Lee How Fook

219 N. 11th Street
(215) 925-7266

My entire family left our home in the summer months every Sunday late afternoon for Chinatown.  We drove enveloped within the cabin of a new shining black 1954 Buick Century whose chrome-plated bumpers reflected light onto every building we passed.  In dense traffic as we headed for the Chinese Wall, the car's radio mesmerized my sister and me with the suspense of the "Shadow," followed by the blurry drawls of Rochester bemoaning the penny-pinching propensities of Jack Benny.

In the mid-fifties, two Chinese restaurants created blocklong lines: South China on 9th Street near Vine and Shanghai Garden on Race at 919. The queues were populated by "real eaters," those whose bellies had stretch marks actually visible through the bloated transparency of thin cotton shirts, blouses, pants or skirts.  It was not the custom to travel to Chinatown to dine; rather to stuff one's self silly, then rest, and start eating anew.

 My father ordered for the four of us, "Won-Ton Soup for six, please, extra noodles; eight shrimp egg rolls, extra mustard; two chicken chow mein; four orders of spareribs; three shrimp-in-lobster sauce, a pork fried rice and two white rices; one pepper steak."

 Mom:  "Won't be enough."

 Pop:  "All right, an egg foo and a shrimp chow mein."

 Mom:  "Won't be enough."

 Pop:  "We'll rest; we'll see."

No sooner did our waiter disappear through red vinyl doors into a bustling kitchen, than he was out again rolling a huge silver butler full of soup tureens, domed platters, glass teapots, bowls, dishes, silverware, cellophane packets of soy, mustard and, of course, a plethora of two-gallon pitchers of ice water.

When all were completely stuffed, my mother taught us the true meaning of charity:

Mom: "Fatty Richard, you didn't order ice cream; it comes with the Column B meal!"

Me:  "Ma, I can't breathe, I'll bust."

Mom:  "That's no excuse Mister-Think-Of-Yourself-Only-Selfish-Person. Your sister maybe wants some extra. Try remembering to consider someone other than you."

It seemed incomprehensible, viewing my little sister across the table, how she could even open her mouth.  She'd fallen into a stuporous MSG coma after having wantonly devoured humongous piles of fried rolls, noodles, and ribs. Spatterings of rice dribbled from her mouth.  Nevertheless, Mom was able to force my sister’s lips open involuntarily by placing a thumb and index finger on either side of the child's cheeks, and pressing.  It was not thereafter difficult to spoon feed her the speckled vanilla ice cream I'd eventually ordered to be "charitable."

On the ride home, lactic, gaseous explosions emanated from my sister's biliously bulging body, punctuating the radio airwave’s banter of Bert Parks on "Name That Tune," and making cacophony of Hal March's Sixty-Four ($64) Dollar questions.  Near home, Kate Smith choked while attempting to sing God Bless America.

Upon entering Lee How Fook, which opened in 1983, one views nine wooden tables of assorted square or circular (lazy-Szechwan) sizes in a comfortable room that's steamy and small.  A Banquet Room is appended beyond the kitchen, just past the statue of Buddha.  I began patronizing this eatery over fifteen years ago when I discovered it's as if being in Shanghai.

Plan an early arrival; bring your own beer or wine. Fabulous food is served from soup to final fortune cookie, casually and purposefully. Chef Shing Chung and his wife Doris created Cantonese dishes beyond compare, until they gradually retired and slowly left the establishment to their daughter Sieu and her husband Andrew. Not a hemidemisemiquaver was missed.  New head chef Bo Mai still prepares each meal from scratch, and fanatically fresh.  Doris Chung used to say, “So Sieu me!”

Never miss anything in which abalone or duck and/or chicken is configured together.  Abalone With Shredded Duck Soup ($8.95) arrives in a silver tureen to feed four.  Its steaming contents seem to cavort as you ladle hunks of dark duck meat and yellow glimmering abalone strips from the broth.  Heated mildness immediately melds with silky softness, so your tongue is confused and cautious. As it relaxes, an involuntary gasp of larynx occurs, creating just enough room to swallow and moan concurrently.  Similarly, but with an entirely dissimilar texture, an Abalone With Chicken Hot Pot ($10.50) burbles in sealed crock pottery, until the lift of a lid reveals crackling Chinese vegetables swamped by dollops of chicken breast morsels and thin floating golden strands of abalone.  Bean curds abound. Doris Chung used to say: “So many lawyers too full abalone!”

Moreover, whole fish are prepared in Fook’s kitchen, Mandarin style, skin crisped and sauced, then steamed to a pearly white, fish-eyes ungleaming.  Pick at the table-filleted striped bass or flounder leisurely and luxuriously, as no one rushes.

Fried Dried Ho Fun Noodle With Beef ($8.50) catapults engorged crescents of beef and invigorates them in a bath of thick noodles with ginger and pepper. Pursed lips become slippery as you attempt to whistle-cool the ingredients.  The meat is marbled brisket lurking with oodles of mens rea among the noodles, to attack your taste buds.

Review the Rice Platters, especially if accompanied by roast pork and greens, or squid, scallop, crabmeat and shrimp.  Every bite is a delectable delight. And be adventurous with the menu.  Lo’s and Meins have been replaced here by Shanghai chic.


Copyright 2007 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back