By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Is there such a thing as a “real little sheep” (versus “fake little sheep”)?
Yes, there is, according to Chinese community insiders. Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot Restaurant at 1411 156th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, just celebrated its grand opening on July 23 with a traditional Chinese lion dance. Dignitaries like Lt. Gov. Brad Owen attended the event.
What many don’t realize is that Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (LSMHP) is a huge chain in China with more than 450 chains. It has grown globally. The flagship restaurant in Beijing occupies a grand four-story building and can accommodate thousands of diners.
“The first place that comes to my mind for Chinese hot pot is always Little Sheep,” said my son, who has lived in China. He is now a frequent traveler to China.
The Bellevue branch is Little Sheep’s first venture into Washington state. If you have heard of another Little Sheep restaurant in the neighborhood, well, that’s not the real one. I have been to both, the real and the fake. I was not aware of this until the management of the Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot Restaurant approached Northwest Asian Weekly. It is called Mongolian Hot Pot, because the founder is Mongolian, one of the 56 minority tribes in China.
In Washington state, dim sum has almost become a household term. When I mention hot (fire) pot to non-Chinese friends, however, they give me a blank stare.
Many folks like dim sum because it’s fast and includes a variety of foods.
It is so popular that you can have it for lunch as well as dinner.
Actually, hot pot (or Chinese fondue, invented by Genghis Khan) is much like dim sum in that sense. It’s fast and includes a variety of foods. It is also like a buffet if you visit Mongolian Hot Pot Little Sheep for “Tuesday-all you can eat” at $20.95 per person and any time of the day.
My friend said there were lines last Tuesday and the wait was an hour.
Being an impatient eater, I have avoided Tuesdays. Instead, I ate at Little Sheep on two Saturdays, once for lunch and once for dinner.
The restaurant seats about 300 people, and it was about 80 percent full. All tables have built-in stoves, just like a Korean BBQ restaurant, except you cannot see the stove, which is part of the smart table-top design.
Visually appealing, the restaurant has incorporated elegant features, including a fireplace, elegant bare-bulb lighting, a picturesque waterfall, and brightly-lit counters.
What I like about eating hot pot at Mongolian’s Little Sheep is the soup base. I am a soup fan. At every dinner, soup is a must. Like many of my Chinese friends, if I don’t have soup, I feel my dinner is incomplete.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot provides six different kinds of soup. If you are a vegetarian, you can order the vegetarian mushroom soup base. The broth simmers for several hours, so you can taste the essence of all the ingredients. The restaurant staff emphasize that the soup has no MSG, just fresh ingredients. The soup looks clear, with no grease.
We ordered the refreshing herbal pot soup and pork rib pot at $3.75 per person. The second time we went for lunch, we asked for the house spicy soup and the herbal soup again. I don’t eat spicy foods, so I asked my friends, “How is it?”
“The aroma of the spicy soup is great,” one replied.
Before adding the fresh ingredients into the hot soup base, we couldn’t help but drink the broth first. I tried the pork and then the herbal soup. Wow, they tasted wonderful and soothed my palate all the way to my stomach.
We ordered a vegetable and a seafood combination. The assorted veggie platter at $8.95 consisted of sugar pea sprouts, napa cabbage, tong ho, green leaf lettuce, and baby bok choy.
The seafood combo at $12.95 was served with prawns, mussel, scallop, and fish. You can also order each item individually. We enjoyed our dinner as all items were fresh and delicious.
At our lunch on July 30, we experienced some other dishes, such as cold plates of bitter melon and wood fungus salad. Bitter melon is usually not my choice of food. That day, I ate many pieces of melon, as its bitter taste disappeared. Gobo and taro, beef, lamb, and fatty pork were added to the hot pot. One friend said we ordered too much food.
Guess what? We actually finished everything. When the waiter offered us a complimentary dessert, sweet corn and gogi berry cake, we swore we could not eat any more. Within seconds, they were gone. If you have a sweet tooth, there are other kinds of dessert on the menu to choose from.
Small to big parties
If you are the only person, can you eat hot pot?
Sure you can. I saw that one customer was eating all by himself during lunch. The restaurant served a smaller pot. At dinner, I found 20 friends dining together in a private corner of the restaurant. Yep, hot pot is designed for as many as you like. There are no rules. It is easy and fun.
If this is your first time to visit Mongolian Hot Pot, ask the wait staff for suggestions. They are very helpful.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot provides good service. Its goal is a pleasant dining experience for all of its customers. And indeed, we had a fantastic time. ♦
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.