Blue Dragon – Boston, Massachusetts

First Taste: Year of the Dragon

According to the Chinese calendar, the year of the water dragon happens once every 60 years. And once every 15 years, Ming Tsai opens a restaurant (or so he says). These cycles align as Tsai’s Blue Dragon, an Asian gastropub concept, comes to the Seaport District the second week of February, just before the year of the water dragon ends.

So the team’s on deadline. But the timing just adds to their excitement. “No one’s done an Asian gastropub,” says Tsai. “No one’s tried to take that same idea of casualness and put an East/West twist to it.” Executive chef Tom Woods, who’s been with Tsai for 10 years and first proposed the gastropub idea, agrees. “It’s really the essence of what we’ve been doing at Blue Ginger,” he says, “but scaled back to a more approachable presentation, not at all sacrificing consistency, quality, flavor.”

Blue Dragon occupies the old A Street Diner space, a single-story standalone, which is rare in Fort Point. But it won’t be hard to find. Just look for the dragon weathervane on the roof, meant to direct the restaurant’s energy flow upward (a recommendation from Tsai’s feng shui master).

Inside, the walls are half exposed brick, half restored barn side, with a bar as large as the open kitchen. There’s seating for 80 (mostly bar height), a communal table, one large booth—“the power table,” says Tsai—and a permit for 16 sidewalk seats. Downstairs, a second kitchen will be exclusively used for to-go orders, catering to the bustling lunch crowds of the Seaport. An online system ensures quick pickups and sports a separate to-go menu, composed of only those items that carry well, such as the banh mi. On crusty Iggy’s bread, the sandwich comes in the traditional pork, lemongrass chicken or vegetarian with mushroom pâté.

“We’ve really seen the evolution of the way people eat,” says general manager Sarah Livesy, who’s also been with Tsai for a decade. “It’s less structured and restricted. Food’s about sharing and the community and the conversation and the experience.”

“It’s the way chefs like to eat, too,” adds Woods. As a result, Tsai and Woods will offer blackboard specials, platters and small plates for sharing that illustrate an Asian take on traditional pub fare. The shepherd’s pie, for instance, has lamb curry complemented by toasted coconut, Gruyère and Parmesan. The fish and chips, too, are original. “We tried 17 versions,” says Tsai, “and we probably took a potato farm out, the amount of testing we did on French fries.” They decided on a panko-crusted fillet served with black vinegar aioli and fries—soaked, twice blanched and fried with a few steps in between. “We’re not going to tell you our secret,” says Tsai, noting they took a tip from longtime friend Guy Fieri.

Drinks include two wines on tap—one of which is local. But the most exciting cocktail is the Dragon Bowl. Served in a traditional Chinese clay pot, this 48-ounce passion fruit Mai Tai comes loaded with an ice volcano that fires up as many—or as few—straws as you’d like. “It’s fun,” says Tsai. “Although I can’t guarantee you won’t wake up with a hangover.”

Blue Dragon 324 A St., Boston,

This article originally appeared in the January 30, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.