Tucked into an unassuming corner of L Street in Sacramento, Frank Fat’s is a hidden gem of Asian cuisine. Although there is only a small sign above a single door that says “Fat’s” in sharp, defined letters, anyone working in downtown Sacramento will tell you this is a hub for excellent lunches and exquisite dinners. On any night, customers may run into a well-known former or current State Legislator or a well-known lobbyist.
Founded in 1939, Fat’s rapidly became a hot spot for political officials to frequent and unwind. The versatile interior is divided into three areas: closest to the door is a bar area where lunch or a quick dinner can be had for those on the run, while in the heart of the restaurant darkly lacquered tables and chairs claim space for family style dinners. Behind the main dining area are booths—each large enough for six individuals, generously upholstered to provide comfort and quiet for private conversations.
Dimmed lighting casts a warm red sheen on the interior, heightening my hunger as we wait for our server, Mike. We quiz him on the specials and the menu in general –he rattles off the answers quickly and knowledgeably. We order the appetizer sample platter: fried calamari, pot-stickers, yu-kwok and vegetable spring rolls. It arrives ten minutes later.
The Yu-kwok can best be described as having a deep fried onion shape, with beef, chicken, onion and red pepper flakes combined into a golden brown dumpling. As the ground meat plays off the pepper flakes, building on the slight spice, the thin deep fried shell shapes the texture and foundation of the dish. This unique appetizer, an old family recipe, is a refreshing spin on the classic dumplings in Asian cuisine.
Very lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, the calamari is light and crispy, and holds its shape well. This fantastic dish was hampered only by the size of the squid pieces, which made them difficult to eat with chopsticks.
Crisp and flaky on the outside, the vegetable spring rolls are still pliable enough not to break when handled with chopsticks, and the golden dough presents a vibrant contrast to the warm cabbage and carrots inside. Out of the soy, mustard, ketchup and sweet and sour sauces that accompanied the spring rolls, the timeless pairing of sweet and sour sauce with the rolls produces the best tangy counter point.
Fat’s pot-stickers are a quiet testament to the chef’s ability to give an amazing flavor to a simple, quintessential Asian dish. While the dough is thin and light, the fragrant meat inside provides a hearty complement. The texture is a great mix, moist but not oily, retaining a bit of crispness around the edges. Though each appetizer sets the bar for presentation and freshness, the pot stickers are our favorite.
The main course menu at Fat’s consists of a number of ‘signature dishes,’ a few summer dishes based on seasonal ingredients, and traditional dishes rooted in Asian cuisine. We sample five different entrees, which arrive promptly as we finish our appetizers. The honey walnut prawns are touted as an “award winning signature dish,” according to Fat’s menu. They come out in a light glaze—a subtle hint to their freshness, since many restaurants will smother this dish with sauce. Lightly pink with an opaque yellow glaze, the prawns are glossy under the red glow of the light: a luscious taste of shrimp combined with the crunchy texture of the roasted walnuts. This signature creation is flavorful, teased out by the warm glaze, which ties the soft prawns together with the hard walnuts, yet remains in the background of every bite, never threatening to smother the taste buds.
The only downfall in the meal is the disappointing scallops with ginger spears—an intriguing combination on paper. Unfortunately, the wet scallops are not consistent in shape or flavor, ranging from the perfect middle, to being over cooked and rubbery, or a tad raw. The ginger slivers framing the plate combine with the scallops to create a bland and uninteresting flavor. This is one entrée I would recommend you skip.
Frank Fat’s New York steak is a delicious bargain at $25. Cooked at medium, this dish fuses American and Chinese cuisine by lavishing caramelized onions and smoky oyster sauce on the beef. The meat is tender, still pink in the middle while the outside is crispy with hints of pepper. This fresh spin on a classic dish creates a playful interchange of flavors as the onions and sauce bring out the deep, hearty flavor of good beef.
We sample two of the current summer dishes: mango chicken and peach pork. The former consists of large pieces of chicken, paired with mango slices and red cubes of pickled ginger. The draw-back of the dish is the size of the ingredients, which makes it difficult to combine all of the flavors into one bite. When accomplished with the help of a knife, though, the taste is richly layered—tender chicken carried by the slightly spicy and sharp taste of the ginger comes together with the sweet mango into a crescendo with each savory bite.
The peach pork comes out in a dish with soft pieces of pork arranged on a bed of white peaches lathered in sauce. The peaches smell and taste as if they were just picked from a tree. Though fully cooked, each peach slice retains its form and is not soggy when chewed. The pork was tender, easily cut into smaller pieces, which allowed the flavors to fully fuse in the mouth. This seasonal dish is my favorite entree because of the unique pairing of peaches and pork.
The noodle signature dish is sang gai shee—egg based noodles tossed together with black mushrooms and snow peas. The mushrooms add a slick subtle flavor that teases at the edge of the taste buds, while the snow peas are vibrant spots of green in a field of white and brown. The flavors mix well and make each bite mouthwatering. Crunchy and not soggy, the noodles are layered with stir-fry which was not greasy or too rich. This is a fantastic side dish to the entrees.
A meal at Fat’s cannot be complete without their renowned dessert—banana cream pie. After a few bites, you should be able to tell why they often run out by 9pm. The sweet filling complements the lightly salted crust. With each bite, real bananas mesh with hand-whipped cream and a crisp, flaky shell, creating an experience your taste buds will be sure to remember.
During the meal, the staff is attentive and knowledgeable, and the owners of the restaurant come out in the evening to chat with customers. They know each individual by name and introduce themselves to our table. Even as we leave around closing time, the owners are still chatting with an older couple. The additional layer of appreciation and loyalty to their customers has allowed Fat’s to remain successful for seven decades while other Sacramento restaurants have come and gone.
Whether you want to rub shoulders with the political elite, or just enjoy a quiet night with your friends, Fat’s atmosphere is excellent for all occasions. This sequestered gem, well known to anyone who works in the downtown area, is open for lunch and dinner on the weekdays and dinner on the weekends. I highly recommend checking out the downtown location if you are a fan of Asian cuisine.