When I heard that a new Chinese restaurant had opened — with Shanghai-born chefs who came to North Texas from Vancouver, British Columbia — I couldn’t wait to check it out: I headed to Fortune House that very evening.
Dinner started with a classic Shanghainese dish: a bamboo steamer basketful of eight plump xiao long bao — soup dumplings — filled with crabmeat, pork and a rich pork broth. (They’re “crabmeat steamed buns” on the menu.) Glorious! The dumplings’ skins had a beautiful texture, as fragile as you want them but supple enough to contain the delicious broth until you’re ready to sip it — best accomplished by daintily nibbling a corner first and drinking the soup inside, then dipping the dumpling in vinegar with shredded ginger, and eating.
Next there was something called “vegetable pastry cake” — a wonderful golden-griddled pastry filled with soft, savory leeks. Lightly fried prawns followed, cloaked in rich duck-egg yolk the color of Cheetos. The menu calls these “sautéed shrimp with duck egg yolk,” but sautéed isn’t quite right; they’re actually stir-fried in duck egg yolk with butter and oil, so the cooking medium forms a batter that melts into a sauce; it’s unusual and delicious.
Eureka! With so many sophisticated diners who have immigrated to North Texas from other lands, particularly Asian countries, I keep asking myself: Where are the new restaurants to cater to their tastes? Well, here’s one.
Owner Lucy Yong — a Shanghai native herself — moved to Dallas in 2006 to join family and friends in the clothing and real estate businesses, leaving her home in Vancouver. Missing the flavors of Shanghai, she brought chefs Ren Guoqing and Zou Guifeng to North Texas and opened Fortune House in mid-May (in the space formerly occupied by Dumpling House). The Shanghai-by-way-of-Vancouver pedigree is auspicious: Vancouver’s Chinese dining scene is arguably the best in North America.
Situated on a small hill, Fortune House is welcoming and reasonably well-appointed, with a tropical fish tank in the entry, booths along a narrow dining room that runs alongside the kitchen and a larger dining room in back with a clear (and surprising!) view of the Dallas skyline.
Nearly everything I ordered in the course of three visits was from the “Shanghai Flavor” list of nearly 50 dishes; most was excellent.
It’s hard to go wrong with starters, thanks to pastry chef Zou, who’s in charge of dumplings and such. There’s Shanghai-style won-ton soup — a good, clear broth crowded with plenty of soft, floppy won tons filled with flavorful pork and Chinese cress, garnished with egg ribbons. Our affable, extremely helpful young server — an engineering student from Hunan — ladled it into small bowls for us.
Dumplings filled with chicken and celery were folded into smart square packets before being steamed; these and pan-fried shrimp-and-pork dumplings were lovely — supple but not clunky — dunked into the gingery vinegar and a bit of chile paste. (Vinegar is very big in Shanghai cooking.)
Scallion pancakes were really good — hot, crisp and greaseless. So was a beef wrap — baked pastry filled with salty, flavorful meat that reminded me of corned beef, along with cucumber. Have you ever had the trendy newish dish called pastrami egg roll? The wrap is like a traditional version of that. A plate of garlicky marinated cucumber, cool and very crisp, went with it perfectly. Cold smoked fish (pomfret the night I had it) — a little sweet, a little vinegary — was chewy and interesting, like a cross between fish jerky and smoked whitefish from a New York deli.
After that, I loved a big plate of pan-fried egg white and seafood on vegetable. Legend has it that the dish was created during the Qing dynasty for an empress who had a yen for crab. Her chef couldn’t get it, but he faked it by using egg whites mixed with shrimp. At Fortune House it came to the table, topped with a raw egg yolk, on a vivid green ring of broccoli florets. Our server mixed the yolk into the hot scrambled whites and shrimp so it cooked gently together. Crablike? Not particularly. But the flavor and almost fluffy texture were splendid.
Chef Ren knocked it out of the park with his braised jumbo meatballs — more commonly known as Lion’s Head Meatballs. Here the oversized, gorgeously spiced, saucy, tender orbs of pork came cradled with leaves of baby bok choy and garnished with sliced scallions in an attractive clay pot.
Want more veg? Ask for a big plate of carefully sautéed pea leaves, if they’re available. And do not miss the salted pork fried rice. Also served in a clay pot, it’s dotted with bits of Chinese greens and scallion, along with small cubes of intensely flavorful pork.
The one dish I wouldn’t order again came from the regular (non-Shanghai) menu: a whole stuffed and braised duck that must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance. How could you go wrong, right? Wrong. It certainly looked spectacular as it came out of the kitchen. Our server presented it at the table, then took it aside to carve it — with something barely sharper than a table knife. He sliced bravely all the way across and through the bird, carving thick slabs in which you could see meat surrounding colorful stuffing with edamame, mushrooms, shrimp, sticky rice and more. Whole baby bok choy glistened around the periphery of the platter. An impressive presentation, to be sure, but when we tried to lift up the slices, we made a terrible mess: The bird hadn’t really been sliced all the way through. The duck itself was fine, though not extraordinary, but the stuffing was soggy and sort of raw-tasting.
Much better was a duck marinated for three days in 12 spices, then steamed, then deep-fried. Served with clamshell buns and hoisin and garnished with cilantro, it was wonderful — almost a cross between confit duck and fried chicken, but a bit vinegary and aromatically spiced. A few morsels with cilantro in a hoisin-slathered bun made us very happy.
Just thinking about it makes me eager to head back to Irving — so many more Shanghai tastes to explore!
Fortune House (3 stars)
Price: $$-$$$ (appetizers and soups $5.99 to $14; main courses $7.49 to $48.99; Shanghai Flavor dishes $3.50 to $32; desserts $3.50-$8.50; lunch special $9.50)
Service: Friendly, attentive and very helpful; not at all dismissive of non-Chinese people who like to order adventurously
Ambience: A pleasant chocolate-brown main dining room with comfortable booths, tables with much-less- comfortable wooden chairs and views, from its perch on a small hill, of downtown Dallas in the distance
Noise level: Traditional Chinese music plays fairly softly; conversation is easy.
Location: 8150 N. MacArthur Blvd. (at Ranchview Drive, in the shopping center just north of Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway), Irving; 972-831-9888; yongsfortunehouse.com
Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of five or more
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine only, with plans to add sake soon
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor