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Category Archives: Mongolian

Erik Eats With Chopsticks

Update: American Chopstick has closed permanently.

I can think of few restaurant genres less Asian than the “Mongolian barbecue.” Yes, Taiwan gave us the recipe for the food, thinly sliced meat and veggies, grilled on a large, flat, circular griddle with what I’ve always thought of as a pair of giant chopsticks, but the principle of the thing seems more at home in the U.S. than just about anything I can think of.The grill at American Chopstick

I’ve often heard a particular claim, about whose age and origin I care not to speculate, that puts forth the hypothesis that
“there’s no accounting for taste.” In other words: objectivity sometimes fails miserably. With food, it starts with “may contain peanuts,” quickly heads on through “kosher and vegetarian meals available,” and barrels on by “special orders don’t upset us” in the general direction of “cook it yourself, you picky bastard.” Somewhere finickiness and laziness balance each other out, and around here, that happens at a Mongolian barbecue. You pick your veggies, your meats, your noodles, and your sauces. One minute of flash-grilling by an accommodating cook in a friendly white apron, and presto, you get to eat your meal. In the realm of food, I can’t think of anything more American. In the U.S., soy sauce sits on every table in every Chinese restaurant, but in China, you’ll probably only find it in the kitchens.

So that leaves us with Asian-style cooking, in an American-style restaurant. Mongolian barbecues like the ones that I first ate at back in Arizona have a European American owner who hires a few Asian American cooks to teach a mostly Hispanic American staff how to use the grill. On the other hand, here in Bloomington, we have American Chopstick, which does things a bit differently. The restaurant must have more than three people who work there, but I’ve eaten there five or six times, and I always see the same waiter/busboy and hostess/cashier in the front and the same cook in the back. The guy with the giant chopsticks (minus the chopsticks)I find the rest of the staff friendly and helpful (they even cooked extra doughnuts for us one night after the kitchen had closed), but it’s the guy in the back, the one with the giant chopsticks, that makes American Chopstick different.

The first time we ate there, the look of the place didn’t inspire me with confidence. The building seemed small, and the place looked as though its designers had utilitarian, rather than aesthetic, values in mind. A small selection of standard Chinese buffet items sits in front of a long bar of vegetables, and as you head around back, you pass a small folding table with cookies and a short bar of meats and sauces before arriving at the grill. If you want noodles, you’ll have to settle for spaghetti, and while it probably tastes just like any other kind of noodle after grilling, I haven’t actually tried it yet. They do have bamboo shoots, which counts for a lot in my book, as well as a decent selection of other vegetables, both American and Asian. They have a diverse variety of meats as well, usually including a few seafood items. If you normally frequent other Mongolian barbecues where they cut the meat so thinly that it shrinks to nearly nothing on the grill, watch out when you fill your bowl. American Chopstick does things differently, and you’ll end up with an enormous pile of meat if you try to compensate for shrinkage.

I’ve really come to enjoy this place, but it took me, a seasoned veteran of the Mongolian barbecue, a few visits to figure things out. In the interest of making your first experience more pleasant and also of keeping the place in business, I’ve got a few words of advice.

  1. No matter how much it looks like the chef placed those sauces there for you to build your own sauce, and regardless of how much you really, really want your food to taste a particular way, resist the urge to put any sauce on your food. Let the guy with the giant chopsticks do it. He knows how to do his job.
  2. If you do have a preference, say so quickly, clearly, and before the guy with the giant chopsticks gets a hand on your bowl, which he will reach for when you you least expect it. Keep it simple: “something sweet” or “extra garlic.”
  3. Do not worry when the guy with the giant chopsticks seems to ignore you. He has heard everything you’ve said, and unless you asked him for something that would taste horrible, he’ll do what you ask for. It took three visits before I ever heard him speak a word, and that happened after I insisted on pouring 6 scoops of crushed garlic before letting him go to work on the sauces and cooking. Looking at my bowl in disgust, he shook his head in disdain. “Too much garlic.” He was, of course, absolutely correct. I’d calculated the proportions as though I had a big wad of noodles in the bowl, but I only had meat and vegetables this time. My friends have informed me that after I left with my bowl, he continued complaining to my dining companions. “Too much garlic.”
  4. Do not worry when the guy with the giant chopsticks starts adding more meat to your bowl, adding sauces that you didn’t think you wanted, or doing anything else that seems like it will ruin your meal. My heart still skips a beat every time he takes my bowl, but I always end up satisfied.

The only times I’ve ever experienced sub-par food at American Chopstick happened when I tried to make the sauce myself, and I can’t really blame them for that. I should also mention that I even like the tiny little buffet selection. It appears as if they went to all the little Chinese restaurants with “100+ items!” and pulled out the six dishes that I actually eat. I particularly recommend the crab Rangoon and those little fried balls of dough covered in sugar. Especially the little fried balls of dough covered in sugar. Much better than any fortune cookie.

Kira and Erik at American Chopstick

Yum – 3, Ooh – 2, Ah – 2, Wow – 3.5 (Huh?)

 

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Kira’s Number Two: American Chopstick

Update: American Chopstick has closed permanently.

The Time: Saturday, April 1st, 2006 7:30PMish

The Place: American Chopstick
We have eaten here several times before and enjoy it. Although other Mongolian BBQ places have a better selection (such as YC’s Mongolian Grill back in the Phoenix area), it’s kinda hard to screw up make your own stir-fry. This time we went with 2 friends, Neeraj and Kellan, who had also been there before. It has all you can eat Mongolian BBQ as well as a small Chinese buffet with 2 or 3 entrees. Supposedly you can order entrees from a menu, but we never have.

The Atmosphere:Interior of American Chopstick
Nothing fancy. Comfortable. A little bit grungy, but not dirty, I don’t think. They have booths and tables.

The Food:
Veggie, meat, and noodle stir-fry, crab rangoon, yummy doughnuts, water. The way this works is that you fill your bowl with as much veggies, meat, noodles, and sauce as you want, and then you give it to a guy who cooks it in front of you on a big flat grill thingy. There is a decent, but not great, selection of veggies, along with beef, pork, chicken, and sometimes some sort of seafood. I wish they had tofu, but they don’t. Also, their noodles are like spaghetti instead of rice noodles or other Chinese noodles that I am more used to. But it still tastes all right in the end. Other places I’ve been to you usually add your own sauces maybe with advice from the people working there. It seems like it’s more customary here for the cook to add the sauces, although you can make suggestions, such my usual ‘not spicy with extra garlic please’ (see Erik’s review). Generally it turns out well, and if it doesn’t, you can always try again since it is all you can eat.

American Chopstick's Chinese buffet sectionI very much enjoy crab rangoon, which they have in the Chinese buffet section. The ones here are usually pretty good here, although this time they weren’t very fresh. Asian doughnuts, or whatever they are called, are also always good, even if slightly overcooked. You can’t go wrong with fried dough covered in sugar.

The Service:
A waitress seats us and gets us drinks. She is attentive on the refills. The cook, however, is quite amusing. He seems to enjoy adding the sauces, and kinda looks at us weird when we try to do our own. And I think he was listening to my suggestions, although it seems like he doesn’t. We are always amused by the cook, although we’re not sure if it’s been the same guy each time.

The Price:
Something like $8 for dinner. It’s cheaper for lunch. Come hungry at it will be worth it.

The Rest:
Over all it’s a poor substitute for YC’s, but it still not too bad. It’s decent for vegetarians, although it would be better if they had tofu, and I’m pretty sure they cook the veggie stuff on the same surface as the meat. I appreciate the mini Chinese buffet, since I often get tired of eating the same bowl of food for an entire meal.

How Often Would I Go Back?
Every 3 weeks.  (what’s this?)

 

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American Chopstick

Update: American Chopstick has closed permanently. (It was replaced by a Korean restaurant, and then that closed down and was replaced by a Chinese restaurant called The Lotus Garden. -Erik, April 2014)

The man with the giant chopsticks at American Chopstick

A Chinese buffet and restaurant with Mongolian Grill that delivers (within a 3-mile radius)

Erik’s Ratings: 
Yum – 3, Ooh – 2, Ah – 2, Wow – 3.5 (Huh?)

How often would Kira eat there?
 Every 3 weeks.  (what’s this?)

Reviews:
Kira
Erik

 

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