Sunday, 8 September 2013

Fortune Cookie

After a summer of travel, I was ready for a taste of home.

We had been hot-footing from one place to the next, hitting 6 countries in 3 months and never staying more than a few days in a single spot, and my palate had been rocked by the varied and prolonged assault of the New and Different. Although decidedly not the Unpleasant - I can't wait to recreate some of the flavors and dishes here - at some point I was left gagging for the familiar.

And, file this under things I would have never NEVER thought I would say... I was craving Chinese.

After being away from China for 2 whole months (and the month before in places within its borders so ethnically different that they barely felt like "China" at all) I was craving the tastes and oil-saturated textures of Shanghai. It might just have been the summer's over-exposure to nutrient-devoid white bread or bootleg Pringles crumbs on 24-hour bus rides, but I couldn't wait to get back for some mapo doufu and jiaozi.

So where was my first stop back in the city?

An "American-style Chinese" restaurant, of course.


Unorthodox? Maybe. But let's get deep for a sec and just say that, through a fusion of my old home and my new, perhaps American-style Chinese would be the ultimate comfort food.

(Either that, or I'm going crazy from eating too much poisoned fish, but let's go with the former).

I had heard a lot about Fortune Cookie over the course of the summer from excited expat friends who were, perversely, praising its "authentically American-style Chinese food" (which is more convoluted than a fortune cookie wrapper itself, but we'll leave it for now). It was opened by two American guys who wanted to bring any American-Chinese "classics" China could possibly be lacking.

I had worried it would be a high-brow or half-baked 'concept' spot at best, but Ben at Shanghaiist had some nice thoughts on it, declaring that "If you want a slice of Americana, you won't find it at Shanghai's BBQ and hamburger joints...but rather here at Fortune Cookie". All signs pointed towards the positive.

So we rolled up to the restaurant, or rather "rose" - it is on the 4th floor, which is a literal death knell to China natives, and isn't auspicious in my book either. I don't know what it is, but, with very few exceptions (hi Hai!), I just don't like eating off the ground. With this one strike against it, we sat in the well-designed though oddly-shaped room with its kitchy-cool decorations (a money cat wearing a blinged-out chain! Neon!) and immediately started demolishing your classic fried wonton wrapper chips with an exceptional duck sauce.

I was eating with some Fortune Cookie veterans, and the single repeated request was for the crab rangoon, a starter I have never actually tried at home but sounded good on paper - what's not to love about deep-fried cream cheese and imitation crab? Exactly - that was rhetorical. #Murrica.

And "good" doesn't even begin to describe these fatty, fried, gut-busting flavor bombs - ol' Roger, The Hambassador himself, of sHAMhai declared he would like to "roll around in a ballpit" of the little suckers. Sign me up.

Unfortunately, the meal stagnated after this point, although that could just have been our arteries - the moo shu pork was good enough, served as it should be with pancakes to make tidy little packets of sodium, and the orange chicken was tasty in its fluorescent goop, but the spring rolls were so-so and the rest of the meat mains we ordered were completely indistinguishable ("doesn't beef usually taste more like...beef?").

Beef? Pork? Meh?

We didn't even touch our rice, and the only vegetables on the table were the token broccoli trees planted on a few of the plates to visually break up the various shades of brown. Needless to say, dessert was not an option.

However, despite the less-than-ideal location and largely heavy, oil-drenched dishes, the restaurant still managed to leave a great impression. It's stylish, the servers are lovely, and the 'concept' isn't too over-wrought to be enjoyable. It was, in the best ways, exactly like being back in America - enjoying a greasy Chinese meal and knowing you'll pay for it later.

We finished with the restaurant's namesake, the token touch that probably kicked off the whole idea.

Deep, man.

I don't know if it was suggesting that we only order the crab rangoon next time (and a Dragon Bowl - YOLO), but it's advice I'll try and take.

Thank you, (I'll) come again.

Fortune Cookie
4/F, 83 Changshu Lu, near Julu Lu
French Concession

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