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Mumu’s, Asian Cuisine Restaurant
220 Atwells Avenue
by Bob Mariani
It’s a Providence, Rode Island tradition that continues to grow every year. People come to Federal Hill in droves for Italian food and these days there’s an ever-expanding list of choices along bustling Atwells Ave. So why would anyone open an Asian cuisine restaurant in this hotbed of Italo-American eateries?
I think the answer might be… you wouldn’t—unless it was something quite special. And that is precisely what Sophia Cuyegkeng’s new Mumu’s is. A very special take on Asian food. Cuyegkeng comes from a traditional and aristocratic Chinese heritage. As a result, Mumu’s is anything but your typical chicken chow mien and egg roll Chinese restaurant. Sure, you’ll see a number of familiar favorites like spring rolls and Crab Rangoon and beef with broccoli. But even these cliché items are given new life and flavor nuances you don’t expect.
I’m willing to bet that even some of the most experienced diners will be pleasantly surprised by a number of the dishes served here. And by "new," I do not mean "exotic." No geese guts or jelly fish. Mumu’s prepares a menu of traditional Asian foods with delicate, wholesome flavors and ingredients that are endearingly "diner-friendly."
I brought my friend Kenny along this night because he has dined more extensively at local Asian restaurants than I have. We began with some freshly grilled Scallion Pancakes from the Dim Sum menu. Scallions can be a little overwhelming if not treated properly, but in this case their presence was subtle and the dish was as much about the tenderness of the thin crust as it was about the veggies inside it.
The next starter was Xiao Long Bao, or "soupy dumplings." A Shanghai original, this is really a must-try item. Each steamed dumpling is a little pouch that’s soft and floppy like a teabag. We were instructed to pick them up with our chopsticks by the loose tip on the top, nip off the "nipple" and suck out the delicious mouthful of hot chicken broth inside. Then you can plop the rest of the dumpling in your mouth and experience the soft blend of shredded, steamed chicken and the mild, chewy dough. Kenny agreed this was a new and very sensual addition.
Next we sampled some "silken creamy" prawns with honey-ed walnuts, a wonderfully smooth, light, slightly sweet cream sauce over perfectly grilled shrimp. The little tidbits of sweet walnuts was one of those subtle taste notes you never quite forget. (Kenny even ate the shrimp tails!)
We also got to try the Crispy Beef, which although available at many Asian eateries, is taken to another level of perfection here at Mumu’s. The ginger sauce is fresh and sweet but not syrupy. (If you’re the least bit hesitant about ordering one of the more unusual sounding dishes here, then the Crispy Beef would be an excellent choice.)
We also really enjoyed the green tea steamed rice that was dotted with sweet peas and tiny chips of Asian "prosciuto" for a smoky, comfort food taste.
In this same wholesome flavors category, we sampled the tea-smoked duck. Rich, tender juicy slices of duck meat had been slow smoked to tender perfection. As a side, we had a dish of fried peapod leaves drenched in a light, mild vegetable oil that really complimented this exceptional entrée.
Our other vegetable was tofu sautéed with shitake mushrooms and bean sprouts in a subtly sweet sauce that is one of those flavors you’d enjoy at virtually any meal of the day, including breakfast.
In the seafood realm, we got to try the whole steamed fish with a savory ginger and scallion sauce. (Don’t be put off by the fish being served with head and tail in place. The fish is so well cooked and flaky and the sauce so full of flavor, you soon forget that your entrée’s eye is staring back up at you.)
Just to give us a sense of how varied and universal the various dishes could be here, our host, Sophia treated us to a taste of Mumu’s crispy sesame wrap with thin-sliced beef shank and fresh tomatoes. A light, but extremely satisfying sandwich, at only $4.95, it would make a very satisfying lunch all by itself.
The prices at Mumu’s are all surprisingly reasonable and every dish is given great care and attention. Some of the other authentic Chinese dishes I can’t wait to go back for are the Fried Green Chili Pepper Peking; the Braised Pork Belly with brown sauce; the Chinese Cabbage with Dried Shrimp; the Lamb with Cumin and spicy sauce; and the Lion Head Pork Meatball in Clay Pot.
The Mumu menu is extensive and there are plenty of familiar Asian dishes. But don’t expect them to be your run-of-the-mill versions. Everything here is taken up several notches.
Mumu’s is open every day for lunch and dinner and there is valet parking. For more information call 369-7040.
Bob Mariani is a Southeastern New England freelance author. Besides his "Your Table is Ready" restaurant reviews found here, he also writes jazz articles on allaboutjazz.com.