Thursday, July 15, 2004


Posted on Thu, Jul 15, 2004 at 4:00 AM

For around 50 bucks, our table was quickly loaded with more than enough to feed a hungry fivesome – and that's the best thing I can say about a recent visit to Mama Fu's Noodle House in Lake Mary. The rest of the experience – from the food to the service to the ambience – ranged from OK to laughable.

Interestingly, the randomly numbered laminated cards – ours read "one billion 92" – that diners post on their tables (so orders can be matched up) read: "Laughter can make friends remember ... and enemies forget." Everybody's gotta have a gimmick these days, an approach that is working like gangbusters for 38-year-old entrepreneur Martin Sprock of Raving Brands Inc. Dipping into Florida, his ventures include Mama Fu's, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Planet Smoothie, and there are more concepts on the way. While this Mama Fu's is the first in town, fast expansion plans already call for 13 more. It's a good bet that they'll show up in other Stepford-style shopping malls, such as this one, Colonial Town Park, which has the new Dexter's.

Walk through the glass doors and you're at the order counter under the wall-board menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and noodle bowls that can be juggled with choices of chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu and veggies. They are not really Asian dishes, but more like a corporate fusion of American tastes and Asian influences, with everything a little too sweet, even the noodles. After ordering a sampling of items, we headed to an outdoor table to avoid the cavernous echo inside – the kind that numbs your senses (and is perfect for letting kids run wild).

On the OK side of the meal were the seared ahi tuna ($5.99 "mama" size/$6.99 "big mama") and "Bangkok basil rolls" ($3.99/$5.99) appetizers. The sesame-encrusted ahi was served on a bed of fresh spinach with a sharp ponzu dipping sauce. There was an odd spice in the peanut sauce, but the rolls were filled with the finely grated crunchiness of carrots, cucumbers, spring lettuce and rice noodles. And the "Mongolian" with beef ("soy glaze with mushrooms, yellow onions and fresh scallion sticks") was ordered with noodles for an additional 99 cents, instead of the usual rice, at the helpful recommendation of the order-taker. Noodles are the definitely the way to go.

The "spicy basil" noodle bowl with tofu ($6.99) also benefited from the noodles, and the tofu was nicely sliced and fried for a crispy effect. This is one of the spicy-hot dishes, and it did leave a burn on the lips but without any depth to back it up. The "spicy General Fu" with shrimp ($8.99) was served with rice and featured the battered and fried variety that you buy frozen at the grocery store, and its sauce was an overly sweet and sour one.

On the unpleasant side of the meal, the Thai coconut soup ($1.99/$3.49) and the red Thai curry were curiosities. The base of the soup had a cloying thickness, more like a bisque, and there was not much in the way of the promised black mushrooms and tomatoes. The red curry with chicken ($6.99) had the veggies (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, white mushrooms and red bell peppers), but the sauce was watery and oddly seasoned.

As for service, we moved dirty dishes off our table and shooed away flies. The items were delivered in the order they came out of the kitchen, so appetizers, soups and entrees all piled up at one time. Then we had to track down missing items from the student-age servers, who looked unhappy. The fictitious Mama Fu isn't fooling anyone with this venture.


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