Veggie Girl: Genghis Grill

Given that there are only a limited number of places that combine the all-you-can-eat-meat ethic of a Texas de Brazil-type churrascaria with the opportunity to restrict your meal to negative-calorie watery vegetables while still appearing to eat dinner, Genghis Grill--as the marriage of those two extremes--attracts the perfect mix of beefy college athletes and rail-thin high-school girls.

It's also possible that those two attract each other.

At any rate, what's lovely about Genghis Grill is that almost everything is within the diner's control. And as long as you know what you're getting--fast, relatively cheap (in every sense) food in a stir-fried, served-with-chopsticks format, punctuated by loud pop music and equally loud giggles--the dining experience isn't bad.

For those who haven't done the Mongolian BBQ thing, here's how it works: You sit down at a table, order drinks, then promptly get up to fill the little metal bowl at your place setting with whatever ingredients you want in your stir-fry. Meats are first, and wide-ranging, and...raw, which is pretty unsettling. Once past the meat (and one little canister of slightly watery tofu), Step two is seasoning it with the spices--cayenne, salt, pepper--or mixes (Cajun, curry) of your choice.

Next come the veggies, which I found in surprising quantity and of admirable variety, ranging from the typical (onions, bell peppers, baby corn, broccoli) to the slightly more exotic: a bean sprout mix, bamboo shoots, cabbage, water chestnuts. The only problem is that the bowl never seems big enough to accommodate all the veggies you want, and as my young step-nephew--an aspiring food critic--observed, veggies shrink a lot more after cooking than meat does.

The trick to getting the most out of your bowl, I guess, is just piling it high and smooshing it all down. Or you could shell out another few bucks and just get the bottomless bowl, but I wasn't really feeling that urgent about the whole thing.

Step four is the sauce. Here's where Genghis Grill gets big points: They provide a brochure listing every ingredient (and nutrition facts) for every sauce. Hallelujah! Patrick, our web editor and the unfortunate occupant of the cubicle next to mine, is also probably relieved not to have to listen, for once, to abrupt conversations about whether somebody's beans have lard in them. Honestly, it's like a prank call: "Hi, do your beans have lard? Heh heh. And, uh, do you put cream in your batter? No, that's not a joke. No, I'm not insinuating--OK. Bye."

Anyway, back to the sauce. All but two of them--Red Curry Peanut (which has shrimp paste) and Szechuan (oyster extractives)--are vegan. But if you're trying to avoid non-natural stuff like high-fructose corn syrup or xanthan gum, you'll have to stick with plain soy sauce, garlic water and spices. Still, the two I tried, a chile garlic sauce with red miso and a sweet and spicy "dragon sauce," weren't bad.

The final step is choosing a starch, which means udon noodles, brown rice, fried rice (eggy and bad, according to the step-nephew), white rice, tortillas or, for those truly all-American types, pasta. Take a number, go back to your table, and they'll throw your stuff on the grill (with no guarantee the juice from somebody's steak bowl won't meander over to your veggie creation) and bring it to you when it's ready. All in all, Genghis Grill is affordable and unchallenging--the perfect dinner when you're feeling poor, casual, or just not in the mood for asking someone 20 questions about the ingredients in a marinara sauce.

Just be honest with yourself; you can't control what was in the grill before your veggies.

Genghis Grill
5500 Greenville Ave., Suite 402 (and other locations)
214.987.3330 or 1-888-GENGHIS

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