But the Mongolian barbecue concept in place at Ghengis Kahn Mongolian Grill in Richmond's South Side offers a much different buffet experience despite its "all-you-can-eat" sign out front.
Inside is an elongated food bar brimming with fresh, uncooked vegetables, thin sliced frozen meats and seafood, and a variety of sauces. The focal point is a large cylindrical stone (reaching a temperature in excess of 550 degrees), with two chefs sautéing quartered scallops, poached shrimp, sliced beef, chicken and lamb with green onions, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and broccoli. Patrons fill their bowls with meats, vegetables and noodles, add their own sauces (from a selection of nine) and hand over their bowls. In about two to three minutes, their food is cooked, and they're off to enjoy their dishes with white rice and sesame poppy bread (a sort of hot pocket designed to hold your stir-fry).
The buffet price is fixed ($10.95 dinner and $6.25 lunch). Most of the menu is beverage-focused, including a nicely priced bar list. House wines by the glass are $3.75, while tropical mixed drinks such as a Mai Tai are $5.95. Patrons are offered a choice of three soups with the buffet (hot and sour, egg drop and won-ton). The egg drop is good, although the hot and sour is a little heavy on the hot and weak on the sour.
Menus are superfluous considering there is no a la carte dining, only buffet. Yet the buffet still offers plenty of options. To begin your meal, there is a small salad bar with the usual suspects as well as raisins, sunflower seeds and fresh pineapple. Once you are ready to move on to entrees, numerous vegetables, egg noodles and the aforementioned array of raw meats and seafood await. Yet the sauces are the real standout. Diners can control the amount of oil and flavors they wish to impart to their particular meal. A few options are lemon water, garlic water, ginger water, hot pepper oil and sesame oil. If you would prefer not to build your own sauce, simply choose the chef's special house sauce, teriyaki or oyster. If these don't work, simply ask the chef to put the sauces together for you.
Chin Jar, Owner of Ghengis Kahn, has plenty of experience with the art of Mongolian grilling. He has more than 20 years in the business, and Ghengis Kahn Richmond is one of many grills he's started in Virginia (his others were in Hampton Roads). His chefs are professionally trained and have extensive experience in Chinese cooking. And it shows. Each stir-fry is cooked to perfection crisp and seared on the outside while warm on the inside. To top things off, you never have to worry about your food sitting under a heat lamp.
Service is superfriendly, and servers go above and beyond the call of duty, especially for buffet-style dining. Waters are always filled and dirty plates swept away quickly.
According to legend, the ever-feared Genghis Khan armies built bonfires at night and tossed their round iron shields down on the hot embers for use as a cooking surface. Vegetables and meat were then grilled on these upturned shields with oils and spices added throughout the cooking. It was an efficient and economical way to prepare dinner.
Much is the same today at Ghengis Kahn Mongolian Grill, minus the horses and long beards. With food that is several steps beyond the average buffet and prices that couldn't be better, this all-you-can-eat establishment is nothing to fear. S
Ghengis Khan Mongolian Grill ($$) 2011-A Huguenot Road Huguenot Village Shopping Center 330-8918 Lunch and dinner: Monday through Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m. 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. 11 p.m.
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