Dropping Benjamins at Dragon Bowl

Categories: Restaurant News

Photos by Theo Santos
Hand rolls on the line. (Hundred Dollar Hand Roll most definitely not shown.)
A few weeks ago, while perusing the new menu at the recently revamped Dragon Bowl, my dining companion and I noticed an anomaly at the casual Heights restaurant: There, amidst the $6 and $7 hand rolls with names like The Kennedy and Third Coast was a $100 hand roll called -- appropriately enough -- the Hundred Dollar Hand Roll.

What could possibly merit this hand roll costing $100? The ingredients told the story: lobster, foie gras mousse, white truffles and Beluga. There was a brief moment of panic on the other side of the table while I tried to calm down my rattled dining companion who thought that the Beluga referred to actual whale meat in the hand roll; she was relieved to learn that Beluga was a type of caviar. Afterwards, it occurred to me: This girl is a regular at Dragon Bowl; are $100 hand rolls containing ingredients its patrons aren't familiar with really the way to go here?

I took a picture of the menu (not the roll, naturally, as I -- the last time I checked -- am composed primarily of carbon and not money) and posted it to Facebook with the question: "Would you order a $100 hand roll?"

Ahi-poke, with seared tuna, avocado and cucumbers.
An old friend of mine from high school nearly killed me with his rapid-fire response: "I'll keep it simple. No." And then momentarily reconsidered: "Oh, wait. Is 'hand roll' a euphemism? Still no."

Others were equally skeptical: "I probably wouldn't buy a $100 roll right next to the tsukiji market," said chef Justin Basye. And Matt Marcus of the Eatsie Boys chimed in: "White truffle season is from September to December. Seriously doubt they are using fresh!"

"Right now we're using fresh summer truffles," noted Michael dei Maggi, Dragon Bowl's new chef and one of the reasons behind its revamped menu. "Will have some Aussie blacks in two weeks. Best we can do until September."

Fans of The Rockwood Room and Caffe Bello will remember dei Maggi from his stints at the two restaurants, both of which are now closed. And although it's an admittedly odd partnership between dei Maggi and Ken Bridge -- owner of Dragon Bowl as well as Lola and the Pink's Pizza chains -- it's one that's working out so far, as you can see in this week's cafe review.

As for the Hundred Dollar Hand Roll, dei Maggi says that -- believe it or not -- the restaurant has sold a few. But it mainly was conceived "to take the piss," he says. I didn't order one that night, and probably won't ever order one as, aside from the $125 bowl of pasta with white truffles at Da Marco, it's likely the most expensive single item on a restaurant menu in Houston. Or at least it was: The $100 roll was dropped from the menu this week, as owner Bridge and dei Maggi work on tweaking it based on customer favorites.

Kalbi, the Korean version of barbecued short ribs.
Luckily, the rest of the menu at Dragon Bowl remains, and unlike that roll, it's extravagantly affordable. Dishes like Third Coast hand rolls with crispy fried oysters inside for $6 or pork belly buns for $7 that have been ringing my bell over and over again for the past month without racking up my bill.

I'm sad to see it go, though, because I felt that the $100 hand roll almost served as a purposeful contrast between Dragon Bowl and other establishments of the modern Asian persuasion. Here, you can get your fancy hand rolls with updated, seasonal, local ingredients. But you don't have to pay out the nose for it, and you don't have to change out of your jean shorts either.

The roll has been replaced, however, with The Tobeck, which sounds more tempting anyway. It's solely described as containing "daily wizardry." Shazam.

See more of Dragon Bowl's casually cool dining room and pan-Asian dishes in our slideshow.

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Location Info

Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro - CLOSED

1221 W. 11th St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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I couldn't order it (food stamps & disability means it will forever be a no go) but damn...for those lucky enough to be able to afford it, how did it taste?


Ha I had a $25 lunch one cold Saturday last winter; about the worst even poorest excuse for Chinese food I'd ever had, half the listed ingredients weren't even in the dish.. When we asked about this they handed us a bowl of cashews, I ____ you not. Wouldn't spend a dime, much less a Benjamin there ever again. Though Pink's is still in my good graces..

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

I went today at lunch, dei Maggi was there doing his thing.

The bulgogi was fantastic.  BYOB was pretty good as usual.


I used to eat there often as I lived about 2 blocks away. I went back a few weeks ago and it was as delicious as ever.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm guessing you didn't read the review...or the blog post above. There's a new chef, new menu, new direction, new everything; it seems that the owner, Ken, was really paying attention to the negative reviews he was getting. Give it a shot again.


Bad food negates return trips, if they didn't care then about customers why on earth would I spend more money there? Same ownership that let the quality lapse big time in my opinion and I was quite excited to go the first time being a long time Pink's fan. Well call me a skeptic, but I'll just go to china cafe on Bellaire where they have some notion of consistency..

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