Our great pal Linda was in town for a whirlwind visit from Montreal which made a wonderful reason for our large group of lady friends in the Vancouver TV biz to get together for dinner and drinks. Linda is a true food enthusiast and she's been having some epic meals in Montreal and wanted to try somewhere new in Vancouver. I'd been hearing quite a bit about Fat Dragon BBQ (they've been open for about a month) and after getting the thumbs up from the group, we made plans to head there on a Thursday night. I had called ahead to make a reservation, but the extremely nice guy on the phone explained that they weren't taking resos yet because they were so new, but made a note to potentially expect a party of 8 @ 7pm on Thursday.
This new east side restaurant is the newest venture for Vancouver top chef and restauranteur Robert Belcham, the man behind Fuel, Refuel, Campagnolo (one of my favourites), and Campagnolo Roma.
The concept is east meets south, Chinese-themed BBQ and are trying to work the nose-to-tail cooking trend into the menu. They are located right near Oppenheimer park in the Downtown Eastside and the location is pretty remote- there isn't much else around this new resto. When we arrived, and throughout our meal, the restaurant wasn't very busy.
When you walk inside, you go through a pink fabric tunnel that creates instant ambience and "transports" you into their stripped down, open space that is supposed to give the feel of a 1920's opium den. The lighting is dim, it features exposed brick and wooden beams and there is dragon inspired ceiling art that looks like scales. This place just looks cool.
They've got an extensive, delicious-sounding cocktail menu with signature creations which many of the ladies sampled. My absolute favourite was the (left) Dragon's Breath ($10) spicebox bourbon, ginger beer, and edible bitter. It was so refreshing and had a nice spicy sweet bite.
The menu is designed for social sharing and everything sounded pretty delicious and bold. The menu is split into "bao" and "raw" sections, and the entrees helpfully includes a dish size slider down the side of it so you have an idea on the size of the dish.
We started off with a round of Bao Buns for 2.50 each- Smoked Beef Deckle with cabbage and caramelized peanuts, Marinated and Smoked Tofu with bean sprout kimchi and holy basil, Crunchy Squid with scallion, coriander, special smoked chili salt, Smoked Kabocha Squash with QPD mayo and radish sprouts
I tried the squid, tofu, smoked kabocha squash, and smoked tofu with bean sprout kimchi. My favourite was the squid, it was crunchy and freshly fried, not oily, and well seasoned. The buns themselves are light, soft, and pillowy and the chopped scallions and coriander added a fresh cooling element. They should actually create a squid based dish as a larger plate option. So good!
Our first salad came out first, the Gado-Gado Salad ($9) bean sprouts, smoked egg, peanut, black sugar. This was nice and light with a fairly mild flavour- maybe too mild, I wish it had a richer, more intense peanut flavour. I did like the rich smoky egg pieces a lot.
The other salad we tried was the Green Papaya and Napa Cabbage Salad ($8) lime, green chilies, crispy shallots. Make sure you mix this dish up to get the dressing/juices all mixed in to even up the flavour- we didn't and some bites gave a big POW of flavour and others were really mild. The crispy fried shallots were a delicious touch of crispy awesomeness.
Smoked Sizzling Cauliflower ($16) cashew gravy, vadouvan. This was similar to delicious roasted cauliflower dishes that I've enjoyed at other local eateries (Nuba, Edible Bistro). Crispy, smoky, full of flavour with a blend of masala-like spices with shallots and garlic. The cashew gravy was soooo good- creamy, nutty, and with a tahini-like texture and served slightly warm. A really awesome veggie dish with smoky richness.
Prime Beef Back Ribs ($19) Soy-brown sugar glaze, crispy sauce. This plate comes out looking like something that Fred Flinstone would eat, but these ribs are pretty good- rich, succulent, smoky, and not too sweet, with a crispy exterior and topped with crispy onion topping. But I wouldn't rush to order this dish again.
Steamed GaiLan with fried oyster sauce ($5). This was well cooked to retain a bit of a crunch. It was topped generously with a nice and fresh with thick, well-flavoured sauce and a couple of small deep-fried oysters (nice unexpected touch!).
Long Beans, sambal, smoked almonds ($5). Another veg option to balance out all of the meat, this was pretty standard but the smoky almond slivers were a nice added touch.
Smoked Pig's Snout Fried Rice ($15) seasonal vegetables, crispy garlic, scallions. The "snout" is subtle and chopped into tiny pieces. This was pretty standard but it is served with a jiggly egg yolk that sits on the rice and the server recommends that you mix it into the hot rice to make a rich sauce. All in all, an okay dish but nothing exceptional.
Even though this place is all about BBQ, make sure you order dessert here. Especially, the Soft Serve Ice Cream Cone ($2.50) in a cup or cone with their flavour of the day- which happened to be nutmeg. Wow, I haven't had soft serve ice cream in a long time but this was unreal! Incredibly refreshing, light, and fluffy with flavour that doesn't taste in any way artificial. The nutmeg tasted like a light eggnog flavour. YUM!
We also split a Fat Dragon Milk Chocolate Bar ($6) with crispy rice, toasted coconut and ceylon cinnamon. Just so you know, these are packaged and presented in their package on a plate, they aren't made in house, but a collaboration/creation with local chocolatier extraordinaire, Wendy Boys. This was tasty and you could taste the quality in their ingredients but I'm not quite sure it's worth the price and I might switch up the presentation and get rid of the packaging.
The Coconut Rice Pudding ($6) mango, lime, caramelized white chocolate. The portion size was large and great for sharing with a thick creamy texture and chunks of fresh mango. I didn't taste any lime or caramelized white chocolate- so this was good, but underwhelming compared to the awesome-ness of the homemade soft serve.
Service was great throughout the evening- our server was really knowledgable with the menu and was quick and enthusiastic about making recommendations and answer questions. They keep bottles of water at the table, but she made sure to check in constantly refilled our glasses. They also have some extremely tasty house-made hot sauce. All in all, this was a pretty cool place to grab drinks and eats with a group, OR just come for the ice cream!!!