Who doesn't love participating in a fondue dinner with a close group of friends, all sharing in the pot's melty goodness? As fun as it is, someone out there has to be considering the possibilities of communal cooking beyond cheese, meat and chocolate. Maybe you've had this thought yourself: "Great meal, but could've used more wonton." The Chinese are way ahead of that curve, offering up their version of fondue, the "hot pot," and nobody seems to care about it more than Mandarin Kitchen.
A dancing Buddha statues greets you upon entrance to this Chinatown establishment, but the dirty, grimy-looking fish tank next to it occasionally displays some sorry-looking (and quite possibly dead) crawfish, which sort of ruins that "Buddhist party" vibe you had going on. But no big deal, the dining room decor is much more festive than the dead crustaceans, with red Chinese lanterns setting the mood and what appear to be unlit Chinese fireworks hanging from the ceiling, just tempting any lighter-carrying troublemaker to really get this party started.
There's really no decision to make: at $13.95 for an all-you-can-eat hot pot, you can pile on the beef, seafood, wontons, dumplings and vegetables. Dip into your steaming bowl of shared broth, one side satisfying your spicy cravings, the other side supplying the herbs.
If you choose to go another route, there are several more Americanized dishes available. They tend to lean toward the sweet than the spicy, with the kung pao chicken not even coming close to George Costanza-sweat-inducing temperatures, while the braised duck offers a far more authentic Chinese dish, with exotic spices blended perfectly into the meat.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Andy Seifert