Fat Dragon Is A Throwback To Takeout Chinese Fare That Angelenos Grew Up With
In the latest iteration of our love affair with Chinese food, the eye has turned to provinces like Sichuan and Shaanxi. Our tables are loaded with dan dan noodles, lamb and cumin "burgers," and hotpots that may warrant a hazmat suit. You can expect a swell of heat, with the possibility that you might not feel your lips for a half hour.
But what about the Hong Kong-style fare that you used to get at the banquet room of, say, the old Empress Pavilion in Chinatown? Or Monterey Park's NBC Seafood once the dim sum carts have called it a night? We're talking about lobster dressed in ginger and scallions, and clams slathered in black bean sauce, and fried rice. In 2016, this may all seem old-hat in the food fad hyperspace.
As such, you might say that Silver Lake's Fat Dragon, which rolled into the neighborhood just last week, is bucking the trend in some respects. Here, you won't find anything as unexpected as Chengdu Taste's lion fish. Instead, you'll get the kind of stir frys that you pick at obsessively from the trusty take-out carton.
As manager Ivy Wei tells LAist, the ethos is about combining the familiar with a dash of novelty. "We're trying to bring some of styles out from the San Gabriel Valley, but nothing too strange," said Wei. Don't call it a compromise, however, as the flavors are perfectly reminiscent of any Cantonese-centric joint in the San Gabriel Valley.
On the day of our visit, we sat down with one of Wei's favorites on the menu: the pork jowl stir fry, which comes as a maelstrom of dried tofu, bell peppers, and celery, all tossed together with a delectable sweet and savory sauce. The pork jowl—lean and cut into thin slices—adds to the amalgam of different textures in the dish. The tiger skin peppers, on the other hand, is more of a study in contrasting flavors. There’s the hint of bitterness from the pepper, the mild shot of heat from the seeds, and the savory draw of the black bean sauce.
The centerpiece, obviously, was our Dungeness crab, which was poised on our plate with the stately presence of a stone gargoyle. The crab, lightly battered and fried, gets the classic treatment of garlic and green onions. This makes for a delicious coating, which is essential, as it takes some legwork to get inside to the meat. You're going to have to show some patience here, what with all the cracking of shells and the frantic picking at crab meat. You'll also have to forgo all notions of decorum; don't mind the mess, just use your hands and get at the bounty. In the end you may ask yourself, "Are the returns worth the effort?" It is, and it's the seasoning that keeps you attentive.
For more dishes that you don't run into everyday, try the five-spiced quail, or the bone broth that's been slow cooked for 24 hours. But hey, what's wrong with taking the beaten path? From here you can get the honey walnut shrimp, or the mapo tofu, or the "dragon fried rice," which is mixed with kohlrabi cabbage and lap cheong, the "Chinese sausage" that's as universally cherished as Chewbacca and the Red Cross.
Curiously, there are the refreshments too; Fat Dragon is equipped with a well-stocked tea bar. Wei informs us that the teas are made from loose leaves and garnished with fresh flora and real fruit. There's a cold brewed green tea that's been infused with a lychee puree. And there's a passionfruit drink that's topped with the fragrant mix of cucumber and goji berry. The drinks bear all the visual excess of a dessert from the SGV, but is more subtle and lithe in taste, meaning they're not drenched in syrup. There's also a selection of hot herbal teas for the more health-conscious set (you'll find ginseng and chrysanthemum, of course). It may seem incongruent to talk about the drinks at a Chinese restaurant, but there you have it: Fat Dragon serves up some formidable refreshments, and the tea bar alone is worth a visit if you've just wrapped up your morning hike.
You may be wondering about delivery, because of course you would. Wei tells LAist that, as the restaurant only had its soft opening, a delivery system has not yet been set up. But she assures us that it's coming around the bend any time now. Is there a more glorious sight than a takeout box sitting in your fridge in the morning?
Fat Dragon is located at 3500 Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake, (323) 667-9193.