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Fortunate Son: “Working class American-Chinese food”

I pause to think about how much of a staple these things have been in my life.

Girls’ Night Out: Alison, Lauren and Diana (l-r) say the Szechuan green beans were best
Girls’ Night Out: Alison, Lauren and Diana (l-r) say the Szechuan green beans were best

Och, dreich. Ye coulda picked a better night, sailor,” says Annie. “It’s chucking it down.”

Place

Fortunate Son

2943 Adams Ave, San Diego

Annie’s my Scottish friend. She’s right about the rain. Says it takes her back to “Caledonia.” That’s the old name for Scotland. She says dreich means “miserable weather” in Scottish. She and I, and our buddies Kim and Pam, are crowding around the welcome desk of Fortunate Son, this romantically Chinese-looking place in Normal Heights. Out on the patio, collapsed triple-canopy red and gold umbrellas shine in the lights and flap drippily in the wind and rain. The inside’s jam-packed with red lanterns, golden dragon cushions, red and gold tablecloths, wait staff in red and gold dragon aprons. It’s cozy.

Except we’re cold and wet. We wanna sit down, but the hostess says no dice. “Hour and a half wait,” she says.

“What?!” says Annie. “This weather? Why don’t you do reservations?”

“Sorry,” says the girl. “You could wait in the Swan.”

Sponsored
Sponsored
Hopefuls on a Saturday night. Restaurant does not take reservations

We’re in Normal Heights, on Adams. Long and short is, we do run and huddle in the uber-cute Swan bar next door. But it has its challenges too. Like, the rain is getting in, splashing itself onto all the window tables. Still, it’s kinda fun. Everybody’s friendly, sharing the misery.

Then finally, the girl from Fortunate Son appears. She races in out of the rain, spots us, and shouts, “You’ve got a table!”

So now we’re settled at table 61, surrounded by those glowing red paper lanterns and a green forest of upside-down plants hanging from the ceiling. Red — for the Chinese, a lucky color, right? — is everywhere. So are dragons. Turns out the place is deliberately aimed at giving us the total Chinese-American experience. “Working class American-Chinese food,” announces the menu proudly. It’s a license to go all-out on the kind of deliciously clichéd Chinese dishes we’ve all had at our local noodle shop when we were in a hurry and didn’t want to spend a lot. This is the nosh that has been evolving here ever since 15,000 Chinese workers came (or maybe were brought) to the U.S. to build the East-West railroad between 1863 and 1869. And Chinese cooks have spent the time ever since then adapting their cuisine to whatever ingredients they could find here — and so making their food safe for us Barbarians to chow down upon.

The menu gets scholarly about it, says the place “attempts to chronicle the cultural exchange between the United States and China that helped turn restaurant dining into an egalitarian ideal and a democratic experience in the early 20th century.”

Tony Guan — the chef who runs the kitchen here at Fortunate Son — writes, “Among my chef friends and the epicurean élites, i.e. ‘foodies,’ the conversation around great Chinese food was always centered on authenticity, with classic American takeout dishes not considered authentic. But I’ve always seen [American-Chinese dishes] as a by-product of [the] enormous creativity and ingenuity of Chinese immigrants. They adapted to what was available to them in the early 20th century.” Nice to hear such a positive message in this time when we’re not feeling a lot of good vibes between the two cultures.

Orange chicken, perennially popular

Whatever, this “everyman’s” menu is short, but offers plenty of dishes we recognize, from Kung Pao chicken to Dan Dan noodles. Hmm. I check the choices: “Kung Pao Chicken, with sour fermented chili sauce, roasted peanuts, garlic, ginger, $15.99.” “Crab Rangoon, with cream cheese, sweet chili sauce, and scallions, $11.99.” Other offerings are still vaguely familiar: shrimp and pork dumplings with black vinegar and chili oil ($13.99); Szechuan green beans with interesting flavorings like pickled mustard stem, garlic, Fresno chilis and almond dust for $10.99; or General Tso’s Chicken (or, for vegetarians, General Tso’s Cauliflower), with ginger, garlic and Shaoxing wine (a rice wine from eastern China). The ladies leaving the table we’re coming to — Alison, Lauren and Diana — reckon the Szechuan beans were the best thing they had here tonight. “Along with the Dan Dan noodles, and the salt and pepper shrimp — awesome — but the beans were great because they were woked, not fried, and were crisp and fresh and had a pickled mustard flavor.” They cost $10.99.

The rest of the menu is a combo of noodle dishes, like lo mein noodles with cabbage and carrots for $9.99, or rice dishes. And one of the best deals has to be the simple fried rice, with Chinese sausage, peas and carrots for — hey hey! — $6.99.

So yes, standard issue stuff, but I pause to think about how much of a staple these items have been in my life, keeping me going on many an evening as I sit at my laptop. Not your odd-tasting ragouts of newts’ eyes and dragon tails, but just honest wok-stir-ups of pork and rice and noodles — and usually, a healthy dose of garlic and spice and soy sauce.

“I know exactly what I want,” says Annie now. “Dumplings and Dan Dan noodles. And a Chinese beer.” I go for the fried rice, but add shrimp for $5.99, making a total of thirteen bucks. We share, natch, and I must say Annie’s dumplings are the greatest. Nice pork and shrimp combo, plus soy-saucy, garlicky, squelchy little food purses with sexy crisp spots.

And to wash it all down, we get bottles of Nanjing beer. That’s a first. Nice, in a German lager way. (And that’s no surprise: The way I heard it, back in the day, it was a German brewer went through all Asia, setting up breweries that produced his exact back-home brewskis.)

It’s still coming down cats and dogs when we head out, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem to matter. For a moment we all turn into Gene Kelly, swishing up water from the roadside with our soaked shoes. “I’m singing in the rain…”

  • The Place: Fortunate Son, 2943 Adams Avenue, 619-391-3766
  • Prices: Kung Pao Chicken, with roasted peanuts, garlic, ginger, $15.99; Crab Rangoon (cream cheese, sweet chili sauce, scallions,) $11.99; shrimp and pork dumplings, $13.99; Szechuan green beans, with fresno chilis and almond dust, $10.99; General Tso’s Chicken, $15.99; General Tso’s Cauliflower, $12.99; dan dan noodles (sichuan sesame sauce), $13.99; lo mein noodles, $9.99; fried rice (Chinese sausage, peas, carrots), $6.99
  • Hours: 5pm-11.30pm, Monday to Thursday; 3pm - 11.30pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Buses: 2, 11
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Adams and 30th
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Girls’ Night Out: Alison, Lauren and Diana (l-r) say the Szechuan green beans were best
Girls’ Night Out: Alison, Lauren and Diana (l-r) say the Szechuan green beans were best

Och, dreich. Ye coulda picked a better night, sailor,” says Annie. “It’s chucking it down.”

Place

Fortunate Son

2943 Adams Ave, San Diego

Annie’s my Scottish friend. She’s right about the rain. Says it takes her back to “Caledonia.” That’s the old name for Scotland. She says dreich means “miserable weather” in Scottish. She and I, and our buddies Kim and Pam, are crowding around the welcome desk of Fortunate Son, this romantically Chinese-looking place in Normal Heights. Out on the patio, collapsed triple-canopy red and gold umbrellas shine in the lights and flap drippily in the wind and rain. The inside’s jam-packed with red lanterns, golden dragon cushions, red and gold tablecloths, wait staff in red and gold dragon aprons. It’s cozy.

Except we’re cold and wet. We wanna sit down, but the hostess says no dice. “Hour and a half wait,” she says.

“What?!” says Annie. “This weather? Why don’t you do reservations?”

“Sorry,” says the girl. “You could wait in the Swan.”

Sponsored
Sponsored
Hopefuls on a Saturday night. Restaurant does not take reservations

We’re in Normal Heights, on Adams. Long and short is, we do run and huddle in the uber-cute Swan bar next door. But it has its challenges too. Like, the rain is getting in, splashing itself onto all the window tables. Still, it’s kinda fun. Everybody’s friendly, sharing the misery.

Then finally, the girl from Fortunate Son appears. She races in out of the rain, spots us, and shouts, “You’ve got a table!”

So now we’re settled at table 61, surrounded by those glowing red paper lanterns and a green forest of upside-down plants hanging from the ceiling. Red — for the Chinese, a lucky color, right? — is everywhere. So are dragons. Turns out the place is deliberately aimed at giving us the total Chinese-American experience. “Working class American-Chinese food,” announces the menu proudly. It’s a license to go all-out on the kind of deliciously clichéd Chinese dishes we’ve all had at our local noodle shop when we were in a hurry and didn’t want to spend a lot. This is the nosh that has been evolving here ever since 15,000 Chinese workers came (or maybe were brought) to the U.S. to build the East-West railroad between 1863 and 1869. And Chinese cooks have spent the time ever since then adapting their cuisine to whatever ingredients they could find here — and so making their food safe for us Barbarians to chow down upon.

The menu gets scholarly about it, says the place “attempts to chronicle the cultural exchange between the United States and China that helped turn restaurant dining into an egalitarian ideal and a democratic experience in the early 20th century.”

Tony Guan — the chef who runs the kitchen here at Fortunate Son — writes, “Among my chef friends and the epicurean élites, i.e. ‘foodies,’ the conversation around great Chinese food was always centered on authenticity, with classic American takeout dishes not considered authentic. But I’ve always seen [American-Chinese dishes] as a by-product of [the] enormous creativity and ingenuity of Chinese immigrants. They adapted to what was available to them in the early 20th century.” Nice to hear such a positive message in this time when we’re not feeling a lot of good vibes between the two cultures.

Orange chicken, perennially popular

Whatever, this “everyman’s” menu is short, but offers plenty of dishes we recognize, from Kung Pao chicken to Dan Dan noodles. Hmm. I check the choices: “Kung Pao Chicken, with sour fermented chili sauce, roasted peanuts, garlic, ginger, $15.99.” “Crab Rangoon, with cream cheese, sweet chili sauce, and scallions, $11.99.” Other offerings are still vaguely familiar: shrimp and pork dumplings with black vinegar and chili oil ($13.99); Szechuan green beans with interesting flavorings like pickled mustard stem, garlic, Fresno chilis and almond dust for $10.99; or General Tso’s Chicken (or, for vegetarians, General Tso’s Cauliflower), with ginger, garlic and Shaoxing wine (a rice wine from eastern China). The ladies leaving the table we’re coming to — Alison, Lauren and Diana — reckon the Szechuan beans were the best thing they had here tonight. “Along with the Dan Dan noodles, and the salt and pepper shrimp — awesome — but the beans were great because they were woked, not fried, and were crisp and fresh and had a pickled mustard flavor.” They cost $10.99.

The rest of the menu is a combo of noodle dishes, like lo mein noodles with cabbage and carrots for $9.99, or rice dishes. And one of the best deals has to be the simple fried rice, with Chinese sausage, peas and carrots for — hey hey! — $6.99.

So yes, standard issue stuff, but I pause to think about how much of a staple these items have been in my life, keeping me going on many an evening as I sit at my laptop. Not your odd-tasting ragouts of newts’ eyes and dragon tails, but just honest wok-stir-ups of pork and rice and noodles — and usually, a healthy dose of garlic and spice and soy sauce.

“I know exactly what I want,” says Annie now. “Dumplings and Dan Dan noodles. And a Chinese beer.” I go for the fried rice, but add shrimp for $5.99, making a total of thirteen bucks. We share, natch, and I must say Annie’s dumplings are the greatest. Nice pork and shrimp combo, plus soy-saucy, garlicky, squelchy little food purses with sexy crisp spots.

And to wash it all down, we get bottles of Nanjing beer. That’s a first. Nice, in a German lager way. (And that’s no surprise: The way I heard it, back in the day, it was a German brewer went through all Asia, setting up breweries that produced his exact back-home brewskis.)

It’s still coming down cats and dogs when we head out, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem to matter. For a moment we all turn into Gene Kelly, swishing up water from the roadside with our soaked shoes. “I’m singing in the rain…”

  • The Place: Fortunate Son, 2943 Adams Avenue, 619-391-3766
  • Prices: Kung Pao Chicken, with roasted peanuts, garlic, ginger, $15.99; Crab Rangoon (cream cheese, sweet chili sauce, scallions,) $11.99; shrimp and pork dumplings, $13.99; Szechuan green beans, with fresno chilis and almond dust, $10.99; General Tso’s Chicken, $15.99; General Tso’s Cauliflower, $12.99; dan dan noodles (sichuan sesame sauce), $13.99; lo mein noodles, $9.99; fried rice (Chinese sausage, peas, carrots), $6.99
  • Hours: 5pm-11.30pm, Monday to Thursday; 3pm - 11.30pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Buses: 2, 11
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Adams and 30th
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