We were just kvetching about the dearth of neighborhood sit-down Chinese restaurants catering to mainstream diners that were once abundant.
It seemed they have mostly been replaced by either grungy take-out places or ethnic enclaves catering to Eastern palates. Then Brasserie du Dragon entered our radar. It was not what we expected.
We visited this location in the Sheraton LaGuardia East in downtown Flushing during two previous incarnations. The first time was when it was called Yuan Garden, and specialized in Yunanese–style Chinese cuisine. The second was as Deluge, whose menu was determinedly French with a touch of eclecticism. In both cases, the dining room was dominated by Chinese diners, perhaps business travelers staying at the hotel.
A little over a month ago, Brasserie du Dragon took over the space, proclaiming their fare to be fine dining Hong Kong-style. What we found were mostly Cantonese crowd pleasers, some gussied up with luxury ingredients like foie gras or truffles, and an all-day dim sum menu.
Interestingly, our fellow patrons were, without exception, Westerners.
Brasserie du Dragon is located in the atrium-like lower level of the hotel with a central fountain and an upper level glass-enclosed wine cellar. It is a posh setting, thoughtfully designed with plenty of elbow room and comfortable seating. The restaurant is well staffed and attentive, but only limited English is spoken.
Once seated, what is described on the restaurant’s website as a “French Pushcart” arrives with two types of infused water — lemon or fresh strawberry — and a selection of teas. We were already eyeing the elevated wine cellar, and going to pass on the tea, but the server was rather insistent that we choose a tea. We succumbed, choosing pu-erh, which was prepared freshly from leaves, and placed on a flower shaped candle warmer. Our server fussed a lot over the tea, refilling the pot diligently throughout our meal.
With such a visible wine cellar, you’d think they’d be pushing the wine as hard. We were given only a wine-by-the-glass list, and had to plead for a list of their bottles. Once we made our choice, the presentation of the wine was impeccable. We were perplexed that they weren’t as aggressive about refilling our wine glasses as our tea cups.
The dinner menu was a study in everything we gwai lo (non-Chinese) love about Chinese food.
For one thing, you can order from the dim sum menu any time of day, which we did. We were rewarded with delicate crab dumplings with pea sprouts in a rice wrapper. The list is long, and we regret not having spotted the steamed dim sum platter which offers an assortment.
Of the soups we tried, shredded duck with fish maw and crab meat and sweet corn soup, the shredded duck was the more memorable. Soups are served in individual bowls here, not in big casseroles.
Sesame shrimp toast with foie gras was the star of our appetizers, and perhaps the standout of the meal. You can’t go wrong with either shrimp toast or foie gras, and together they are dynamite.
There was something in the flavor of the stir fried beef rib eye stew that transported us back to the Cantonese restaurants of our youth. The only difference is the quality of the meat is better here. Silver cod with Sha Cha sauce was wonderfully silken. Truffle roasted duck was a meeting of East and West with splendid results.
On the losing side of the balance sheet was Szechuan ma bo tofu, which lacked the heat and tingle the dish is known for. Our other complaint was that none of the dishes were as piping hot as one expects at a Chinese restaurants. Even the assiduously refilled teapot was a little tepid.
Brasserie du Dragon is like a much more elegant version of your old favorite neighborhood Chinese. It is more expensive than the average Chinese restaurant, but not so much more as to make it unaffordable. Compared to a comparably appointed Italian or French restaurant, it’s a bargain. It is fancy enough for a date, celebratory meal, or business meeting, and you can even book a private dining room. It would make a great location for next year’s Jewish Christmas dinner.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
Brasserie du Dragon
135-20 39th Ave.
Price Range: Appetizers: $3-$23, Entrees: $18-$29
Cuisine: Hong Kong style Chinese food
Setting: Handsomely decorated atrium in hotel
Service: Attentive service, limited English
Hours: Monday—Sunday, 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Reservations: Optional. Phone or Open Table
Alcohol: Full Bar
Parking: In building with ticket validated by restaurant
Dress: Casual to dressy
Credit cards: All
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes