Shanghai Express

Check the specials list for surprises at Fountain Court

We got a big round table near the back of the long room. (Next to us was a large family with a DVD player on the table to distract its youngest member. All day long, traveling with this group of movie buffs, I'd fantasized about the day when we'd illustrate our anecdotes by pulling out just such a toy and cuing up a minidisc. "What's he watching?" I asked. "Treasure Planet.") We ordered Shanghai pot-au-feu, baby shrimp with pea greens, pork belly with fresh leeks, a crab from the tank (which our server suggested changing from ginger-and-scallions, my favorite version, to black bean sauce -- "We're famous for our black bean sauce"), aromatic chicken, and Shanghai pepper duck. When I suggested either pork ribs braised with roasted scallions or a dish called "Shanghai spareribs," described as meaty pork ribs in brown sauce with spinach, Pierre countered with his preference for the pork intestines fire pot, pig innards with salted mustard greens and soft tofu in chile and garlic sauce. We went with the innards.

It was an amazing meal. The kitchen sent us some crisp little vegetarian appetizers, like flattened spring rolls, on the house. The Shanghai pot-au-feu was ladled from a hot pot into soup bowls, the broth full of petite pork ribs, smoky ham, tofu sheets folded and tied into knots, bamboo shoots, and greens. Cascades of tiny pink shrimp sat atop the glistening pea shoots, stir-fried with a bit of chicken broth. The pork belly, like thick-sliced Canadian bacon, rested on sautéed leeks that seemed creamy. The sticky, garlicky black bean sauce that coated the disjointed crab was quite wonderful, and the crab itself so good that I found myself wishing we'd ordered a ginger-and-scallion one -- for compare-and-contrast. The chicken, redolent of the five-spice broth (cloves, star anise, fennel, cinnamon, and pepper -- the cloves and star anise predominate) it'd been poached in, had been lightly fried and chopped up into meaty chunks, and came served with crunchy shrimp chips. The steamed pepper duck, also lightly fried, was accompanied by fat steamed buns and plum sauce: We split the buns, painted them with the thick fruity sauce, and tucked shreds of meat inside. As I could have predicted, Pierre and I were the only ones who dived into the pork intestines fire pot with alacrity, especially after the server mentioned that it was prepared with congealed pig's blood. It was quite a bit heartier than the other dishes on the table, but not without its mildly gamy charms.

I hastily ordered a few desserts, all of which proved to be delightful: a hill of mashed sweetened taro root crowned with chopped dates; "Eight Precious Sweet Rice," molded sticky rice with chopped, preserved fruits and nuts; chewy dumplings filled with sesame paste and dusted with chopped peanuts; and the best almond custard, a warm, fragile, ethereal, shaky little pudding that I could have dispatched all by myself in a couple of minutes. But somehow everybody got a taste, and agreed that it was the best almond custard they'd ever had.

Dim Sumptuous: Fountain Court's décor is 
modest, but its menu is anything but.
Anthony Pidgeon
Dim Sumptuous: Fountain Court's décor is modest, but its menu is anything but.

Location Info


Fountain Court

354 Clement
San Francisco, CA 94118

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Richmond (Inner)


Shanghai juicy steamed buns $5 for 8

Steamed sablefish dumplings $7 for 8

Shanghai pot-au-feu $14

Baby shrimp with pea greens $13

Aromatic chicken $9/half, $17/whole

Pepper duck $11/half, $20/whole

Almond custard $2


Open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m.

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult

Muni: 2, 44

Noise level: moderate

354 Clement (at Fifth Avenue)

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After only two meals, I was totally smitten with Fountain Court. In a city drenched with wonderful, diverse Asian restaurants, this is one of the best. And even if the place isn't serving shepherd's purse when you go, there'll be something equally interesting.

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