‘Have you done the Mongo yet?” asked a friend who works in Coeur d’Alene.
The “Mongo” is the sparkling new Mongolian BBQ in the Ironwood Shopping Center and my pal urged me to give it a try. But he added this qualifier: “It’s kind of a guy thing.”
Meaning that you’re pretty macho if you can scarf the amazing amount of food diners typically load up on.
At a Mongolian barbecue, you determine the amount of chow when you go through a buffet line and fill a bowl with vegetables, meat, noodles and sauce.
The three portion sizes sound pretty manly, too. The smallest bowl is a Little Kahn ($4.75), the medium is a Mighty Kahn ($5.45) and the largest is called the Wrath of Kahn. Just kidding, it’s called the Barbarian ($7.25).
The spread is pretty spectacular, but my buddy said you’ve got to have a game plan for piling your plate high. (This is the same guy who wanted me to add a regular feature to my restaurant reporting called “Good Food and Lots of It.”)
For instance, because the meat (pork, beef and chicken) on the buffet line is frozen, it shrinks down considerably when cooked. “So, load up on the meat, first,” he instructed.
The veggies look pretty tempting, too. There were three kinds of onions (white, red and green), sliced zucchini and yellow squash, broccoli, boy choy, jicama, red peppers, jalapeno peppers, spinach, cilantro, baby corn, carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and shredded cabbage. Alas, no pea pods.
After 5, they add shrimp, faux crab and cashews and the prices go up slightly.
So, after stuffing your meat and roughage in your bowl, you then stack the noodles on top.
My friend’s Barbarian rose a full five inches above the rim of the bowl. Some of our fellow diners congratulated him on his dishing dexterity.
At the end of the line, there are more than half a dozen sauces you can ladle over your bowl, everything from a hot chili sauce, to ginger sauce, orange or lemon-flavored water and a curry sauce, among others. The clever cook can mix these together and come up with something pretty tasty. Because much of the sauce cooks off, use a generous hand when dishing it up.
At this point, you stand and wait for the cook to throw your bowl full onto the Mongolian barbie - a flat circular surface on which the cooks quickly saute the mixture, stirring it with giant chopsticks.
The whole thing is fun to watch and mine turned out great - with the right balance of crunchy stuff and soft noodles, together with ginger, Mongolian barbecue sauce and red hot chili sauce tempered by a dose of sugar water. (What a concept!)
My friend conceded that he went a little heavy on the noodles and would add more veggies next time. (He did go home with two Chinese food-size containers full of leftovers.)
If you’re planning to sample the Mongo anytime soon, here’s a tip: timing is everything. It was absolutely jam-packed on a recent lunch hour, so get there early or go late.
The Mongolian BBQ is located on the east side of the Ironwood Shopping Center in Coeur d’Alene.
Big Mamu fan
Yes, that’s really Dan O’Brien’s John Hancock on the wall of Big Mamu Burrito.
He stopped in there with his personal trainer - a Mamu regular - after winning the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta.
“He bought four Big Mamus and took them back to Moscow to put in his freezer,” said Mamu owner Jim Franey.
Some Mamu customers have scoffed at the way the super-jock-turned-scantily-clad-Versace model signed “World’s Greatest Athlete” under his name, but Franey is quick to defend O’Brien.
“That’s the official title when you win the decathlon,” he said.
Sadly, you won’t be able to spy O’Brien supping at the downtown Spokane burrito shop these days. He has relocated to Arizona, where he undoubtedly has access to some fine stuffed tortillas.
Report from Coney Island
I’ve fielded a couple of calls in the past week from people trying to find a good Coney Island hot dog - a tube steak smothered with a beanless chili sauce. It is not a chili dog.
Coneys just aren’t as hot as they once were, but a few spots still serve ‘em.
For $1.50, you can get a hot dog with chili sauce at Popcorn Etc. in the Franklin Park Mall.
Benjamin’s Cafe in the Parkade Plaza also offers a classic Coney Island along with its selection of burgers and sandwiches.
Hard to fathom, but longtime Coney purveyor, A&W;, no longer peddles those puppies.
X markets the spot
Boston Market has come up with a line of sandwiches designed to appeal to Generation X customers.
The Extreme Carvers are over-sized cheesy sandwiches targeted at “calorie-be-damned eaters,” according to a press release. They include the Meatloaf Monster, a Chicken Cheesesteak with a quadruple cheese blend and the Bacon, Ham and Cheese melt.
I asked a few young hipsters who fit the Gen X profile whether they would order these sandwiches and they just laughed.
For years, I’ve picked up take-out dinners from The Asian Cafe because, frankly, it was just too bright to dine there.
Well, happy day, the owners recently decided to put candles on tables and dim the lights (though they could go a bit lower.) I liked it a lot when I ate dinner there the other night.
Of course, I’ve always been fond of the food and The Asian has recently made it easier to try a variety of the fine Laotian dishes with a lunch buffet.
Each day, there are several featured entrees and an appetizer with the golden pumpkin curry being the only constant in the equation.
The buffet is $6.45 and is served weekdays. The Asian Cafe is located at 15th and Lincoln.
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