Chao's Mongolian Grill – “Home Of The Empty Bowl”

Sunday, January 13, 2013 - by Willie Mae

It was suggested I try a restaurant on Brainerd Road called Chao's Mongolian Grill. Mongolian! I didn’t even know what that was! And with the name Chao's, I was sure that it had to be some sort of nightclub or lounge in a bad part of the neighborhood.

But no matter what my initial thoughts were, I was game. I knew there would be a story in that one somewhere!

It was in a great location close to the old Lanhams’ Bible Bookstore and easy to park. When I went in, it was bright and cheery and very clean. I was greeted, seated and given a menu.

I went at an odd time so it was not busy, but the few people there looked to be business executives and one artsy model-looking gentleman.

The kind girl pointed toward the bar and said I could help myself, but I had a menu and wanted to look at everything. I asked if I could order from the menu and she said I could. They had many things listed, but I would not have known what I was ordering and I wanted to see what was at the bar so I chose that. It wasn’t like the Chinese bars that have pans of all kinds of fried glop just sitting out.

The girl knew I was a beginner and instructed me to get a silver bowl for my meat and then I could add spices, vegetables and sauces. I thanked her, grabbed a bowl and went to the meat counter. The meat was raw.

No, I don’t mean sushi… it had raw chicken! Raw steak! Raw pork! Was I supposed to EAT that?! The girl saw me looking perplexed and she came to my rescue. She told me that the chef would ‘cook it up’ for me and I was to put whatever meat I wanted in the metal bowl. I liked the look of the shrimp. It was pure white. I chose fish with my shrimp.

I asked her (she was still standing there) if the calamari was imitation or real. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. She said it was real calamari. It was shaped funny and also pure white. It actually looked fresh and nothing pickled, canned or fried so I was willing to try it.

Then I added my own spices. I chose a little garlic, red crushed pepper, black pepper and onion flakes. I asked if I needed to get another bowl for my vegetables and she said no… so I took my raw dish of meat to the vegetable counter and added broccoli, flat carrot pieces, water chestnuts, celery and  a lot of ‘pok choi’.

When she saw that I hadn’t added much meat, she told me to go back and get more. I only added a couple of veggies with the pok choi. I wondered what the price would be if she insisted I get my money’s worth. It was only $10 for the meal.

Next it was time for my sauce. My little friend was still standing by to walk me through. I needed the help.

She showed me the ‘taster spoons’ and said to try the sauces before choosing one. I must have looked confused because I paused. I was really thinking of how many people stick a taster spoon into the sauces and if they used the same spoon to taste other sauces. I guess after it heats up on the grill, any germs would be cooked if someone did!

The sweet girl grabbed the taster spoons for me. I was about to just pass on this part of the experiment, but then she brought one to my mouth and I quickly opened up my mouth and tried it! The Mongolian house sauce was first. It was good and I was ready to choose that one, but then she grabbed another spoon, dipped it in a sauce and continued to feed me like a baby!

I thought I would get tickled and spill it when she put it to my mouth, but I was too embarrassed and just tried to play it cool. I liked the Teriyaki sauce and told her I wanted that one. She heard me say that I liked ‘spicy’ so she suggested mixing it with some chili sauce.

I thought she had babysat me enough so I dipped the ladle into the sauce and put it in the sauce bowl they gave me. I ended up dipping out a sauce that I didn’t taste and she said, “That’s not the Teriyaki.” I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

She showed me that I chose the Bourbon sauce… if I had seen it, I might have just tasted that one… a few times!

She got me a fresh sauce bowl and dipped out the Teriyaki sauce for me. I had never felt so helpless, but she was sure to make my experience a good one. I would not leave there without knowing what to do next time!

I chose steamed rice to go with the meal that I put together and a man in the back cooked it up while I sat down.

I was brought a clear broth with ‘crunchies’. I didn’t like those cracker noodles in the broth so I just sipped my plain soup. After a little banging and clanging, my meal was brought to me in a big red bowl along with a bottle of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. Perfect!

I always noticed whenever I am with my friend Lois and she likes something a lot, she makes yummy noises. I thought I was going to make them now! The flavors of fresh foods that I chose blended so nicely, and I think that is a lot of the appeal. You choose your own ingredients and ‘you’ are the chef! Willie Mae loves Mongolian now. You must try it!

I wanted to make my whole dining experience last, but all of a sudden I looked down at an empty bowl.


Chattanooga Restaurant Treats Guests To Belgian-Inspired Brews During Latest Explorer Series

Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, a traditional casual dining restaurant known for its expansive selection of craft beers, is showing its support of Belgian and Belgian-inspired brews by featuring limited-time selections from Brewery Ommegang and some of Belgium’s most renowned breweries in its latest Explorer Series installment. Officially kicking off on July 15 and just in time ... (click for more)

Puckett's Holding Job Fair, To Begin Serving In August

As Puckett’s Gro. & Restaurant nears completion of its 6,750-square-foot space renovation in downtown Chattanooga, the eatery and music venue will hold a two-day job fair next week to fill more than 80 staff positions.     The restaurant will host interviews in the Hilton Garden Inn at 311 Chestnut Stree t on Wednesday, July 22, from 10 a.m. ... (click for more)

County Taking First Step Toward Replacing County Jail Downtown With Workhouse Addition At Silverdale

County officials are taking the first step toward replacing the long-criticized county jail downtown with an addition at the workhouse at Silverdale. The County Commission is set to approve next Wednesday a $150,000 contract for the PFM government financial consulting firm to begin working out the details. County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he believes the move will save the ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Man Who Declared He Was "An Innocent Man" On Child Pornography Charges Gets Conviction, 24-Year Sentence Overturned

The Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of a Chattanooga man who claimed at his trial and sentencing that he was wrongfully convicted by a jury of possession and distribution of child pornography. James Paul Lowe had been sentenced in May to serve 24 years in federal prison. After the sentencing, he had bid his family goodbye and told them to ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Strong

The hearts, minds and prayers of Tennesseans, and of the entire nation, have been turned toward Chattanooga this month.  We are sickened and saddened by the senseless tragedy, and we grieve for the families of the five service members who were killed, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” K. Wells, Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt and ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Could Obama Win Again?

When President Barack Obama spoke to the African Union yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he made a pretty brash statement: “I actually think I’m a pretty good president,” he told the African leaders. “I think if I ran, I could win. But I can’t.” While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I don’t think that’s true. Obviously, term limits keep Obama from running, but as I sit ... (click for more)