I generally try to avoid buffets, Chinese buffets in particular. Why such animosity towards the rows of Sweet and Sour Pork? I have nothing against Americanized Chinese food; how could I? It’s become a part of the American landscape. Even though I love trying to find and make more authentic Chinese food, it’s a guilty pleasure to dive into a to-go box of cheap fried rice that’s overrun with frozen peas and carrots or General Tso’s chicken covered in that sugary sauce and glowing like a Chernobyl special
Of course, like all foods, Chinese food suffers when it’s spooned into a steamer tray. Left to languish under a sneeze guard, I don’t see the appeal. Yes, it’s cheap and quick, but it’s also bland and dried out.
So with all those downsides, why would I subject myself to lunch at China Belle? There’s a simple reason. In the back of the restaurant, there’s a giant, circular griddle. On it, a cook will create what’s known as Mongolian BBQ. Basically a type of stir-fry, it’s up to the diner to pick the ingredients and the sauces.
Here’s a look at what sort of selections you can make for your plate of Mongolian BBQ.
Annoyingly, China Belle only offers steak, chicken, and imitation crab as far as meat choices. You can see they also offer a choice of noodles.
Moving to the left, there’s also a tray of gyoza, something I’ve never really seen at other Mongolian BBQs. The main choice in green vegetables is between green beans and snow peas. Hard to see at the top of the picture is a tray of bamboo shoots with green onions and shredded cabbage underneath.
Again working to the left, there’s shredded carrots, what I think was sliced zucchini, sliced button mushrooms. Back on top, there’s sliced celery, cubed onions, and cubed green bell peppers.
The last of the vegetable selections was baby corn, a container of waterlogged bean sprouts, and broccoli.
Rice noodles, a couple of gyoza, snow peas, beef, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and a not pictured egg seemed to make a pretty decent plate.
While you’re waiting on that to cook, it’s time to make your choice of sauces and condiments.
Near the end of cooking, you’ll be asked for which sauces you like.
The flavors aren’t too bad, the spiciness and sesame are really upfront. My only real complaints are that the snow peas were not trimmed, and the beef was overcooked. Even the oddly placed gyoza was a pretty tasty addition to the plate.
With the second plate, I thought it only fitting to try out the second meat choice. I know there’s surimi on the buffet of choices, but I just don’t really care for fish paste.
On this plate, there are a few differences. Egg noodles instead of rice noodles, chicken instead of beef, and the addition of green beans.
I can make a long list of China Belle’s Mongolian BBQ shortcoming, (e.g. there’s not enough choice in proteins, the vegetables aren’t trimmed, there’s not enough choice for sauces), but the bottom line is that China Bella has, for years, been trying to do something different. Even if it is 1/3 the size of your average Mongolian BBQ, it separates China Belle from the sea of slop bucket buffets that litter the