In 2010, the transitioning Hard Rock Hotel opened what should have been a really fun little restaurant near its new nightclub. Playful small plates and cocktails before Vanity? Sounds great. But Johnny Smalls was a huge disappointment and didn’t last long.
- Hard Rock Hotel, 522-8188.
- Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Today the Hard Rock is fired up. Vinyl is a terrific, intimate musical complement to the Joint. Nobu is staying, even though Caesars is opening one. The popular Mr. Lucky’s has expanded, and new gastropub Culinary Dropout is catching on. And now, the Hard Rock honchos have made two more good decisions: They’ve decided that the former Johnny Smalls should be an Asian eatery to align with the adjacent high-limit gaming salon, and they’ve brought in the Woo family to run the place. So, from the longtime locals who gave us one of the city’s best-ever Chinese restaurants, Mayflower Cuisinier, we get Fú. It means “lucky,” and that fits.
The space has been simplified nicely, a central bar removed to open things up and colorful, generic décor applied. The menu is mainly Chinese, bouncing between Americanized favorites and authentic stuff like Hong Kong-style soup, with your choice of egg or rice noodles, roast duck ($13), roast pork ($12), braised beef brisket ($14) or shrimp and pork wonton ($13). There’s also Vietnamese soup, spicy Sichuan beef noodle soup, and Chinese congee rice porridge ($8-$13), too. We’re moving into soup weather now. Who’da thunk the Hard Rock would be the spot?
A delicious assortment of appetizers, called “Asian tapas,” handily fills the party snacking void, especially the spicy basil chicken lettuce wraps ($10), so light and tasty you might want a couple plates. There’s some dim sum stuff, assorted egg rolls, and baby back ribs in a honey-plum glaze ($12).
Overseas visitors spending time in that big-money Dragon Salon are slurping noodles, devouring dumplings and ordering off-menu seafood. But stick to the menu; it’s all pretty good. Yang Zhou fried rice ($14) is a personal favorite, meaty, saucy and savory. Fú’s pad Thai is a little sweet, but the Mongolian beef ($16) has a rich, tangy kick, a classic dish perfected. Juicy shrimp with five spice, Thai basil and jalapeño is a fusion plate with well-rounded, satisfying flavors.
I was a bit surprised to discover a days-old restaurant putting out such steady fare, but when I found out who was cooking, it all made sense.