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Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine Philadelphia, Pa. The fortune cookie — wrapped in chocolate velvet, not the telltale plastic of take-out Chinese — promised, “You can trust the wisdom of the ages.” I am not superstitious. I knew the thin strip of paper tucked in the buttery cookie could not predict the future, but, fortunately for me, it accurately described the immediate past, a delightful dinner at Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine in Philadelphia. George Perrier relinquished his knives at neighboring Le Bec Fin, but Susanna Foo is still hard at work in her Walnut Street kitchen. Each dish reflects the wisdom of her 14-year tenure there. The distinctive flavors of Foo’s offerings — tea-smoked duck breast, jalapeno-rosemary marinade, saffron basmati rice — have been simmering for much longer. The menu’s noodle dishes have their origin in inner Mongolia, where Foo was born, but their taste is anything but provencal: pan-fried noodles with tender braised vegetables ($10); mushroom-laden rice pasta, sauteed with the delicate, nutty chanterelle, bosky shiitake and maitake, a Chinese herbal-medicine mainstay known as the “dancing mushroom” ($12.50); pad thai paired with prawn and bay scallops ($11.50). It was a childhood in a Taiwanese town, bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by farmland, which introduced Foo to the fresh seafood and from-the-garden vegetables which dominate the constantly changing fare. On a menu of “heart’s delights” (the literate translation of the Cantonese “dim sum”), lobster dumplings are sweetened in a coconut sauce ($15), gingered salmon zings with fennel vinaigrette ($12.50) and crab cakes are dressed up with mango salsa and shredded, sea-sweet nori. Foo’s cooking was also influenced by her family. Foo’s father’s position as a solider and later a general in Chiang-Kai-Shek’s army brought her into contact with Western culture. Her mother and grandmother handed down traditional recipes. Her cousins introduced her to northern Chinese dishes. And her in-laws, the force behind Ardmore’s Hunan in Philadelphia, taught her the spice of Hunan cooking. Her husband, E-Hsin Foo, is a partner in the restaurant and maintains the 10-page wine inventory. Although wine is rarely paired with Chinese cuisine, the world-wide flavors of the menu complement a variety of vintages. The list includes 20 wines by the glass, $6.50 for a recent California chardonnay or merlot to $24 for a 1995 Chateau Laurie, bottles from $35 to $100 for a 1976 Cote be Beaune burgundy and $1,100 for a 1985 Chateau Margaux bordeaux. Age-old wisdom may be the inspiration behind E-Hsin’s wines and Susanna’s Szechwan diver scallops and filet tips with Yukon gold potatoes, Mexican serrano chile and Chinese noodles ($29), but the kitchen’s ingredients have not seen that passage of time. Fresh comes before exotic in Foo’s vocabulary. “The menu changes a lot,” a hostess said, apologizing as I search for a newly discovered favorite dish. “It all depends what Susanna finds at the market,” she said, between making room for late-afternoon reservations for that evening’s offerings. No apologies are necessary. There is one ingredient common to all dishes — from the snappy poblano pepper-portobello-tarragon-garlic-black bean sauce gracing the Szechwan pork ($24) one evening to the caramelized citrus sauce atop jumbo shrimp and tomato-coconut-grapefruit rice ($28) the next night — Foo’s respect for the individual flavors. Each dish is garnished with this subtle sophistication. This understated elegance extends to the ingredients of the Meg Rodgers-designed 120-seat dining room. Muted, natural colors adorn the walls; formal black and white adorn the waitstaff. And although the restaurant’s name is whispered in a simple gold cursive on an otherwise nondescript facade of a former steakhouse, many have announced the restaurant more boldly. It was the 1997 James Beard Foundation award-winner as restaurant with the best chef in the mid-Atlantic region, has four stars from the 1998 Mobil Guide and is an ISACC Jade Chopstick Award winner. Foo hasn’t show signs of slowing down in the years since these accolades, which may prove her both chef and psychic. Long before I broke that fortune cookie, Foo knew the power of the wisdom of the ages. Restaurant: Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine Location: 1512 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Pa. Reservations: (215) 545-2666. Hours: Serves lunch weekdays 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Monday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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