Thursday, March 1, 2012

HuHot Mongolian Grill

12675 Olive Blvd
St. Louis (Creve Coeur)

I’ve been to Mongolian barbecue places before, not in a while. This was a spur of the moment choice, Doug and Rob invited me to join them. HuHot is actually a franchise, based in, obviously (sarcasm), Montana.
There’s a couple of dozen of these restaurants mostly in the middle of the U.S. Kentucky, Tennessee and Maryland? Nope. Springfield Mo? Yes.
I’ve probably been to this style of restaurant less than most of you, my loyal fans, but bear with me as I cover the basics for the novices.
The Place:
A standalone, large and colorful. Trademarked logos on the signage and doors/walls/windows. Inside, the upper walls are decorated by hand painted murals. Laura Blaker, a Missoula based artist travels to each new HuHot to paint its unique murals. In Creve Coeur, there is an imposing 20+ foot snaky, two legged dragon, yellow with red rings and eyes. The murals really are quite striking.
It’s a large place and pretty busy.  This Monday lunch saw it filled with office workers much like the three of us, but mostly more attractive. Rob and Doug had been there several times and knew the drill.
The lunch special is an all-you-can-eat stir-fry buffet. There are three buffet lines, one with raw meats and noodles, the next with fresh veggies, etc. and the last with a couple dozen vats of sauces.
We were shown a table, asked about drinks (water all around) and offered appetizers of Rangoons or egg rolls. Doug asked for three of the latter. He and Rob also asked for plain rice, which I thought was an unusual 'optional'(not part of the buffet) item, since rice is a staple and very cheap, costing about 1 yuan per ton (1 Yuan= around 15 U.S. cents).
We headed toward the lines.
The Food:
The meats were chopped and frozen. At first this bothered me, but I thought the better of it and went on. I chose mostly chicken and a little turkey. I added a plop or two of yakisoba noodles (there are three other kinds of noodles available see for a complete list of buffet items.) I went nuts at the veggies, peppers, lots of multicolored peppers, a few tomatoes and bean sprouts. I tried to build a taste profile in my head to make sure I didn’t mix contrasting flavors. My bowl was already spilling over when I got to the sauces. There’s a couple dozen choices, you just ladle on four or five scoops, mix or match. An experienced customer’s blend could potentially be quite elaborate. I kept it simple and mild, choosing the tame Samurai Teriyaki. I figured I could always turn up the volume later.
Rob and Doug had filled their bowls as well, as veterans of the place they didn’t need as much think time. We took our bowls up to the cooking station and handed them over. In the center was a seven foot round steel cooking contraption with a hole in the middle. Two or three cooks could easily fit around it. They squirt a little oil on the surface, like a griddle and plop your bowl right on it. I spend a lot of time behind a stove at home so watching the process right in front of my eyes was not as big a spectacle as it might be for some people.
In a couple of minutes of tossing and turning, the steaming piles were scooped onto plates and handed over.
At the pickup area there were vats/crocks of crunchies, chow mein noodles, glass noodles, some crushed nuts, etc. I added a few chow mein noodles. Our water and egg rolls were waiting for us at the table.
I took my first taste, decided it was indeed quite tame, and sprinkled on some soy sauce. By the time I sank my fork into the next bite I noticed fast-eating Doug, the star-nosed mole*. Even self-handicapped by using chopsticks, he was about half done with his. By the time I was halfway through mine, he’d already built a second helping and gone through the line. Rob debated a second plate, instead he took some of the white rice they’d ordered separately and stirred it into the remaining sauce and food chunks on his plate. Doug still finished ahead of me.
 I was very pleased with the meal. I had chosen smartly, except for the tomatoes, they’re better on a salad or pizza than in a stir fry. The sauce was splendid, a little sesame oil, soy sauce and sherry. I’ll probably go up a notch next time though there wasn’t anything at all wrong with what I had.
The little egg rolls were quite good, the sweet sauce they served with them was just right. 
Doug’s second round was based on recommendation cards, a thick deck of which can be found on every table. Tried and true combination suggestions. He chose one called ‘Vampire Killer’, a blend which I think included the chain's trademarked  Kung Pao...Yow!” sauce. He likes it hot, really, really hot. 
Our water was refreshed often and emptied plates taken swiftly. When it came time to pony up, Doug grabbed the check and handed his card to the waiter. I objected loudly and violently, putting up quite the fuss. (Lie). Doug's such a nice guy. 
I believe the lunch buffet cost eight bucks, though I can't be sure since I didn't pay my fair share.  The food was really good, and the selection was great. I've not been to very many Mongolian style buffets, so I can't really compare it to much else. I really just cannot say anything bad about the place at all. I'd said the meat being frozen was a little bothersome at first, until I considered the alternative, raw. I'd much rather stir fry small chunks of frozen meat than raw stuff that had been sitting out for a while. Besides, most of the meat I consume at home comes from our freezer. We're almost an empty nest, even bacon wouldn't stay good in the fridge for as long as it takes us to finish a pound. So I'm okay with the frozen meat. You?


Star nosed mole
* Star-nosed mole. Considered the fastest eating mammal in the animal kingdom. “. . . taking as short as 120 milliseconds (average: 227 milliseconds) to identify and consume individual food items. Its brain decides in the ultra short time of 8 ms if a prey is comestible or not.” (Wikipedia)
I've called Doug this before, his family got a kick out of it, so now it sticks. It's not intended as an insult, just an observation that aside from the occasional prisoner, Doug eats faster than most other creatures I am aware of.

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1 comment:

  1. Just to clarify... White or brown rice is included with the meal. Fried rice is a buck or so more. And the cooks do not add any oil; they o ly use water to clean the grill or add a bit of moisture.