¦ Where: Fortune House, 1238 Taft Highway
(Suite 178), Signal Mountain.
¦ Phone: 423-517-8999.
¦ Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday,
11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9:30
¦ Price range (entrees): $3.95 (vegetable fried
rice)-$14.75 (Seven Stars Around the Moon).
Chinese lunch buffets are an attractive and inexpensive option for many a Chattanooga diner, but the various entrees usually lack spiciness and often taste the same in order to please the client with the average palate.
So, for a recent lunch, I chose, instead, to order off the menu at Fortune House, a small diner in a midtown Signal Mountain strip mall.
The menu was extensive, so I felt safe in ordering a dish marked "hot and spicy," convinced the dish would be individually prepared to my specification.
My mouth watered as I drove up the mountain, having planned to pick up my lunch to go and visit with my mother at her home.
Fortune House's menu varies little from handfuls of Chinese restaurants across the Scenic City, the familiar red and green type listing poultry, pork, seafood, beef dishes - in both pint and quart sizes - and vegetable dishes. The two-sizes option was a novelty to me and reasonable, I thought, for people who didn't want quite as much food.
Per usual, there also are combination platters ($6.75-$7.25), chef's specials ($8.55-$14.75), and fried rice dishes, lo mein dishes and chow mein dishes, the latter three in pint or quart sizes. Further, there are a variety of family dinners ($17.55 for two people), lunch specials (all $5.95), soups and appetizers.
Perhaps different from most Chinese restaurants were diet specials ($6.29-$8.29) and new specials ($7.55-$9.25).
Among the items you might not see everywhere are Pineapple Chicken ($8.55), Seven Stars Around the Moon, which is lobster, shrimp, beef, chicken and pork roast with mixed vegetable and fried shrimp sauteed in a chef's special sauce ($14.75), and Salt and Pepper Chicken ($8.55).
Upon calling in my order, I inquired of the attendant which of the spicy dishes, Kung Pao Chicken, Ma La Chicken, Tai Chin Chicken or Szechuan Chicken, had more vegetables. She said Tai Chin Chicken, so I ordered that and requested it extra spicy. It was to come with chicken fried rice or white rice and a choice of a soda, wonton, egg-drop or hot-and-sour soup, or egg roll. I requested fried rice and hot-and-sour soup, and I requested an egg roll on the side.
Once I got to the home of my absent mother - who was playing bridge - I realized I was not given an egg roll. Strike one.
The hot-and-sour soup, which is different almost everywhere you go but is almost always to my liking, was the blandest I'd ever had. There were no mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu or any of the other ingredients usually found floating in a fragrant broth. This, though, was largely broth and egg and not at all spicy. Strike two.
The Tai Chin Chicken did, as promised, have lots of vegetables. I identified broccoli, zucchini, carrots, water chestnuts, bok choy (or regular cabbage), mushrooms, white onions, bamboo shoots and green onions, and all were nicely cooked to offer a crunch in each bite. There also was plenty of chicken. The problem was that the brown sauce had absolutely no taste, no spiciness (as noted in the menu) and no extra spiciness (as I had requested). It was as bland as a Chinese buffet entree. Strike three.
Since I called in my order, there is little to be offered. The cashier took a bit of time to come to the register, but I was in no hurry. And I did see an attendant checking on tables. Diners apparently can refill their soda or tea themselves.
Fortune House is not quite Fortune Closet, but it's pretty small. In order to accommodate the ever-present buffet, there were about 10 four-person tables, a couple of two-person tables and a bigger table seating eight or 10. The space is fairly dark, and the decor is nothing flashy.
I had eaten at this restaurant once before and didn't remember striking out like I did on this day's lunch. And I'm a sucker for Chinese food, so I may have an opportunity to try it again if I'm on the mountain. If I do, I might try something you don't find anywhere like Pineapple Chicken or Salt and Pepper Chicken. In the meantime, I'll continue to hope Chinese restaurants take me seriously when I request "extra spicy, please."
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.