I have it on good authority that Genghis Kahn was a huge fan of Mongolian Barbeque and had enormous grills brought across the plains of Asia as his armies laid waste to much of the known world. It was this, the famous “Mongolian Firepot,” not the armies of the West that eventually put a stop to one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known.
Our tale though begins in the present, as four lucky travelers come upon a faded and slightly dingy yellow door and enter the Mongolian Barbeque Restaurant in Claremont. Abruptly we are greeted by the owner of the establishment, a man so pleasant as to be almost fawning, and he guides us to our seats. A sign on the wall informs us that it is indeed the Year of the Ox, a delicacy that is, rather unfortunately, not on the menu. Instead we opt for chicken and pork.
The younger members of our expedition look startled when the frozen meat strips arrive in ceremonial bowls, not knowing what to make of the experience. As the oldest of our party, I explain that we are to go and add our choice of vegetables to the meat. It is then that a wise little person in the booth next to us tells our group to dig a hole through the meat in order to add more sprouts and carrots. We thank her for her wisdom and add a plethora of choices, including broccoli, chestnuts and other sundry delicacies. There are mysterious spices—OK, curries and chili sauce, and we try them with wariness. Our dwarf guide looks at us reassuringly though and we bring our cooked feast back to the table and begin to nosh on the lovely concoction like true warriors.
The barbeque portion of the meal is terrific and different, especially for the wee ones, although I have mistakenly not followed the scrolls of wisdom by the spices and tried to spice my bowls according to my own tastes. I pay for this mistake when I try the bowl of my lady companion who has followed the rules and has a delicious bowl in front of her. I scoff at this though—did Genghis follow the rules? Much of the rest of the meal is pedestrian though, almost running the risk of spoiling the premise of this article. The rice, wonton and fried shrimp that accompany the barbeque are of Chinese-buffet quality.
Apparently though, others don’t agree. A steady stream of explorers begins to enter the door; many of them seasoned veterans of the Mongolian Barbeque experience from the looks of it, as they seemingly pile twice the accessories I did into my bowl with little difficulty. Our group is suddenly crestfallen—other Magellans, de Sotos and Balboas have been here before us. In fact, the Vasco de Gama over by the spice bar has a rather nasty cough, but no matter, we’ll soldier on.
All too soon though our journey is at an end, as are our sizzling slices of fowl and swine. Our amazingly polite and gracious waitress brings us both a check and a fortune cookie and a surreal but pleasant and fairly cheap culinary adventure is past us. As we walk out the canary-colored door I briefly wonder if we’ll step into another dimension; but it’s only the parking lot and we drive home on the 10.
Mongolian Barbeque Restaurant at 970 W. Foothill Boulevard, Claremont, (909) 624-4334; Sun.-Thurs., 11:30AM-8:45PM; Fri.-Sat., 11:30AM-9:45PM. M, V.