at this new outpost of the Fat’s empire. To walk in is to immediately be impressed by the gorgeousness of the dark wood, the tall palms, the golden-bronze tones of the miniature tiles and, of course, the trademark giant golden Buddha. But for us, that great first impression was immediately undercut by terrible service from the hosts. Even when their blunders were redeemed by more friendly personnel, the acceptable but not especially inspired food didn’t quite win us back over.