The owners of the Blue Goat, Osaka and Wild Ginger — Eat Restaurant Partners — have done it again with the crowd-pleasing food in their newest establishment. If you're looking for an authentic Chinese food experience, Fat Dragon Chinese Kitchen and Bar on the Boulevard isn't the place. Come anyway, and you'll find above-average American Chinese food, thanks to the restaurant's commitment to serving quality ingredients, often locally sourced, and chef Jin Zhao's Cantonese heritage.
In Chinese cooking, Cantonese food is beloved for its light flavors. Chefs coax out the true flavor of ingredients using water- or broth-based sauces to add subtle nuances to a dish. It is, often literally, a far cry from spicy Hunan or hot-numbing Sichuan cuisines.
Enter the Dragon ($18) is a nice example. Plump scallops, shrimp, calamari and toothsome vegetables are bathed in savory rice wine sauce; the seafood lends a bit of richness and body to the light, delectable sauce. It's rare that I wish there was more cornstarch slurry to thicken a Chinese sauce, but I want to lap up every drop.
Canton spring rolls ($5) contain tasty filling of napa cabbage, leeks, minced pork and shrimp. Deep fried in tightly rolled rice paper, the inner layers of the wrapper aren't crispy. I suspect the frying oil is too hot and the spring rolls are fished out too soon to cook through the center. I'm disappointed that the delicious spring rolls are served with generic duck sauce from a bottle, although the spicy mustard is of decent quality and has a favorable kick.
No respectable Chinese restaurant is without spicy dishes on its menu. Fat Dragon lists a handful items with spicy or fiery adjectives. If you like spicy food, as I do, Fat Dragon doesn't breathe fire. Ask your server for extra hot sauce and you'll be handed a bottle of Sriracha, which is my go-to hot sauce, except when I need it to amp up the hot and sour soup ($3). A pinch of ground white pepper would be perfect for the otherwise tasty soup.
Shrimp and pork chili dumplings ($5) are served with what's called spicy Sichuan pepper sauce that lacks both chili heat and numbing Sichuan peppers. I'm all for Fat Dragon's sustainability practices and nose-to-tail philosophy. The restaurant says it grinds its own meat to ensure very little is wasted. Unfortunately, I bite on several gristles in the chili dumplings at dinner, and again in the pork and shrimp bao du jour ($4) at lunch a week later. Gristle aside, I find the steamed bun dough more delicious than the filling. These two saucer-sized buns are light and delicate.
Not a single bone of contention is raised with the Chinese barbecue baby back ribs ($7). Tender and properly seasoned, the meat slips off the bones effortlessly and elicits satisfied smiles at our table. For vegetarians, my lunch of Fat Dragon tofu ($12 dinner, $8 lunch) is a satisfying dish full of thick-cut, tender tofu with crisp, fried edges in light oyster sauce and vegetables.
The shrimp satay Chinese submarine ($8) is brimming with juicy shrimp in satay sauce, topped with salty peanuts and tangy Asian slaw. It's a reminiscence of Vietnamese banh mi. The side of fries needs a major overhaul from the current oily cubes of potatoes.
Diners will find the airy, modern, industrial-chic dining space welcoming. On most nights, crowds sit at the substantial bar embedded with thousands of Chinese lucky coins or stand and nosh at a communal table. It's loud. But quieter conversations can be had on the other side of the room, around the dining tables.
Wherever you sit, the kitchen is well timed and the service is swift whether you order Virginia or Belgian craft beers, Asian-food-friendly wines, or refreshing Regatta ginger beer. Fat Dragon's drink menu lists how to say "white wine" in Mandarin. Beware that if you order it in China or Chinatown as bai jiu, you just ordered Chinese moonshine, a harsh sorghum liquor. Say "bai putao jiu" instead, that is, if you want white wine. S
1200 N. Boulevard
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 5-11 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight
Sunday 5-10 p.m.
Bar: Tuesday-Thursday 4:30 p.m.-midnight
Friday-Saturday 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m.
Sunday 4:30-10 p.m.