They give you a lot of napkins when you sit down at Fat Choy. They know you’re going to need them.
That’s especially true if you try the restaurant’s signature “snacks,” the Peking Duck Bao ($7) and the Pork Belly Bao ($7), and it would be a mistake not to (try them, that is). Chef Sutherland Su traveled a sort of peripatetic path to get to this place (as depicted in an eye-catching mural in the restaurant) that included a food truck and a stint selling bao in a beauty shop. Along the way, his signature dishes have been those two bao, and for good reason.
But before I get to the why of that, I ought to explain that these aren’t actually bao. Bao are Chinese steamed buns that generally are round and enclose fillings such as barbecued pork. Su’s bao are more like bao sandwiches, the steamed dough in flat ovals that are folded around the fillings. They retain the fluffy but sort of squishy (that’s a good thing) texture and neutral flavor that make them the perfect foil for carefully constructed fillings.
Such as: in the case of the pork-belly bao, a slab of pork belly, the relative thickness of which gives it a meatier nature than most pork-belly dishes. The two bao arrived topped with pickled mustard greens for a slightly acidic edge, cilantro for its grassy nature and chopped peanuts for a bit of earthiness. Taken together, it was nothing short of absolutely fab.
But no less so than the pair of Peking Duck Bao, the tender pieces of roasted duck topped with cucumber for crunch, scallions for zing and hoisin sauce because … well, because hoisin sauce is just right in most cases, and definitely here. And like the pork bao, as we ate the duck, there were plenty of juices trying like mad to find a path down our arms.
Su is clearly a man who knows his way around a duck, as reinforced in his Duck Fried Rice ($12). This one was a big ol’ pile of rice topped by a roasted leg quarter, which meant it had skin — wonderfully crisp — and bone, all of which fell apart beautifully because the duck had been roasted so skillfully. The menu promised cucumber salad on the side but what we got was a mixed-green salad, which was fine because of its mix of flavors and textures and well-balanced, slightly bracing vinaigrette.
And a burger. Not just any burger but The Fat Choy Burger ($10), a half-pound behemoth that was an exercise in not-so-wretched excess. It arrived medium rare, as ordered, and was topped with braised short ribs, bacon, cheddar, tomato and a piece-de-resistance fried egg that, when punctured by our knife, dribbled its gooey richness all over the burger. And ditto on the juices, and the need for the napkins.
All of this was served in an atmosphere that matched the mission as reflected in the menu (and the name). The basis is American diner — shiny-clean, gleaming American diner with sparkly upholstery on booths and counter stools. The accents are mostly Asian, with a big paper snake and a bunch of Chinese lanterns, although the mural, chalkboard and superduper ultramixing soft-drink machine reflect a hipster sensibility.
Service was very good, our server efficient and possessed of a laudable sense of humor.
Why haven’t you heard of this place? It’s sort of hidden in plain sight, just off the Strip on East Sahara Avenue, on the edge of the venerable Commercial Center, in the you’ve-passed-it-dozens-of-times-but-never-noticed-it Eureka Casino. Which is older, and yes, kinda smoky.
So dash through the casino, into the sparkly confines of Fat Choy. And prepare to get messy.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.