The 1989 motion picture Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure featured high school flunkies debating historical timelines outside a Circle K, asking passersby if they happened to know when the Mongols ruled China.
I'm no Asian history buff; I certainly couldn't tell you when it was. But when it comes time to battle a barbarian-sized hunger, there's one group I can always count on to swiftly subdue my stomach--the Mongols.
On a Tuesday afternoon, I phoned an associate for company, and at the stroke of noon, we laid siege to the cafeteria-style, build-your-own stir fry stylings of the eatery occupying the corner of 8th and Bannock streets. You can order eggrolls, potstickers and pork and seeds as appetizers at the Mongolian BBQ & Grill, but who would want to? There's a feast of fresh veggies; frozen pork, chicken and beef; and 12 different cooking sauces just feet from your table.
First, select a bowl size. Ask yourself, "How big is my stomach?" Are you a little, a mighty or a barbarian Khan? (I suggest Mighty. Eat moderately and you'll still bring an entire second serving home.)
Next, select your vegetables. Try the peanuts and cashews; toss in some pineapple. Are you brave enough for tofu? I'm not. (Again, no expert, but I think Khan too might have passed.)
Top off your haul with a liberal application of noodles. Here's the stage when the Mongol veterans take command. Layer only a few noodles across your bowl and you're as good as announcing it's your first visit. Don't be afraid. This culture's history prominently features hungry nomads. Live a little.
Once you've loaded up your bowl, only sauce stands between you and the grill, around which chefs are circling with wooden cooking sticks. You'll see the signs hanging over the choices of sauces and oils. Feel free to adhere to their recipes, but it's been my experience that the best combos are a mixture of any number of heaping ladles. I'm a sweet and sour-peanut-mongolian-house BBQ kind of guy.
Half cooking exhibition, half walk-a-thon, an apron-clad chef dumps your concoction onto a circular metal cooking surface, douses it with water then makes laps around the grill while agitating your dish. Note: Now's a good time to pull out a couple of dollars for the tip jar. Unless you are a grandfather, who as a youth trudged eight miles uphill in the snow both ways to school, you don't walk as far as these gents do in a given day.
It may not seem so at first, but this food is filling. I know you want to impress your party by finishing the oversized bowl, but try to resist. Mighty is the ache that follows an overzealous appetite. Besides--and my friends swear I'm crazy for this--but like macaroni and cheese, this stuff really is just as good reheated.
This is a downtown eatery, which means that come noon, it's a bit of a jungle. But by 12:30, it slows and just 15 minutes later it's good and quiet. If you're not in love with the a la carte format or the simple decor, take your food to go.
Four kinds of cheesecake call out from the dessert menu, but a real barbarian just laughs. Who leaves room for dessert? Besides, come meal's end, you'll get a complementary fortune cookie. My fortune read, "Treat yourself to a good book for a needed rest and escape." But with my inner barbarian subdued, I thanked my cookie for its advice and replied that I'd probably be plenty lethargic until the new Harry Potter book comes out next month just the same.
--Travis Estvold is a Khan-artist.