This venue has closed.
Fung Lam and David Rossi seem as comically bemused as everyone else that they’re doing what they’re doing: running an American Chinese restaurant peddling notorious Chinatown staples like moo shu pork and shrimp toast in the middle of downtown Shanghai.
It all started with a different idea: Lam and Rossi originally came to Shanghai to open another American concept: a cheap, healthy cuisine venue which they felt was lacking here. However, after months of fruitless searching for the ideal real estate for salad, they decided, with some guarded reserve, to go back to Lam’s roots: specifically his grandfather’s greasy take-out Chinese, which Grandpa Lam launched in Brooklyn in 1969. In fact, Lam’s entire family is in the Americanized Chinese food business, with his father, brother and extended family running 15 restaurants in New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Arizona.
Despite having grown up in the business, Lam wasn’t immediately convinced China was the most receptive territory for what some refer to undiplomatically as bastardized Chinese food. But he and Rossi say, over their time in Shanghai many people lamented to them that they couldn’t order their favourite Chinatown dishes, despite being in the ostensible mecca for Chinese food. When the pair found this fourth floor space on Changshu Lu, they decided to go gung ho with the Lam family legacy.
It’s a surreal experience to walk into Fortune Cookie, sort of like a wormhole leading into a United States upscale Chinatown diner. Everything from the broadsheet menus with red pagodas and old-tymey fonts to the inevitable wire-handled cardboard takeout containers has been replicated here. Often either Lam or Rossi (who met as classmates at Cornell University’s hospitality school) will come to your table, with almost sheepish grins on their faces, to take your order and explain a bit about how this whole ironic enterprise began.
You can start your sentimental journey with crab Rangoon (45RMB), five fat packages of cream cheese (Philadelphia, of course), imitation crab (the real stuff would be so inauthentic) and scallions, deep fried in wonton skins. This is the ultimate drunk food.
Move on to our favourite entrée, the moo shu pork (75RMB), a tangle of pork strips, cabbage and wood ear mushrooms which you wrap in big, soft flour pancakes and dip in hoisin sauce. Or you can shoot for pork, chicken or shrimp battered, deep fried and then doused in a neon orange sweet and sour sauce so cloying that even the famously sweet-loving Shanghainese are taken aback by the sugar rush.
Lam says his Chinese chefs are still struggling to accept some of the Americanized recipes which call for upfront salt and sugar with close to zero nuance. Says Lam, ‘I want you to taste the sweet and sour before it even reaches your mouth’.
The recipes aim to be exactly the same as those served in his family’s restaurants; Lam’s father, mother, uncle and cousins are all making rotating trips to China to make sure everything in Shanghai runs just like back home in the US Lam says his father has been a bit taken aback by the initial lack of crowds at his family’s brand new Shanghai outpost – he was apparently expecting to be slammed from day one, just like when he opens a branch in the US, where he does massive marketing campaigns. But the younger Lam is cautiously patient; he’s hoping their build here may be slow, but steady.
As for the interior, they’ve gone a bit upscale from the average Chinatown greasy spoon, with décor by the same designers who did up Henkes and Green & Safe. The typical design motifs have been updated, with a bit of humour thrown in, and there are neon signs, a dragon carved into a wooden wall and square cloth lanterns overhead. The long booths and big portions make meals ideal for sharing, and the nostalgic trappings mean anyone who’s dined in a Chinatown will find this meal endlessly amusing, and more importantly, downright tasty.
When the check comes, you’ll receive your fortune cookie, which on one of our visits read: ‘Whatever you are, be a good one’, a quote by one of America’s greatest, Abe Lincoln, which Fortune Cookie has taken to heart.