Fat Dragon brings “Urban Asian” food to RVA

From the people that brought us The Blue Goat comes a new Chinese restaurant unlike any other (and one that has 24 craft beers on tap)!

  • Who: EAT Restaurant Partners, the people behind The Blue Goat, Osaka, and Wild Ginger
  • What: An “Urban Asian” restaurant with a modern menu and aesthetic (and a love for craft beers)
  • When: Aiming for a November 1st opening
  • Where: 1200 N. Boulevard, near Movieland
  • Dishes: Owners are keeping mum on the details, but both entrées ($10 – $14) and small plates ($5 – $6) will be traditional Chinese and Cantonese cuisine with a modern twist created by an esteemed chef

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When Stronghill Dining Co. announced in April that, after three years, it would shutter its doors, many wondered what would take over the space. Now they have their answer: a Fat Dragon.

EAT Restaurant Partners, the group behind The Blue Goat,1 Osaka Sushi and Steak, and Wild Ginger, will add a fourth restaurant in the fall: Fat Dragon Chinese Kitchen and Bar.

“People have [high] expectations because of our other restaurants,” said James “Ren” Mefford, EAT’s director of operations, speaking last week. He and his partners took over the Scott’s Addition space in July, and have been working with contractors since to develop the 3,600 square-feet space for a late October/early November opening. Currently, the future restaurant is a garden of sprouted wires, screws, and planks. That will soon go away. “It’s going to change dramatically over the next four weeks,” said Mefford.

EAT partner Chris Tsui had long wanted to implement a Chinese concept (EAT typically has two or three concepts on the back burner). “Just so happened that this location came available,” said Tsui. EAT pounced on it. But Fat Dragon will not dish out typical Chinese food: “we’ll have a little twist to it,” said Tsui. He calls it Urban Asian.

Chef Jin Zhao, formerly of the Peking Pavilion in New Jersey–which received a favorable write-up in the New York Times–will design this Urban Asian menu. Zhao’s Cantonese background will help him bring some eclectic offerings.

Mefford said that the Canton Province (known to Chinese as Guangzhou) is the “agricultural belt of China” and that the native food “is known for it’s freshness.” Zhao will draw upon that culinary tradition. Although Mefford would not discuss the menu, he did say that Zhao will “have fun” designing it and that the chef is considering modern items such as a Cantonese sandwich and Cantonese wings.

Mefford said no MSG will be used, and the kitchen will lack a walk-in freezer, emphasizing the restaurant’s commitment to fresh ingredients. Mefford said a Chinese restaurant using limited refrigeration is rare, going so far to call Fat Dragon’s approach to freshness “groundbreaking.”

According to Mefford, entrées will range in price from $10 – $14. Smaller dishes will likely range between $5 – $6. Meals will be also available for takeout.

When completed, the restaurant’s decor will consist of exposed brick and refinished barn wood, accommodating about 100 seats. Fat Dragon’s bar will seat approximately 15 people and will have USB outlets to charge electronic devices. Mefford said the restaurant will have a “huge” focus on craft beers, with about 24 on tap (many local).

Mefford said that the restaurant will be open late on weeknights and will occasionally feature DJs–all meant to establish Fat Dragon as a versatile spot in RVA’s restaurant repertoire. “We hope it will be pretty happening.” Not only does EAT hope for vibrancy inside Fat Dragon, but also the area surrounding it.

“The real estate area is still affordable,” said Mefford. But in two years? Probably not. He and his partners have purchased the space outright. This, he said, underscores EAT’s confidence in the prospects of Scott’s Addition. “We think the city is well committed to the area.” It’s an area Fat Dragon wants to be in for many years.

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  1. Mefford said that the “nose to tail” concept of The Blue Goat has exceeded EAT’s expectations. To some surprise, outré menu items like pig ears have proven to be among the most popular dishes. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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