Pick and choose
Ah, Mongolian barbecue—there’s an element of creativity that comes with filling a bowl with a choice of raw meats, veggies, seasonings and sauces, then handing it over to be stir-fried on a flat-top grill. It’s fun and delicious, despite being neither Mongolian nor barbecue.
Mongolian barbecue began in 1950s Taiwan, inspired by Japanese teppanyaki. Images of Mongol nomads cooking meat on their shields or a large, flat stone are often invoked, though there is no historical evidence for this. Traditional cuisine of the northeastern Asian grasslands involves simple meals of roasted or boiled horse meat or mutton with very few vegetables and seasonings. And it would likely be impossible to cook on the shields of wicker and leather used by Genghis Khan’s army, much less lug around a heavy stone on horseback. Having said that, I’m a fan of build-your-own stir-fry, and recently-opened MB Grill is doing a pretty good job of it.
There are four sizes of bowls to choose from—kid-size ($7.95), small ($10.95), medium ($13.95) and an all-you-can-eat option ($19.95). The bowls may seem small, but beware that even the kid-size can be piled up with enough stuff to fill a plate. If you do AYCE, I suggest using kid size bowls for more variety, lest you fill up on the first round.
On a recent visit, we skipped appetizers in order to focus on the main attraction. Our server asked us to choose from up to two starches, which she wrote down on a card for our chef. My wife ordered brown rice and thin egg noodles. I chose udon and fried rice. All were pretty much as expected, and though more was offered each round, we weren’t required to order starches. I’d probably lose the carbs next time I eat there and focus on the meat and veggies.
Meats were sliced thin and were still mostly frozen in order to preserve freshness. Beef, pork and chicken were available plain or marinated, along with beef short rib, lamb, sausage, ham and raw bacon. Seafood options included squid, white fish fillet, imitation crab, shrimp, scallops, fish balls and fish cake. An empty bin was labeled “baby octopus.” The little squirts must have had the day off.
Non-meats included baby- and full-size bok choy, white cabbage, mushroom, baby spinach, green bean, broccoli, asparagus, water chestnut, baby corn, white and red onion, scallion, zucchini, celery, Thai basil, cilantro, tofu, bean sprouts, snow pea, pineapple, grape tomato, green bell pepper, jalapeno, minced garlic and raw egg. We also had condiment and spice choices, including chili paste, white and black ground pepper, chili powder and cumin. Sauce choices included curry, Mongolia, house special blend, sweet and sour, teriyaki, Szechuan, kung pao and Thai sweet chili. Suffice it to say, there was plenty to work with.
The chef did a good job cooking our concoctions without overdoing it. The meats were tender and tasty—the lamb and marinated chicken particularly so—and the veggies were crisp and fresh. I really enjoyed the bowl of seafood I put together. In the past, I’ve been served fried and steamed fish meatballs, but they’re much better stir-fried—almost like a fishy scallop.
I could go on about our choices that evening, but, in the end, there wasn’t anything we didn’t enjoy. And MB Grill is definitely worth multiple visits. A person could eat there countless times and never have the same meal.