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Another Magic Dragon

DragonFly Wins Over The Neighborhood

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The Poons wanted to name their restaurant Flying Dragon, a name that is "very Chinese" according to Helen Poon. "But we changed it to DragonFly so it would have a local sound to it." Compromise is one of the keys to survival for any ethnic restaurant. And whether you associate flying dragons with Chinese cuisine, Spyro, or Puff the Magic Dragon, there's plenty of magic going on at DragonFly.

The 70-seat neighborhood restaurant is located in the refurbished Park Selwyn Shopping Center. During lunch, the windows on three sides of the dining room flood the room with warm filtered light. To one side is a fenced outside dining area that currently offers a few tables, but more are planned for the spring. There's a wan little bar at the front, but the rear of the dining room has elevated seating overlooking Park Road and the patio area. The interior is smart, yet cozy, with overhead halogen lighting and muted walls. Tables are set with forks, not chopsticks, and the studied, proficient servers are suited in black. The feel is upscale, yet modest.

DragonFly opened last July and is the first restaurant for Hong Kong native Tom Poon who is in partnership with his uncle Raymond Lam, an entrepreneur who independently owns two area Chinese restaurants. Poon worked with his uncle for many years before opening DragonFly. In the kitchen is chef Wen Lin who trained in China before working as head chef at a Manhattan Chinese restaurant for five years. Poon brought Lin to Charlotte to open the restaurant.

The menu is a mix of many Chinese cuisines: Cantonese noodle dishes; Hunan dishes, such as orange chicken and beef; and Sichuan, such as Twice-cooked Pork. DragonFly, however, does not make claims to "authenticity."

Sichuan is the current reigning star in American Chinese restaurants. The Chinese say that China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavor. Chefs in that region use two dozen distinct flavor combinations and over 50 cooking techniques, hence the adage: "In Sichuan each dish has its own style and a hundred different dishes have a hundred different flavors." This is the approach at DragonFly. The menu is filled with the usual suspects: dumplings; soups; Pu Pu platter; lo mein; mei fun; Sa Cha chicken, beef, or shrimp; egg foo young; and sweet and sour pork. Eighty-five entree items appear on the main menu and there are more specials.

Helen Poon noted, "We encourage customers to customize their food. In additional to changing (the level of spiciness), we can add carrots or any vegetables they want or change the mix of sauces."

A brief wine list is offered, some by the glass, as well as a collection of domestic and imported beers.

Soups are always a great deal in Asian restaurants, and DragonFly is no exception. Small bowls of clear soups such as egg drop and wonton are only $1.50 and nothing helps to assuage a winter chill more than a bowl of flavorful clear broth soup. Of the other appetizers, the steamed dumplings were of decent quality and the chicken lettuce wraps were equally serviceable. The starters, however, are not the main show.

The best at DragonFly are the entrees. Many are brought, with a flourish, on flaming heating trays tableside. The Mongolian beef is a daunting dish that looks like a mountain of peas and thin tender slices of flavorful beef, served in Western proportions, embedded with scallions and enlivened by a hoisin-based sauce. Layer these morsels into a warm Chinese pancake and each bite will warm your heart as well as your tummy.

Other surprises buried deep in Chef Lin's extensive menu include a marvelous Crispy Duck. I was taken by the flavor of the duck, which is first marinated and seasoned with peppercorns and spices and then deep-fried to a crackly perfection. The Ginger Shrimp is doused in a mellow sauce then countered by slivers of garlic.

Another nice touch was the plate of navel orange slices delivered with the ubiquitous fortune cookies, and the check, of course. DragonFly has nicely insinuated itself into the neighborhood by offering good food at modest prices. What a great place for SouthParkers to enjoy the Chinese New Year, which begins January 22, or enjoy a good meal any other time during the year. No wonder the neighborhood has embraced DragonFly so quickly.

Eaters' Digest
Just in time for Chinese New Year's, SouthPark's Sur La Table offers the Titanium Wok ($24.95) which allows the home cook to stir-fry at high temperatures and will not scratch when using metal utensils. Along with the wok is the 18/10 stainless steel Wok Ladle ($12.95) and Spatula ($11.95). Also new at the store is the 18/10 stainless steel Mongolian Hot Pot ($59.95), a 7-cup Asian Fondue pot in which chicken, vegetables or thin slices of meat can be cooked in a hot both. The set includes the pot, tray, base, charcoal basket, and lid. At store, 800-243-0852, or www.surlatable.com.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

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