Fantasy Cuisine is not your average Chinese takeout joint. In the middle of car-thronged Central Avenue, this bustling restaurant offers dishes superior to what’s served at the majority of suburban Chinese eateries. Additionally, there are more adventurous options, ones that you’d normally only get to taste during a trip to Manhattan’s Chinatown or Flushing in Queens.
Housed in a bright, modern space, Fantasy Cuisine is an oasis on a section of Central Avenue that’s spotted with low-grade takeout spots and greasy pizza joints. The quality of food is no mirage, but the service can be spotty.
The soup dumplings, pork or a mixture of crab and pork (we previewed these last year), are just as good as the buzz you may have heard, but don’t stop at just one plate. All of the dumplings are handmade and taste light years better than the industrial, oily dumplings that you’ve likely been ordering from your neighborhood Chinese takeout place. The fried dumplings are crispy, not soaked in oil, and stuffed with a flavorful pork and scallion filling. Try the house special buns too: sticky buns filled with falling-apart tender roast duck in a hoisin sauce and crunchy fresh pickles.
Hot appetizers at Fantasy Cuisine are mostly (and unapologetically) fried to crispy perfection. Crab rangoon puffs are filled with a cream cheese center that oozes out when you bite into them. Eat them quickly, because they cool to room temperature almost as soon as they’re set on the table. Skip the spring rolls, which are mostly dough, and go for the flaky Thai-style curry puffs. On chilly nights, start out with wonton soup; the wontons are generously portioned and freshly stuffed with a shrimp and pork mixture.
On the menu, classic Szechuan entrées are ranked from non-spicy to very spicy—a helpful tool for ordering—and delineated by “style” (scallion style, salt ‘n’ pepper style, etc.). Kung pao style is on the lower end of the spicy spectrum, though you wouldn’t think so for how many dried chilies end up on the plate. The flavorful dish is spotted with crunchy peanuts, which add a nutty, earthy flavor to a slightly spicy, yet almost-sweet sauce. Right above the kung pao on the spicy scale is the dry-pot style, which is served in a mini wok. Vegetables like peppers, onions, and lotus root are mixed with beef and garlic. It’s not overly spicy (though it definitely has a kick), but the dish was average. Satisfying enough to eat for a meal, but not worth ordering again.
Though not featured prominently on the menu, Fantasy Cuisine offers classic takeout dishes like beef and broccoli and General Tso’s chicken. Sesame chicken is crispy underneath the sticky-sweet sauce, far better than the standard takeout fare.
Stir-fried noodles are an unexpected pleasure. Try the chow fun: wide rice noodles tossed in a garlicky sauce. Also on offer is Yaki Udon, a stir-fry with thick, round Japanese-style yaki udon noodles and assorted vegetables.
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Go into the restaurant with a game plan to taste as much as you can: Split a few plates of dumplings and appetizers to start out and continue the food sharing with a generously portioned entrée and noodle dish. You’ll have just enough room to order some dessert like the flaky, purple-hued taro pastry or a Chinese restaurant favorite, green tea ice cream. Skip the fried ice cream though; it was soaked with oil that probably could have been changed more recently.
The level of service at Fantasy Cuisine completely depends on the day. Weeknights are relatively calm, but come Friday or Saturday the restaurant turns chaotic. Reservations for parties of fewer than six people are not accepted, so expect to wait for your table no matter how early you arrive. Also, be aware that a “10-minute wait” was really closer to 30 minutes on both visits.
Hope that you’re seated in the back of the restaurant, away from two large-screen TVs and the crowd that invariably gathers at the door, waiting for a table of their own. Tables are also sensibly sized in the back, as opposed to too skinny or too large elsewhere.
Service can be confusing and disjointed; I even watched servers put the finishing touches on dessert plates, licking their fingers after a bit of whipped cream landed on them. Not a culinary federal offense, but unprofessional and not pleasant to watch right before the dessert is carried to the table.
Be prepared for long waits, both before and after you’re seated. But, despite that, Fantasy Cuisine delivers Chinatown-quality fare in your own backyard with huge portions and reasonable pricing.
Food: 3/4 | Service 2/4 | Atmosphere 3.5/4 | Cost 2/4
20 N Central Ave
(914) 358-9046; www.fantasycuisine.com