Dragon River: Chinese cuisine
by REMLEY ROE
Before it was Dragon River the proprietors attempted an American Cafe in the same location called City Grill. It offered a little bit of anything and always delivered a decent, if not mix-and- matched, meal. When they told me they were closing down to reorganize and try something different I looked down at my club sandwich with sides of rice pilaf and a caesar salad and wondered why they could possibly want to do that. A few weeks later they reopened with the new name and a few decorative alterations. And a completely revamped, absolutely delicious menu of Northeastern Chinese cuisine.
On my last trip I went with some friends to enjoy a meal family style. We began with Bao Zi (spicy pork dumplings) and fried spring rolls. We then got the Honey Glazed Pork, vegetable fried rice, General Tso Chicken and the cabbage with jalapeno. This is decidedly too much food, but I also love eating too much.
The Bao Zi come swimming in a garlic chili oil and each one is a pop of spice and intricate flavor. I could eat them all day if there was a never ending bowl of them placed at my side, but I settled for my share of the order. Every time I come here I want to order a second round but thank myself when the rest of the food comes. The spring rolls are delicious if not slightly standard. They crunch, they’re vegetarian, they’re great. They are essential to every meal.
The entrees arrive slightly staggered but grouped together. The general Tso is first and is amazing. The sauce is deep and rich, spicy and sweet. The pieces of chicken are very large and quite juicy, not dried out or soft like many of us have grown accustomed to in a world of quick take out and ready made grocery store by the scoop Chinese . The cabbage and jalapeno cuts through the mountains of meat nicely and adds great heat to the meal. It comes stir fried so it has its own deep rich flavor from the oil but lightens the meal a lot. Fried rice is fried rice and in this I mean that it is an eternally delicious food. The vegetable fried rice provides a great side to the other very robust dishes. It is subdued in terms of seasoning but adds a little more vegetable content to the meal and carries the sauces from other dishes nicely.
My favorite thing on this menu, the thing I get any time I can convince others to dine with me once again, is the Honey Glazed Pork. This is a heaping plate of fried pork, with an almost tempura like batter on it. This pork is covered in a garlic honey sauce and has a sprinkle of cilantro on top. It is simple and amazing and the amount of it on the plate is astounding. And yet I can never leave with any in my to go box.
I always try to get one thing I’ve never had when I come here to dine with others and I’ve never been disappointed. I encourage everyone who tries this restaurant to step outside of their comfort zone and try something they’ve never had or never heard of. Get an old stand by if you need, but let yourself be adventurous with one choice I highly recommend the Hot and Spicy Beef but the server is often reluctant to let newcomers try it.
This leads me to my PSA. There are a couple of things to note before you try this place.
First of all there are some familiar dishes on the menu (General Tso chicken, Mongolian beef, lo mein, fried rice, sweet and sour etc) but all land just a little different than you might be used to. Their breaded chicken is actual hunks of real chicken, not the same as the small niblets found interchangeably at nearly all Chinese restaurants where I’ve ever eaten. There are large red Tien Tsen peppers in most of the dishes, they are dried and I do not recommend eating them. If you are craving Panda Express or Haggen Chinese, this is not it.
Also there is very little hand holding in terms of service at the restaurant. You will generally not get a walk through of the menu and some things just plain aren’t available at times with little explanation. I don’t know why things are this way but they are. It might come off as gruff or rude but I have borne witness to it many times and do not believe it is intended that way, it is simply a no nonsense approach to the job and frankly, I admire it.
Lastly I ask that you be patient here. The staff is usually limited to two and the restaurant is rather large. This is a family business and can err on the side of slow but it’s worth it. It’s all made fresh and all made well. If you are in a hurry, call ahead. If you want to sit and enjoy several courses of amazing and unique (to our area) Chinese food, please go and share a meal with people you can talk to.
Also they have a very reasonably priced lunch special that has an entree, rice, spring roll and soup available from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mon-Sat if you want to dip your toes in. Try it all at 1319 Cornwall Ave, Bellingham.