Mongolian grill, also known as Mongolian barbecue, is neither Mongolian nor barbecue.
Invented in Taiwan, it’s essentially build-your-own stir-fry. Diners move along a buffet of ingredients – like frozen sliced meat, chopped vegetables and noodles – bowl in hand. They select fixings, ladle in sauces and flavorings and hand the bowl to a cook, who tips it onto a searingly hot griddle. It’s cooked in a sizzling minute or two, slid onto a plate and handed back to the customer.
That’s the signature all-you-can-eat offering at MoMo’s Mongolian Grill & Sushi. You can get hibachi entrees and sushi elsewhere, but at this Transit Road restaurant, the question is: How much stir-fry is enough?
MoMo’s was formerly Shogun, a hibachi restaurant where cooks entertained groups while searing their dinners on a griddle. That quasi-Japanese concept has spread far in the area, so owner Mia Hwang refocused the restaurant on Mongolian cuisine.
Hibachi dinners, cooked in the kitchen, remain on the menu.
[Photos: See Sharon Cantillon's shots from MoMo's Mongolian Grill]
The Mongolian option is $14.95 per adult dinner ($11 for ages 5-10, $5.50 for children under 5) and $10.50 per adult lunch but less for younger people. There’s a long list of sushi pieces and rolls. Hibachi dinners include vegetarian ($12.95), shrimp and salmon ($21.95). Fried rice and noodles, Japanese appetizers and bento boxes – the Japanese combo platter – round out the menu.
Of the sushi rolls, we tried the golden California (crab stick, avocado, cucumber, tempura-fried, $5.95), Tuna Lover (shrimp tempura, three kinds of tuna, avocado, $11.95) and mango (mango, shrimp tempura, crab stick, $10). They all were passable American sushi, with fried cores and squiggles of sweet and savory sauces. I liked the mango best for its touch of tropical fruit.
Appetizers included an excellent vegetable tempura ($6.50), light and crispy batter around pieces of onion, asparagus, bell pepper and broccoli. Bacon asparagus ($7.25) went begging because of flabby bacon. Rock shrimp ($8.95), lightly fried and served in spicy mayonnaise, was a decent version, devoured before it could get soggy.
Chicken karage ($4.95), chunks of deep-fried chicken with dipping sauce, was also well-executed. But the standout was chicken yakitori, chicken skewered with scallions, grilled and barbecue-glazed.
We tried those dishes between helpings of stir-fry. As a concept, it seems choose-your-own stir-fry appeals strongly to several types of people.
Do you like to experiment with your dinner and try new flavors and ingredients? (I do, but my family ruthlessly filibusters my plans.) Do you like stir-fry but prefer to personally select every morsel that goes into the dish? Do you ever finish a plate of stir-fry and think, “I want a second plate of stir-fry?”
If you answered yes to any of those questions, MoMo has you covered. I hadn’t dined this way in ages, but I respect a well-run Mongolian operation.
Choices of ingredients, sauces and seasonings were diverse and fresh. Proteins included beef, bacon, sausage, tilapia, swordfish, black beans and tofu. There were more than 20 vegetables. Posted guidelines made it easy to assemble happy-making combinations. (A sign said people with gluten-free, vegetarian and allergy-based diets can be accommodated, though I did not test that proposition.)
I was able to hit my spot on my second plate and eat the plate of stir-fry I really wanted – lots of pork, snow peas and egg noodles, with chile and sesame oil and a dash of curry powder.
An order of hibachi steak ($20.95) arrived as most Mongolian eaters were working on their second plates. I didn’t realize the New York strip steak would be chopped into bite-sized pieces before being cooked. It was, however, cooked to the requested level of doneness.
I wished the meat was seasoned more assertively with garlic, pepper and soy sauce. Maybe I would have liked it better if it came with a cook building a fiery volcano from onion rings.
Dessert included a worthy version of tempura-fried ice cream ($5.75). A crispy shell surrounded the ice cream, which yielded easily to the spoon. Another worthy dessert was the banana spring rolls ($4.95), crunchy shelled rolls filled with fruit, drizzled with honey and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
I wouldn’t think of MoMo’s first if sushi was my main craving. If you have a hard time making up your mind, Mongolian grill is purgatory with kung pao sauce. But when I want Mongolian grill, I know that at MoMo’s, my plate runneth over. Instead of complaints that my stir-fries are too adventurous, all I will hear is the sizzle of the grill.
Momo’s Mongolian Grill & Sushi - 7 plates (out of 10)
Choose your own adventure for dinner at stir-fry buffet with sushi, hibachi.
WHERE: 7590 Transit Road, Amherst (631-8899)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Mongolian grill is $10.50 to $14.95 for adults, $4.50 to $11 for children depending on age and meal; appetizers, $4.95-$8.95; sushi rolls, $3-$12.95; entrees, $12.95-$22.95.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.