Fortune Cookie’s pagoda-festooned broadsheet menu, piles of red-and-white takeaway cartons and ornate, kitschy tableware wouldn’t look out of place in any Chinatown in the U.S. But the restaurant, which serves American-Chinese classics like sweet-and-sour chicken and chow mein, isn’t in Chinatown. It’s in Shanghai.
Opened in July by a pair of young American entrepreneurs, the restaurant offers a menu of richly sauced staples like orange chicken, chop suey, moo shu pork and General Tso’s beef. Diners will also find crab rangoon, that oddly delicious starter of surimi and cream cheese, deep-fried in a wonton skin.
While dishes like these are familiar to American expats, they’re an anomaly in China. They were developed by Chinese immigrants from Canton to the U.S. during the 1800s, who adapted their cuisine due to a lack of ingredients from their homeland, as well as the need to cater to the American palate.
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Fortune Cookie’s American founders, David Rossi and Fung Lam, knew they were going against the grain – and that was the point. “We wanted to build a cool, special place that hasn’t existed before,” said Mr. Rossi. “The idea is pretty crazy, but it’s in the realm of ‘crazy-could-work.’”
Mr. Rossi, 33, and Mr. Lam, 31, met during a restaurant development class at Cornell Graduate School. They had originally set out to open a dim sum restaurant in the U.S., but moved to Shanghai last year after a trip there in 2011.
The pair had intended to open a salad bar in Shanghai, but the fourth-floor space they found didn’t lend itself to walk-ins. So instead they turned to the background of Mr. Lam, and a genre of cuisine they both sorely missed.
Mr. Lam is the third generation in a family of Chinese-restaurant owners. His grandfather opened his first restaurant, Kum Kau, in Brooklyn in 1969, and the family went on to open restaurants and takeaways in New York, New Jersey, Texas and Arizona. The dishes served at Fortune Cookie hew to these restaurants’ original recipes and haven’t been adapted for local Chinese palates.
“They say the Chinese palate is more sensitive, that’s why they don’t use so much sauce on everything,” said Mr. Lam, whose father flew in to train the Chinese cooks to make what is, to them, foreign food.
According to Mr. Lam, Chinese customers are taking a shine to the food, especially young people who have encountered it while studying in the U.S. The most frequent feedback is that American-size portions are too big, compared to the much smaller portions in local restaurants.
Tongfei Zhang, an editor at That’s Shanghai magazine, said “the sauces are a bit heavy, they look more like a soup to me,” though she noted there were similarities between Fortune Cookie’s sweet-and-sour pork and a dish found in many Shanghainese restaurants.
Overall, Ms. Zhang said, she liked the dishes but wouldn’t necessarily come here with her local friends. “The flavors would be okay for local people from Shanghai, who have a sweet tooth, but it is very sweet,” she said. “Even the broccoli is sweet.”
It’s a different story for the nostalgic expats who flock here on weekends, drawn in part by the fun atmosphere and interior design by Studio 1:1.
Hart Hagerty, a Shanghai-based American fashion designer and consultant, says she comes here when she needs some indulgent comfort food.
“It feels like a taste of home,” she said.
Fortune Cookie, 83 Chang Shu Lu, 4th floor; Tel.: +86 21 6093 3623. Dinner for two around 200 yuan.