When one thinks of anchor businesses in shopping centers, big-box stores such as the late, lamented Hechinger's come to mind. But in Leesburg's Battlefield Shopping Center, that honor likely goes to the staying power of Golden China Restaurant.
Staples is going to open soon in the old Hechinger's building. Michael's, its neighbor, is also a relatively recent arrival. But the Golden China, nestled in the elbow of the interior road between Ledo Pizza and The RoomStore, has been serving reliable Chinese food at that location since 1994.
Informality is a key ingredient. The place was full of sweat suits, jeans and families on the recent Saturday night. Perhaps the Mongolian barbecue draws the families. A couple of children seemed mesmerized by the machinations at the cooking station in one corner of the restaurant.
No wonder. The massive round grill, probably four feet in diameter, is impressive. The chef stirs and tosses with an extremely long pair of chopsticks while sometimes enveloped in whorls of steam. The crackle and pop on the sizzling grill add their own dimension.
You select vegetables for the barbecue and one of four meats -- lamb, chicken, beef or pork. It is a spectator sport, with the added attraction of getting to eat what you have just seen.
There also is an all-you-can-eat buffet nightly from 5 to 9:30, at $10.95 a pop.
The menu is expansive, as befits Chinese restaurants, and it is difficult to miss other Chinese trappings -- colorful hanging lanterns, all feathery fringe and tassels; carved three-dimensional panels; and a series of Asian prints on the walls.
All of these are spread among the dozen or so tables and booths in one large room, home to the barbecue and buffet, and a smaller room, which seats about 30 and can be closed for private parties.
The operation is overseen by owner Janet Hsu, who came to the United States in 1978. She married into the family that owned King's Palace Chinese Restaurant in Alexandria and found herself plunked down in the kitchen. "I didn't even know how to wash dishes," she said.
By 1991, she was proprietor of the Dragon Eatery in Alexandria and the Golden China in Sterling. Both were sold to open the current Golden China in 1994. Along the way, she found chef King Hwa Lin, who emphasizes quality control and fresh ingredients.
Placemats describe the signs of the Chinese zodiac, which splits life into 12-year cycles, each of which carries the sign of an animal. This is the year of the ram, and Golden China celebrated the advent of that in February with Chinese lion dancing, festive costumes, songs and kung fu demonstrations.
The menu presented its own challenges. We first noticed 15 appetizer choices, then succumbed to the path of least resistance, choosing the pu-pu platter. It arrived with a selection of barbecued ribs; shrimp in a light and crispy batter; beef teriyaki on a stick; chicken; and crab ragoon, a combination of cream cheese and crabmeat folded into a wonton wrapper. The only disappointment was the rather flat taste of the undistinguished egg rolls.
The pu-pu platter comes with its own little flaming pot. We dawdled over the various offerings, having found that the proper pace can enhance enjoyment, and the fire pot proved a handy heating device.
The menu lists 19 house specialty entrees, including Neptune Catch in Bird's Nest. The rest of the selections are listed under chicken, pork, beef, seafood, fried rice and noodles and egg foo yung. There are vegetable selections and four low-fat dishes. Reading it all, much less choosing, can become quite tiring.
We picked chicken with broccoli in a brown sauce. The bright green broccoli made for a colorful array, and the thin slices of chicken were satisfyingly tender. The kitchen resisted overcooking the broccoli, leaving it pleasingly firm.
We also choose Kung Pao Two Kinds, the two kinds being shrimp and chicken. This dish falls into the spicy category, denoted by red pepper symbols on the menu.
Golden China is serious about the spices, it turns out. We were able to temper this by wisely choosing the soothing elixir found in a tall bottle of Ichiban beer. One can also help oneself by picking the whole red peppers out of the assemblage rather than consuming them.
Chunks are also characteristic of this offering -- chunks of chicken, water chestnuts, scallions and shrimp. Peanuts add a nice crunch.
Of course, the ubiquitous bowl of rice, in this case a large one, comes with the entrees. Chopsticks are available.
A quick glance at the dessert menu turned up fried banana. It is our guiding philosophy, arrived at that very night, that a fried banana offered should be a fried banana chosen.
This is a simple affair -- a peeled banana dipped in batter and quickly deep fried, then served with honey and sesame seeds. The banana was warm, the coating crunchy and the honey soothing. We recommend it.
Finally, the fortune cookies. The thing about fortune cookies is that they are an essentially American affair. Only in the past few years have they made their way to China.
Although the Chinese, according to legend, may have hidden messages in moon cakes during an ancient occupation by Mongols, fortune cookies began their popular run in California about 1910. The world's largest fortune cookie manufacturing operation is in Queens, N.Y., far distant from China.
One of the fortunes this night announced, "Others see you as a wise person." In that vein, we note that the World Fitness Gym is a couple doors away from the Golden China should you overindulge.
Is there a restaurant we should try? Send suggestions to email@example.com.
General Tso's chicken, and on the flame, right.Golden China's buffet is available nightly.