Most people heading out to dinner at a Sichuan restaurant fall somewhere between two camps: those who want authentic cuisine and those who are looking for the typical Chinese comfort food they know and crave. At Fey, the two factions can dine happily side by side. Quality, meet quantity.
The 5-year-old restaurant, located just north of the traffic bottlenecks along El Camino Real in Menlo Park, made waves shortly after it opened by receiving the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand distinction, given to restaurants that offer excellent food at a reasonable price. Things have not changed in that respect.
Fey has an immense menu with 12 pages of dishes organized by main ingredients, followed by a subsection labeled "Family Traditional Private Kitchen." One section lists 53 seafood dishes, from Sichuan classics such as walnut shrimp, salt-and-pepper squid and fish in black bean sauce to more unusual offerings, such as green onion and ginger sea cucumber, hot stone plate red wine shrimp and something called dry cook belt fish. The pork section features 30 items and the vegetable section runs from eggplant and potatoes (#193) through spicy a choy, a Taiwanese lettuce (#210). And there are long listings for noodles, soups, dumplings, appetizers, chicken and beef. You get the idea.
The restaurant is nicely decorated, with silvery fish cascading along one wall and more of the same dangling from a ceiling mobile. Festive ball-shaped light fixtures are incongruously paired with a crystal chandelier by the front door. Roomy booths and large, well-spaced tables can handle large parties and, more importantly, the gigantic platters of dishes coming out of the kitchen. Each item we ordered arrived on plates the size of a medium pizza, with enough food for at least two additional meals at home.
After sipping tea and nibbling on complimentary crispy wontons, we got down to business. Our waiter warned us that we were being too ambitious about our appetites, so we limited ourselves to a few selections. The Hong Kong style pan-fried crispy egg noodles ($14.95) was a lovely mix of scallops, shrimp and fish with sautéed broccoli, bok choy and peapods, served on a cluster of crunchy noodles that quickly sopped up the light, tasty sauce. The fish fillet in black bean sauce ($13.95) was both savory and sweet, and the fish tender and flavorful.
Less successful was the dry cooked string bean with pork ($12.95), which was marked on the menu with a pepper connoting that it is a spicy option. My craving for spicy knows no limits, so I found this notation misleading. The dish lacked verve and the meat was so salty it was unpalatable.
We noticed heating units built into the tabletops for another house specialty, make-your-own hot pot, which you pay for by ingredient ($6.95 for a small base, then $1.50 to $12.95 for anything from sauce to meat and vegetables). It's a definite must for a group.
True to form, Fey also offers an extensive lunch menu (I counted 38 options, $8.95 to $9.95) of mostly standard fare ranging from curry shrimp to broccoli beef.
Service throughout was exemplary. Servers were friendly, prompt and stopped by often to see how we were doing, including making suggestions on how best to reheat our massive collection of leftovers. Dishes were staggered so that everything didn't arrive at the table at once, and water glasses were filled constantly and unobtrusively.
Fey's menu is so extensive that finding the standouts can seem like pure guesswork. It's amazing that the kitchen can put out so many dishes as well as it does. I plan on working my way through a few more pages until I find my favorites.
1368 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
Hours: Lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday-Thursday 5-9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.