May 16, 2010

Three Mongoloids Pillage Genghis Khan

Restaurant: Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill
Location: 3906 Bell St., KC MO
Food: Traditional Mongolian Barbecue
Service: Simple & Friendly
Atmosphere: Lively, homey, entertaining
Price: Average for buffet, but a little high for my liking
Rating: one napkin

Let me start by saying I went to Genghis Khan a few years ago and left mostly unimpressed. I remember thinking my dish turned out to be unexpectedly bland, yet it cost more than I'd expected. I knew I was probably to blame for this more than anything, though. After all, at a Mongolian grill, the diner assembles his/her own bowl of ingredients. It's only the cooking that's left up to the restaurant's staff. So when my friend Andrew asked if we had a Mongolian Barbecue in Kansas City while we were trying to think of dinner ideas Saturday night, a light bulb went off in my head. It was time to return and give this place a fair shake.

Located at 39th and Bell, just south of d'Bronx, I found the dining room more inviting and cozy than I remembered it. The exposed brick walls and aged hard wood floors were exceedingly cozy and inviting. The perpetual searing and steaming of meat and veggies on the flat-topped grill dispersed an invisible fog of warmth and inviting aroma that filled our chests and piqued our dormant appetites.

The friendly hostess promised us our wait would be short despite a full dining room, and she was right. After allowing me just enough time to walk back outside and capture a couple photos of the front of the building, we were seated in a booth at the back of the restaurant, which probably would have been where I'd have chosen if I was given my pick from the whole place. Great spot. The window on my left looked out over the insanely busy parking lot behind the restaurant, and to my right were the rest of the diners, happy, raucously conversing and laughing. It had that sense of universal contentment throughout.

In no time we were back out of our seats and loading woefully small bowls with our raw ingredients. I was slightly disappointed that so many were over-cooled and frozen, but it was better than the (health code violating) alternative of an overly warm buffet line. So just a minor infraction. Into my bowl I hurriedly piled sliced mushrooms, cabbage, jalapeno, cilantro, carrots, bean sprouts, water chestnuts and thin slices of celery. I was positively thrilled with the veggie choices on hand.

On top of the veg I piled delightfully yellow egg noodles - a modest portion though my egg noodle-crazy appetite screamed at me to double, nay triple the amount I first took. On top of the noodles I added thinly sliced raw pork and delicious looking bright white squid segments from the protein selections, and if you like squid don't miss out. I loved having it in my dish.

Following the recipe for a spicy sauce, I ladled into my bowl a base of liquids including, but not limited, to soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar water, ginger water, garlic and some kind of chili paste. Truthfully, I can't remember what-all was involved, but the ingredients are listed for the convenience of confused diners on the sneeze guard above the bowls. [I remembered that on my last trip, the sauce component was where I thought I had failed... my dish had turned out bland and dry, Confused by the myriad of sauce choices in front of me and not cognizant of the recipe listed literally right under my nose, I limited my selection to a single inadequate ladle of soy sauce. More experienced in Asian cooking now ("experienced" used lightly here), this omission of flavored liquids seems preposterous and somewhat embarrassing.]

The final ingredient choice to diners after saucing is that of egg or no. I elected to add it - an essential to stir fry of any kind in my mind.

Then I stood back and what the two grill masters quickly but expertly sautee my ingredients to perfection. Truly, their method of quick-searing and then spreading out the ingredients to ensure meats are in direct contact with the grill so as to cook through, is carried out with a good amount of skill. I was beyond eager to dig in when they handed my steaming bowl of flat top bbq back to me.

A quick stop to the dessert and sides table in the middle of the floor for a crab rangoon and fried spring roll and then we ceased communication in lieu of face down, hog-to-trough style food inhalation. I may not have even used my fork. It's hard to remember.

What I do remember is that I'd nailed the sauce and ingredients. The whole dish was fiendishly salty and spicy. The squid was nicely chewy, but not overcooked tot the point of rubberiness. The pork had picked up a lot of flavor from the sauces and packed more color and flavor than I'd expected. The water chestnuts and celery added a woody, nutty crunch I loved, almost like croutons in a lettuce salad. My noodles were incredibly fresh tasting, also chewy but rich and soft, too. Altogether, a fantastic plateful of ingredients bursting and popping off each other with flavor and texture differences that played like a fireworks show in my mouth.

We'd hit the nail on the head, here. The right restaurant for the type of appetite and mood we all had at that moment in time.

The one and only serious drawback I'd point out about Genghis Khan was the buffet factor. I mentioned the slightly frozen ingredients earlier, which gave me the slightest impression the ingredients were not quite as fresh as they could have been. But more than that, the price of buffets annoys me. It's completely understandable that, given the amount of sport eating in which their regular customers engage, per-head pricing needs to be high to ensure a profit. But I was satisfied with one plate of food. Didn't even need to consider returning for more. Yet I left feeling like I'd paid for more than what I ate.

The dichotomy there annoys me thusly, 1) I paid for more than I got, and 2) bad mental imagery related to the phrase "all you can eat" inevitably runs through my mind in relation to buffets. ...Memories of painful, sickening regret after over-indulging on luke-warm slices of greasy pizza, softened, dried chicken fingers tasting of hot stainless steel containers, ranch dressing mingling with black cherry jello and melting chocolate ice cream in a freshly washed cafeteria cup, still warm and wet from the dishwasher, smelling of industrial-strength Sysco detergent. These are the buffet memories lingering in my psyche from childhood experiences at the likes of Valentino's Pizza, Bonanza and Sirloin Stockade. I just can't shake 'em.

So, take away my neurotic willies related to buffets, lower the price a smidge (I'd pay $10 for one plate happily instead of $15 for all I can eat), and keep the ingredients from becoming frostbitten and this place has some serious appeal. Great atmosphere, fun for all kinds of diners, groups to dates, simple but good service and delicious plates of happiness. We came, we saw, we conquered.

Rating: one napkin

Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill on Urbanspoon


Christy said...

You have me laughing out loud reading about your childhood memories of all-you-can-eat buffets. Dead on. But you forgot to mention the nasty, plastic nacho cheese sauce. :)

karen said...

There were lots of Mongolian BBQ places in Southern California when I lived there in the '70s. At every place at tried, most of the protein items were nearly frozen. I think that helps prevent them from being overcooked on the grill, in addition to being safe. Does Genghis Khan give you little bread things to stuff with your ingredients? All the places in California gave you something called pocket biscuits.

Foodie32 said...

Karen, great feedback! Thanks for reading and commenting!
Yes, there must be a method to the madness of frozen proteins. I'll let it slide.
No, i didn't notice the little bread things. I don't think they were available. Did you like them? We should lobby to get them added to the menu!

karen said...

The pocket biscuits were terrific. They were similar in size and shape to a small pita, but fluffier. The contents of your bowl were chopped into small pieces on the grill, which looked like a giant inverted wok. Each table had little jars of chile paste to add if you wanted even more heat. The combination of the salty, spicy mongolian bbq and the slightly sweet pocket biscuit was so good! I say lobby Genghis Khan for the biscuits.

Anonymous said...

You can pay less for just one plate.

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