Mongolian Hot Pot: Is It Worth All the Work?
Photo by Mai Pham The hot pot at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot comes with two broth options, spicy and regular.
I have this thing about working for my food: I don't really like it. When I'm dining, I like to sit back and relax and enjoy food that's presented to me. It's ironic, really, because a lot of Vietnamese food (the food that I grew up with) requires work. We like to barbecue beef at the table for bò nướng vỉ (beef cooked on the grill), then roll them in rice paper wrappers. We have bánh xèo (a big, crispy crepe) that we roll up in lettuce before dunking it in a fish sauce dip. And we have this thing we call lẩu, which is loosely translated into English as "hot pot."
I actually love eating all these things, but since I'm averse to the work involved, I don't eat them that much. Especially hot pot. I almost never want to go eat it. I haven't quite worked out how to do it successfully so that my vegetables don't come out soggy, and I always get quite hot and uncomfortable from the steam coming off of the pot. But with the temperatures being what they have been on some days lately, that steamy heat was just what I found myself craving on a recent evening.
Photo by Mai Pham Every single table was full the night I was there. The hostess even suggested that I share with another table to reduce the wait time.
There are several restaurants around town that do a good hot pot, but the only one I've been to that is strictly a hot pot place is Hot Pot City (I like their Thai broth). There's Shabu House, a shabu shabu place (Japanese hot pot) that I've been meaning to try, but I find shabu shabu a bit bland, and I've never been able to figure out how to make a sauce good enough to combat that blandness (suggestions welcome).
The night I was craving hot pot, I was determined to try a new place. My girlfriend and her husband love going to Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot on Westheimer, so on the strength of her recommendation, I made a point of heading there on a drizzly, cold evening midweek. I arrived surprised to find every single table full, with a wait of about 20 to 30 minutes and people crowding the entryway with no place to sit. It was obviously a popular place.
The hostess handed me a sheet of paper and a pencil and told me to fill it out in advance of being seated. It was like those papers you get at a sushi restaurant or a dim sum place, with listings of food items and boxes in which you could indicate the quantity of items you want to order. Mongolian Hot Pot offers à la carte ordering, or all-you-can eat service ($19.95). The à la carte prices can quickly add up to that, so since it was my first time there, we chose to go all-we-could-eat.
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