Fortune Cookie, a US chain started by Cornell grads Fung Lam and David Rossi brings Chinese-American classics like mooshu pork and crab rangoon to the old country. Honestly, before going, I saw it as the equivalent of bringing chimichangas to Mexico; an irony that might make passing Americans chuckle but leave locals wondering why anybody would eat dumbed down, equally expensive versions of their food. Fortunately, Fortune Cookie’s fare satisfies all camps. It’s traditional and greasy enough to give Americans an MSG-tinged wave of nostalgia and tasty enough to entice Chinese and others who didn’t grow up eating it.
Despite serving the same kitschy eats as your American mom-and-pop Chinese joint, Fortune Cookie is a slicker, more self-aware operation – think Francis Ford Coppola directing a B movie. It celebrates the dirty-water Chinatown eatery that we Americans grew up with minus the undesirable elements.
Shoddy surroundings and scowling, hair-moled owners who hate your guts are replaced by jovial line cooks wearing different sports caps, and sleek blue booths. Tsing Tao and Budweiser make way for tallboy cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Dead Guy Pale Ale on tap, and 7-Up cans are replaced by fresh-squeezed juices. However, the classic neon sign with the restaurant’s name, and the nostalgic takeout cartons remain.
Staff embody the simultaneously laid-back and on-the-ball attitude of American waitstaff. They’re also extremely accommodating, giving you a basket of hot wonton crackers with zesty plum sauce while you’re waiting to be seated. If you want a slice of Americana, you won’t find it at Shanghai’s BBQ and hamburger joints which often resemble American-themed Chinese casinos, but rather here at Fortune Cookie.
The kitschiest classics from moo shu pork (75RMB) to sesame shrimp (75RMB) to orange chicken to crackling crab rangoon filled with Philadelphia cream cheese in all its gum arabic-y glory (45RMB).
We recommend all of the above as well as the General Tsao’s Beef (82RMB) which is fried and then lubed up with a gloopy soy-based sauce (taste is similar to the orange chicken so we advise ordering one or the other), and the pork fried rice (47RMB); fried rice drowned in soy and mixed with the obligatory cubed pork, carrots and peas. The main differences between Fortune Cookie and your run-of-the-mill MSG monger are more pristine flavors, lack of rancid oil, and higher quality ingredients.
However, we didn’t especially like the recommended Dragon Wings (52RMB), chicken wings smoked with applewood and smeared with soy and ginger. Aptly-named, they were so smokey we felt as if dragons were attacking us while we were eating them. Not to mention the dish contained so much sodium we wondered if Danny Bowien had taken over the kitchen during its preparation.
Fortunately, it proved the only letdown among a vast spread of sentimental Sino-American classics.
Of course no Chinese-American meal is complete without the quintessential Chinese American food and the restaurant’s namesake, the fortune cookie. No joke, my fortune simply read “you are correct.” So delete that comment section skewering now, because my opinions are now undisputed facts.
A concept like this could easily fail due to only attracting American clientele while alienating others who didn’t grow up eating sesame shrimp, moo shu pork, and the like. Thankfully, top-of-the-line ingredients, a sharp staff, and a hip ambience prevent it from being simply a culinary inside joke. We’ll be back soon for the beef and broccoli and chop suey.
Fortune Cookie – Fourth Floor, 83 Changshu Lu, near Julu Lu, Jingan district (签语饼 静安区常熟路83号4楼, 近巨鹿路). Tel: (0)21-6093-3623. Hours: 11:30am-10pm Mon-Thu, 11.30am-11pm Fri-Sat.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].