HuHot Mongolian Grill
In a word: Bad luck, Genghis. Nice to have you on the show.
JM, John and Nichole all picked their own stir fry.
The bill was about $35, or $11.66/person.
JM and Nichole gave HuHot an A- (see our grading rubric).
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Mongolian BBQ, and HuHot in particular, is the carwash of buffets. Watching the grill staff cook everyone's meals is like watching your auto go through Octopus, in a good way. It's hypnotizing.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We started off with soup and/or salad. The house Asian salad was a bunch of fresh greens topped with a zingy vinaigrette, raw ramen noodles to add crunch, and sweet mandarin oranges and tomatoes.
The hot and sour soup was more hot and less sour. As for the other sides, the brown rice was fluffy enough to please the least granola customers, and the flour tortillas were served warm but stuck together.
We were pleased with the ingredients on the stir fry line. There was a huge variety of meat (especially seafood - scallops, shrimp, octopus, shark, white fish, and oysters) and non-meat proteins. The chicken, beef and pork were all frozen rather than raw, which we found reassuring. An even more dazzling array of vegetables, some fruit, and starches (noodles and rice) followed. Finally, more than two dozen sauce components (juices, oils, infused vinegars and spices) ended the line, with suggestions hanging above the station to guide you. The air in the place wasn't greasy; the line moved fast; and though it was pretty packed, it didn't feel crowded.
We each tried 3-4 small bowls of stir fry to make the most of the variety available. (Not everyone takes that approach - we saw some patrons pile two bowls to overflowing and sit down with a giant homogeneous mess. To each his own.) HuHot does a better job than most Mongolian BBQs of making suggestions, right down to putting recipe cards at the table. For instance, John followed the Sweet and Sour Seafood recipe exactly and found it a winning combination.
Above the condiment/sauce bar there are even more ideas for saucing yourself.
You can also play games with your food. Nichole tried the "round trip" recipe card - send exactly one black bean with a bunch of white food like bamboo shoots, chicken, water chestnuts, and tofu and see if it makes it back whole. Her second bowl was Mexi-themed, with hot sausage, cabbage, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and other vegetables in a chile-lime dressing which paired well with the tortillas.
JM concocted a few tasty dishes involving pork and beef and hoisin sauce. His tastes, as you might expect, run toward the pedestrian, but even when he ventured out of his safety zone, he was not disappointed.
While there was no noticeable klinker among our dishes, there was no real star standout. That's the risk you take here, given that without a pro creating your meal, your food is in your own hands. However, precisely because it helps its customers all get to culinary success regardless of their skill, HuHot is the best execution of the Mongolian BBQ idea we've seen so far. The only one down on the deal seems to be poor Genghis, who never could have guessed to what marketing ends his legacy might be used.