Great Wall Bar-B-Q – not for the faint of stomach

Leia Ostermann

Overrated, in my definition, is when quality does not match expectation.

Food has never been a point of disgust in my life, especially Asian food: Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Mongolian are all tasty to me. Cleanliness, however, is usually high on my list of life essentials.

The grungy parking lot right off of Howe Avenue, home of the “Great Wall BBQ,” inspired a silent prayer that the food or the atmosphere would be more engaging than the worn-out surroundings had promised.

By official standards, this restaurant was sufficiently hygienic. Entering into this grungy and dreary atmosphere made me wonder how exactly cleanliness is rated in the United States though.

I am something of a “germaphobe” as well, but I managed to muscle my way past the initial reaction in order to fairly judge the food.

Surprisingly, I got excited in line. The buffet style arrangement called for a choice of meat, noodles, toppings, sauces and seasoning. I felt experimental and adventurous, piling on the raw meat, fresh vegetables and noodles. When I got to the seasoning section I was slightly more cautious.

The woman in front of me was a seasoned guest of the “Great Wall” and coached me through each section of the buffet.

“The first time I came here I got so excited,” she said. “You will be hooked now.”

She showed me which sauces she used and which seasoning. I usually like a good house sauce, so I used that and some dill seasoning. I was nervous with this whole season-your-own-food business, but I felt there must be some margin for error allowed in seasoning your own food.

Then came the fun part; watching the food being cooked with two long bamboo sticks on a flat, rock stove. The woman next to me continued her rant about the healthy nature of the oil bubbling on the stove. All I saw was bubbling oil.

Oh, and apparently topping the entire concoction with pineapple is essential for flavor, she said.

Chips, rice and soup were at my table when I returned – none of which I could eat. They neither looked edible nor tasted worthy of the extra carbs.

Then I discovered that the whole seasoning bit really does not have a margin for error. All I could taste was dill and noodle. Basically, if you mess up the flavoring, your food will be borderline inedible.

Check, please.

Yes, the 3 minutes it took to walk down the buffet line, watching my food being cooked and feeling like an Asian food connoisseur was somewhat enjoyable. However, the eating part does not feel so good during the meal, or after.

Oh, and can I have a straw? I do not want to touch the edge of this cup with my mouth.

A half-eaten meal and a $10 check later, I was presented with the Great Wall’s final gift to the girl gagging and writing down notes in the corner: a fortune cookie. The taste washed the dill out of my mouth out and left me in a slightly better mood, but the message of my fortune truly moved me: “You will make a change for the better.”

This change ended up being the gum I found in my pocket.

It was the 10 minutes it took me to get back to school.

It was me calling up my best friend and asking where she wanted to go and eat for dinner.

Leia Ostermann can be reached at [email protected]