Get grilling: Enjoying the interactive dining experience

During shoulder season, a strange phenomenon seems to descend upon this less-than-sleepy little town — for the sake of alliteration, shall we call it Mongolie Madness?

Finally tired of the surprised looks I garnered from people when they found out I had never engaged in this communal stir fry experience, I decided to take the plunge. Mongolie has been in business in the village since 1996, so I figure there must be something to this place if it’s still such a popular draw 12 years later. Perched atop Village 8 Cinemas, it’s a pretty convenient place to go for a pre-show bite. It also doesn’t hurt that they were offering a 50 per cent discount from Monday until Thursday, to help draw the locals out of their homes.

My dining companions, Marc and Lindsey, are seasoned vets of the Mongolie game, and they were more than happy to show me the ropes on a rainy Monday evening. Marc actually worked at Mongolie for a summer back in the day, so he gave me the real inside scoop.

You see, there are some subtle tricks to creating the perfect stir fry, and if you don’t get the basics down, you could end up with, well, a mess. Now, while some Mongolie naysayers argue that stir fry is something they can easily make at home, I counter that I, personally, do not have a selection of water chestnuts, cashews, baby corn, snowpeas, and more at the ready in my fridge. I also cannot juggle tomatoes with spatulas — but more about that later.

Prepare for a bit of a wait, especially if you go during their half-price promotion — hey, it’s a busy spot. We waited for about 20 minutes for a table, but if you’re in good company time flies.

We start off with a bowl of complimentary soup. You can choose miso or hot and sour, and since I absolutely hate miso, it was an easy decision. Their hot and sour certainly lives up to the name, and is a great way to start the meal off. We also ordered a pitcher of strawberry daiquiris to share, and had a few sips before making our way to the stir fry bar, which is laden with meats — everything from bison to salmon — fresh veggies, and even some fruit. Everything goes into the same bowl and you’re charged by weight, so you can make your meal sans-meat or a carnivore’s delight — it’s all up to you.

Armed with our stainless steel bowls, we decided the best way to tackle the task before us was to make sparse selections on our first trip along the bar, since we didn’t want to load up on some things without seeing the other options. Then, coming back along the bar in the opposite direction, you can make more informed decisions. (Note: carrots are apparently pretty heavy, and, well, carrots. Or as Marc so succinctly stated, “carrots are for suckers.”)

The whole veggie/meat bar experience is a bit of a waiting game, as you’re stuck behind others who are, in turn, waiting for the talented guys on the grill to cook their concoction. After agonizing over our daquiris, which were slowly melting back at the table, Marc finally went back to get them for us, which made the waiting game a lot more enjoyable.

Finally, we were onto the sauce station, which is easily the most intimidating part of this entire experience. There is a lot of selection, and if you choose the wrong sauce (as Marc did — he accidentally ladled a scoop of orange sauce onto his — ha!) all of your hard work is for naught. Also, as Lindsay keenly pointed out, if you put too much sauce in your bowl, your stir fry is going to weigh a ton, and, in turn, cost you a bundle.   Fortunately, there was a mustachioed sauce guru guarding the sauce bar that night. He offered me some key advice on how to make my dish spicy without overdoing it. Big thumbs up to the Mustachioed Sauce Guru.

Once you make it to the grill, your bowl is weighed. My stir fry came out to be just over $15, which is more than reasonable, considering that I had enough to take home for lunch the next day.

Finally, your bowlful of goodies is put onto the grill to cook. The theatrics are a big part of the Mongolie experience — as the cooks have a solid rotating system in place, and put on a good show while they’re at it, juggling veggies and bantering with customers. The chefs are the real stars of this show, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind a little extra tip for their effort.

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