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.


Wizard Needs Food Badly: Crust Pizza For Two

After the well-worth-the-wait breakfast at Aretha Frankenstein’s, Lionel and I decided to try out Crust Pizza on Signal Mountain Road. The restaurant is owned by the same people who own Aretha Frankenstein’s and Sofa King Juicy Burger, so we had to give it a try. The website says Crust is the home of the “super famous cracker thin” crust, and they definitely make good ... (click for more)

Virginia College And The American Culinary Federation To Host BBQ Competition July 9

Virginia College announced that it will host a BBQ Competition on  Saturday, July 9,  from  10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  with an awards ceremony at  5:30 p.m. The competition, hosted in partnership with the Chattanooga chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), is free and open to the public and will be held at the Virginia College campus at ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Man Charged In Traffic Death Of Tunnel Hill Woman, 28

Authorities said a Signal Mountain man was driving when his vehicle struck and killed a woman walking along a road at Ringgold, Ga., on Thursday night. Tyler Alexander Lemley, 20, was charged with DUI. Other charges are pending. Kimberly Diane Dotson, 28, of Tunnel Hill, Ga., was walking southbound on the west edge of Sam Lewis Road when she was hit. Lemley was driving ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Woman Sues Over Treatment Of Disabled Daughter At Memphis Airport Security Checkpoint

A Chattanooga woman has filed suit, alleging that her disabled daughter was roughed up by airport police and Transportation Security Administration personnel at the Memphis Airport. Shirley Cohen said she was returning to Chattanooga after taking her 19-year-old daughter to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for treatment. The lawsuit filed in Memphis says the daughter ... (click for more)

A Disturbing Trend At Exit 11 - And Response (6)

So, am I the first to notice a trend?   How many wrecks does exit 11 need before anyone asks "whats up with that?"  I have lost count of the wrecks that continue to happen, even after last year's awful loss of life (which I believe 51 percent of the blame should fall on the THP officer on duty).  The problem with this section of interstate are sight lines ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘Man’ To Leave Marines

There are some institutions in the history of America that should be above the nauseating “political correctness” that is undermining America. One of the biggest is most certainly the United States Marine Corps. But Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has apparently and most unfortunately gone soft and the word is that in the coming days about 25 words that are primary to the Corps ... (click for more)