By now the Mongolian dining concept is well-known to metro Detroiters (whether it’s as commonplace in Ulan Bator is another question), and this is its debut in the Grosse Pointes.
On the site of the former Friendly Ice Cream shop, Kristi and Eric Thielk have set up the customary giant grill and sneeze-protected bins of veggies and meats.
The drill: You fill up your bowl with meat (one kind only, say the Thielks, because of different cooking times), veggies, four ladles of sauce and spices.
Hand your bowl to the cooks, who dump your selection onto a large round griddle seasoned with a little oil. Other diners’ dinners are frying at the same time, separated by long wooden sticks.
When yours is done, it’s your choice whether to identify yourself by banging a gong. One night I shared the restaurant with a table of a dozen kids; luckily, their parents were enforcing a one-bong-per-person rule.
The meats include lamb, pork, chicken, beef, fish (generic), shrimp, calamari and a spicy "marinated meat."
Except for the onions, it doesn’t matter much which vegetables you choose, as their flavor will be disguised by the sauces. They include green peppers, peas, bean sprouts, bok choy, scallions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, baby corn, squash — and pineapple.
The sauces are where you must choose carefully. They include wine, barbecue, garlic oil, tomato, teriyaki, hoisin, mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, sweet and sour, and black bean.
Then a slew of spices and extras, from rosemary, cilantro and paprika to peanuts. What you mix-and-match is what you get, and if it’s not good, you have no one to blame but yourself. (Well, not completely. Some of the meats and vegetables were still glistening with ice crystals, which wasn’t an aid to quality.)
The weirdest combination they’ve seen, say the cooks, was beef, fish and mustard sauce. My advice is to avoid the black bean, which is very salty.
I found that my own creations were tastier than the suggestions offered by the management. Multiple ladles of bright yellow mustard sauce on chicken, for example, was a bit much.
My guidelines are: Always use onions. Keep the sauces simple (garlic oil, wine, olive oil, lemon juice). Meats work better than fish. And pile on the cilantro.
I loved the following combos: Lamb, cilantro, wine, garlic oil, onions, red pepper. Beef, barbecue sauce, wine, garlic oil. Pork, scallions, peanuts, onions, garlic oil, lemon, wine, bok choy, cilantro (done crispy). Marinated meat, hoisin, garlic oil, onions, lemon. Lamb, tofu, olive oil, wine and a drop of mustard.
A soup and salad bar is included with your meal. It’s a completely average American salad bar, and the soups I tried, pea and mushroom, were okay and good, respectively.
Dinner prices are a bit steep if you don’t want soup and salad: 10 bucks for one trip to the gong, $12 for all you can eat. Management would be doing diners a favor to let them opt out of the salad, for a lower price (this choice is available for lunch or carryout).
Lots of fancy mixed drinks and everyday beers and wines are served at the Grille. Desserts are of the over-the-top American variety — chocolate suicide cake, Snickers or Reese’s cheesecake — and if they’ve never heard of Cool Whip on tiramisu in Mongolia, who cares?
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.