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.


Owls Nest BBQ To Participate In The Blue-Gray BBQ Contest On Sept. 20

Owls Nest BBQ, a competition BBQ team based out of Ooltewah, will be participating and selling BBQ on   Sept. 20, at the Blue-Gray BBQ Contest in Chickamauga, at The Gordon-Lee Mansion.   "The BBQ Contest is part of the Blue-Gray BBQ and Arts Festival held every year at the Gordon-ll Mansion,"  said Owls Nest BBQ Pitmaster Steve Ray. "It is a great ... (click for more)

Local Startup Aims To Help Tennessee Restaurants Save Big

Tyler Brown, a fifth-generation food sales rep, and Joel Hines, a former distribution marketing executive, have announced the launch of AVA Consulting, LLC, a company specifically designed to help independents save time and money. They said, "As if running a restaurant or any other foodservice business is not demanding enough on its own, the independent operator will often ... (click for more)

EPB Says "Close To A Wash" On City Street Light Billing

EPB President Harold DePriest denied Wednesday that EPB owes the city over $1 million on street light billing. He stated,  “EPB has never said that we owe the city $1.2 million. When all the facts are taken into account, the financial difference is close to a wash.” Mr. DePriest said, "I regret that this complicated issue has been oversimplified in some reports. As we’ve ... (click for more)

New Red Bank Zoning Ordinance Is Ready For Review

The new Red Bank zoning ordinance is ready for review, City Manager Randall Smith said Tuesday night. It can be seen on www.redbanktn.gov and the link to zoning regulations. The new ordinance will replace one that was created 30 years ago.    The plan will encompass both residential and commercial development and is intended to direct ... (click for more)

Why So Much For A Rail Study?

From the things that make you go hmm department. Ok, so the feds are giving us $400k and the city is kicking in another $300k for a total of $700k to do a study on having in town rail service. Why so much for a study? Don't get me wrong, I'm totally down with Chattanooga having some passenger trains running around. I get that. It's awesome. We've needed it for a long time. I ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: My Aunt Martha

During my first year at Ole Miss, I was so distracted by the stunning coeds on campus that I paid too much attention to the wrong kind of figures. I ended up flubbing a math class, which at the time was most serious and potentially deadly for an American boy. It meant I didn't have enough credit hours to avoid the draft and in almost no time I got a red, gut-retching postcard that ... (click for more)