When I was still in college, word got out about this Chinese restaurant that had an all-you-can-eat buffet style chow line. You got a bowl and loaded it up with frozen beef, chicken and/or pork and then stacked it up with vegetables, noodles, sauces and toppings. It was a steal. You could go through as many times as you wanted for $5, no doggy bag. I’d never heard of Mongolian barbecue, but I dug on it from the first bite. The cooks had 30-inch bamboo sticks that they’d tap and scrape the food around on the circular grill. I probably ate there 3 or 4 times a week. The only problem was that you stood and waited while the cooks took your bowl and cooked it. It smelled fantastic. Driving by in the summer at dinner time was just asking for trouble.
Some people made the stacking into an art form. We’d stop in after practice and have a band lunch, comparing and contrasting our various stacking and bowl loading styles. All of our friends were forced to go at least once. Some took to it, some didn’t. My boy Patatomic, he LOVED it.
When I moved away, I never found a place that was clean enough to risk the Mongolian bbq. Even in San Francisco. I knew there had to be a place somewhere, but by the time I was willing to explore, a coworker introduced me to Korean barbecue (the best one was a pink building on the south side of Geary in the early avenues that I think was called, surprisingly, Korean BBQ). Plus, living so close to Haight Street meant a quick walk to Citrus Club, which had enough punked asian groove to make me lose interest in exploring.
I had made a few attempts to create my own Mongolian at home, substituting a wok for the large round cooking surface. I did not use the bamboo stick to cook with as my kitchens in SF were never large enough. Maybe if I would have opened a window….
When I moved to Los Angeles and started dating Heather, she made it known she wasn’t a big Chinese food fan, but I wanted to make her my version of Mongolian, which I had renamed Jongolian barbecue. I did and she loved it. I figured all the cabbage would solve some of her lower gastric issues and I wasn’t wrong. I’ve made it a dozen times or so since we’ve been together, even perfecting the recipe for serving up to four people and providing a community service for gastric systems everywhere.
Last Friday we went out for dinner. Going out is a big deal for us. We generally only get out a couple of times a month for food, and I suggested we try a Chinese place that used to be good, but it had moved and I hadn’t eaten there since well before moving to California in 1998. We met up with Patatomic and Mrs. Patatomic and before we could sit down, Pat busts out, “Yeah, so it’s pretty much the Mongolian barbecue, right?”
I thought he said Mongolian Beef. Then I Tivo’d the last sentence and replayed it, pausing it between each word. Pat. Just. Said. Mongolian. Bar. Be. Cue. The Matrix dissolved into vaguely Cyrillic green CRT characters and I saw both Keanu and Carrie Ann running sideways against all surfaces, totally wailing and throwing rice noodles into their bowls while whooping it up. Damn fine. While the cooks cooked with woks and without the bamboo, it was better than the college place. More sauces, more noodle choices more meat choices. More everything.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve dined at a place that the moment I finish, I start plotting when I can make the next visit. The best part: Heather wants to go back as well.
I’d give the name of the place, but the nutburgers out there would totally yell “sell-out” because I’m not indie enough and I’ve got
Christmas holiday shopping to do and I’m going to have to spend some time plotting about when I can get back there to eat again.
Actually. Fuck the nutburgers.