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.


Buffalo Wild Wings – Where The Wild Things Are

It is no secret that old folks forget things often and such was the case when I planned to have lunch with my son Jack the same week that I had told Lois that she and I would go. When I explained to Jack what I had done he told me that if Lois didn’t mind him tagging along that we could all go together. He had been out of town and we really wanted to visit, but Lois had company ... (click for more)

Culinary Luncheons At GNTC Sell Out Months In Advance

There is a place in Rome, Ga., that serves international cuisine in an elegant dining area in a turn-of- the-century plantation-style house. It is part of the Culinary Arts program at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) which exposes students to a wide array of international influences and advanced cooking methods. As part of the curriculum, the program has been ... (click for more)

TVA Sues Cleveland's Allan Jones Over Dock, Retaining Wall, Boat Ramp, Boathouse On Hiwassee River

TVA has sued Cleveland, Tn., Check Into Cash millionaire W. Allan Jones Jr. over the construction of a dock, retaining wall, boat ramp and boathouse on the Hiwassee River. In the lawsuit in Federal Court, TVA said it told Mr. Jones before the construction was finished that he was on TVA property. The complaint says he has refused to move the construction from the river. ... (click for more)

Bobby Dodd Lawsuit Against City Moved To Federal Court

A lawsuit brought by former Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd against the city of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Fire and Police Pension Fund over his pension has been moved to Federal Court. The lawsuit was earlier filed in Chancery Court by attorneys Jerry Tidwell and Adam Izell. The suit says former Chief Dodd opted for a plan that would have half of his pension go to ... (click for more)

Please Don't Close The Piccadilly Cafeteria At Hamilton Place - And Response

Oh, no. The Piccadilly Cafeteria at Hamilton Place is closing.  Its last day is Christmas Eve.  I will miss the great food they have there but most of all I will miss their servers, cashiers and waitresses.  They are all so friendly and accommodating.  They make it like it’s a home-style restaurant. I sure wish there was some way that Hamilton Place and ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: 10 Tasks For This Week

In 1993 a 95-year-old man named William Snell created a list called “Life’s Little Instructions.” His list has swirled around in the Internet ever since and it is, indeed, a delightful checklist to keep us focused in the right direction. Curiously, when I read over it this past weekend, it dawned on me that if each of us would try to accomplish just 10 items on Mr. Snell’s list ... (click for more)