Lucky Fortune is a golden Chinese-dining value

Six years ago, Cindy Chiu bought Lucky Fortune, one of the Chinese restaurants that line Geary Boulevard in the outer Richmond. A year later she had the lucky fortune to find Zhao Qiang Mai, formerly a chef at the nearby Mayflower. Though Lucky Fortune’s predictable English menu and comfortable, if utilitarian, dining room may not make a big statement, Zhao’s cooking does.

Dim sum arrives hot and fresh — even late in the afternoon. Order by checking off items on a form. Each arrives separately. Translucent steamed dumplings ($2.50) filled with pea sprouts, others with sweet little shrimp and Chinese chives, were practically mini-meals in themselves.

Big, floppy and irresistible, they reflect the style of Richmond district cooking. Gigantic deep-fried taro puffs ($1.80), deliver a crisp, lacy, dreamy crust that holds creamy taro and savory ground pork inside. My long-suffering dining companion insisted on shrimp-stuffed eggplant ($2.50), silken slices of Chinese eggplant sandwiching voluptuous slabs of pink shrimp paste, all bathed in glistening brown sauce. I had to fight him to get a second bite. He also went straight for crunchy fish nuggets ($2.50), spicy, crumb-coated squares of sole. For once he hit it right.

But the dish that made me sit up and take notice — bok choy with garlic sauce ($4) — represented everything I love about Cantonese cooking: the pastel beauty of the crisp/tender baby vegetable captured in a flavorful, shimmering sauce.

Of course, I returned for dinner immediately. Though I had my Hong Kong dining expert with me, I made him order the $49 fixed menu for four.

The meal was marvelous, starting with “soup of the day,” a meaty broth laden with long-cooked pork and dark greens, followed by a deep-fried squab with lacquered brown skin and dark, velvety flesh. A generous heap of salt-and-pepper-dusted fried whole shrimp had exceptionally succulent flesh and were so fresh, I sucked the juices from their heads.

Thick slices of buttery-textured brisket were nestled into bracing, clear, clean, star anise-scented broth infused with hot green chiles. This destination dish was presented in a miniature wok set atop a flame.

A steamed whole flounder, its flesh scented by ginger and scallions, was pristine, fine-grained, delicate. In contrast, a clay casserole of braised fresh bacon cooked over cabbage and preserved vegetables in a heavy brown sauce waved the Cantonese soul-food banner. This dish, in turn, was contrasted by a plate of deep green, crisp, tender Chinese broccoli stems, invigorated by just the right amount of garlic. It takes a great cook to create such a perfect, simple dish.

Even with dim sum — three plates for $10 — thrown in, I couldn’t believe the check.

Lucky Fortune diners quickly realize that there is a serious chef in the kitchen. After dinner one night I saw him, sitting with his staff at a table arranged with tempting platters of food. I had to tell him how much I enjoyed his cooking. Through an interpreter, chef Zhao told us that he trained at a well-known culinary academy in Hong Kong and had been cooking for 20 years.

As we left, the hard working owner, Ms. Chiu, was heading over to the chef’s table. I couldn’t help exclaiming against my own self interest, “You have to charge more!”

LUCKY FORTUNE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

Location: 5715 Geary Blvd. (at 21st Avenue), San Francisco

Contact: (415) 751-2888

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily

Price range: Dim sum starting at $1.80 to luxurious dinner for four at $49

Recommended dishes: Brisket, taro puffs, salt-and-pepper whole shrimp, steamed flounder, all vegetables

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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