March 29, 2012
A First Look at Fat Dragon
You have to give Rob Belcham an "A" for imagination.
When he decided to check out a Craigslist ad for a restaurant on sale in Vancouver's Japantown, the Campagnolo Restaurants chef suspected that its dreary 500-block Powell Street address would have little to recommend it. And in that respect, he wasn't disappointed. In his own words:
"The place was scary. But we knew the building had possibilities, and we were right. Once we stripped out the walls and false ceilings, we found beautiful 100-year-old brick walls and high ceilings hidden underneath."
Belcham and his partners, Tim Pittman, Tom Doughty and Ted Anderson are making the most of it, and have filled the long narrow space with 50-60 seats, wooden tables and a handsome bar. Most conspicuous is a massive Marc Bricault-designed "dragon' of overlapping wood and metal scales that soars overhead and reaches down the length of the restaurant - its head disappearing into the kitchen, its tail extending to the outside of the restaurant's entrance to form part of the signage.
And what is the chubby dragon going to be ogling in that kitchen?
Having a made a name for themselves with Italian cuisine at their other restaurants (Campagnolo on Main, Campagnolo Roma), the partners wanted to go in an entirely different direction and explore the flavours of Asia. To that end, Belcham, Executive Chef Ted Anderson and Chef de Cuisine Adam Johnson have been put together a menu inspired by the traditional flavours of China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and India.
"We love Asian food, and street-style dishes, but we are not Asian ourselves ... so this is NOT fusion", says Belcham. "It's a collection of the dishes we just really enjoy eating ourselves - it's our homage to Asian cuisine."
What they have come up with is definitely casual, beer-friendly and highly flavourful - all taste bud zappers of spices, garlic and ... perhaps most of all, smoke. A new $7,000 smoker (about the size of a six-burner stove) has been imported from Missouri and its influence is apparent in many of the menu's "East meets South" barbeque style dishes. There are several small choice suitable for one, right up to platters that a table of 4 to 6 can share. All are intriguing, not the least of them being some of the dessert options - a seasonally changing roster of Asian-flavoured, soft swirl ice cream cones (Vietnamese Coffee), and Asian-flavoured chocolate bars prepared exclusively for the restaurant by pastry chef Wendy Boys of Cocolico. Imagine "Ceylon Cinnamon" or "Smoked Peanuts with Sea Salt and Candied Ginger".
Here's a quick list of some of the menu highlights as well as a few more details in the photos below:
* A collection of Bao Buns (including crunchy squid with scallions, coriander and special smoked chili salt ($2.50)
* Smoked Lamb Heart Larb with mint, birds' eye chili and toasted rice. ($12)
* Smoked Sizzling Cauliflower with cashew gravy and vadouvan ($16)
* Smoked, Slow-cooked Bone-in Lamb Belly with char siu marinade and orange ($18)
* Prime Beef Back Ribs with soy-brown sugar glaze and crispy sauce ($19)
* Steamed Whole Seabass in banana leaf ($30)
* Smoked and Fried Dungeness Crab (market price)
* Smoked and Roasted Half Pig's Head with bean sprout kimchi ($45)
* Whole Red Curry-smoked Polderside Duck with lychee, kaffir lime and steamed buns ($60)
You may also look forward to many interesting side dishes such as Chinese Long Beans with spiced Almonds, or Stir-Fried Noodles with smoky drippings from the barbecue. And here's a bonus - in another departure from the Italian emphasis on coffee, look for attention paid to fine Asian teas and authentic tea service.
Fat Dragon Bar-B-Cue
566 Powell Street
(Opening the first week of April)
Open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to late.