REVIEW: Fun like a two-star hotel in Ulan Bator
10104 109 Street
The concept of the “fast casual” restaurant seems to have really taken off lately.
We reviewed two similar restaurants, Famoso Neapolitan pizza and Mucho Burrito, a few weeks ago with decidedly different results.
On the other hand, though it only has two locations, The Mongolie Grill is sort of the granddaddy of fast dining, having been around for a decade already. If you take it for what it is – a quick, reasonably nutritious meal in a nice environment – it’s got a lot going for it. The restaurant is modernist and stylish, with a large, open bar area. It has three Asian beers on the menu to fit in with the theme.
That’s about as authentically Mongolian as it gets, of course. Like the detestable, instantly deportable Mucho Burrito, it’s more a brand than a cultural indicator, although the back story abut Mongolian warriors cooking stir fry in their shields was cute.
And at its core, that’s what Mongolie grill is: a u-pick stir fry joint. You walk around a buffet bar and load a bowl. Your price is based on the weight of the bowl. There are a ton of crisp, fresh vegetables, including slices of pepper, baby corns, onions, lettuce, snow peas, two types of noodle, sliced carrot…a whole lot of goodness, basically. Then there’s a buffet of iced meat cuts, including thin sliced beef and pork, chicken, squid, pollock and tiger prawns.
All of this is topped off with sauces from an extensive bar. The melange is the then thrown on a huge open-top grill and their cooks whip up your dish. They serve it on a bed of jasmine rice, and it comes with a soup of the day, to boot.
So, to the food. I opted to keep my vegetable count lower than my dining partner, figuring I’d use the net weight saved to keep the price down, but still sample a cross section from the meat and seafood buffet. My bowl consisted of baby corn, carrots, red onion, lettuce and glass noodles. My meats were sliced beef and pork, with a healthy handful of tiger prawns thrown in for good measure. I went with the Mongolie sauce, which was advertised as sweet and hot.
Annnnd…..that’s about it. It’s quick, it’s convenient, and when the waitress delivers your selection to your table, it’s nicely plated to appear something akin to an actual dish, rather than just stir fry.
Unfortunately, picking your sauces is obviously a trial-and-error process. Both my dining partner and I ladled two generous portions over our bowl, but by the time it had cooked down, it was hard telling there had been any sauce on it at all. As such, it just seemed a mildly favoured stir fry anyone could cook at home.
My dish came to just shy of $15 and my dining partner’s was closer to $16, even though she selected mostly vegetables. Again, for an unspectacular stir fry, that’s a bit expensive – though it did amount to a substantial amount on the plate – we each had almost a full meal’s worth to cart home. The hot and sour soup appetizer was good, the jasmine rice was sticky without being stodgy. With a couple of beers and tip it came to a fairly pricey $50 lunch.
The upside? The environment was nice, the service was excellent. The downside? The food is just OK. As mentioned, the sauce was cooked down to non-existence and the beef was a little dry, suggesting it just spent slightly too long on the grill. The prawns well-cooked but suffering somewhat in flavour from sitting in ice. The pork was quite excellent.
In all, it was pleasant enough, but did nothing to remind one of a Mongolian battlefield, or anything else particularly Asian.
Not awful, but it did not warrant a return.