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BD's Mongolian Barbeque
The Oldsmar restaurant draws on the cooking methods of long ago to offer fresh, healthy choices for the diner who wants to be in charge.
By Laura Reiley, Times food critic
Published November 1, 2007
Chris Martin, right, works the grill at BD's. All dishes are cooked to order.
[Times photo: Edmund D. Fountain]
OLDSMAR - After a hard day's conquest, Genghis Khan and his horde would toss their foraged meat and veggies onto makeshift grills made by inverting their shields over hot coals.
Mongolian barbecue was born.
Eight centuries later, it's getting a new life.
A Detroit company, BD's Mongolian Barbeque, has taken Ghengis' idea of gathering combinations of meat and veggies, chopping them with "swords" and tossing them on a hot grill and turned it into a 31-location chain.
The first in Florida opened recently in Lakeland and in Oldsmar, with more on the way.
It's a concept this area has seen before at the now-defunct Dish, so what makes BD's noteworthy among so many new restaurant chains?
- The company follows exacting nutritional guidelines. No trans fats are used. Complete nutritional breakdowns are offered with all menu items. The veggies are fresh and top-notch, and lean meats are used throughout.
-The chain embraces neat new technologies, including an electronic customer survey at the end of each meal. For more on this, see blogs.tampabay.com/dining.
- They take pains to give back to the community.
But first, the food
Founder Billy Downs (he's the "BD") is an enthusiastic guy, a wellness nut and three-time Ironman triathlete.
"More and more people are picky about what they eat, and the cool part of this concept is that the guest is in control," he said in a phone interview. "It's all about mass customization, the ability to let everybody create their own. You're seeing it with the iPods, where people are creating their own music and playlists. Here you're creating your own dinner."
The casual, airy dining room is anchored by a three-station buffet and a huge, doughnut-shaped Mongolian grill.
For $12.99 ($8.49 at lunch), you get one bowl of meat or seafood stir-fry. For $15.99, it's all-you-can-eat stir-fry, soup and salad.
The first station holds a long row of chilled shrimp, sliced chicken, ribeye and about a dozen other meats and seafood. At the second station, 20 veggies are arrayed, from bean sprouts to red-skinned potatoes and edamame. A third contains sauces and ground spices.
The choices can be overwhelming, but a rack of recipes gets you jump-started. I picked one for kung pao beef, which instructed: Fill the bowl a third full of sliced ribeye and add pea pods, white onion, green peppers, bean sprouts and water chestnuts. In a small black cup, place two ladles of kung pao sauce, one of teriyaki, 1/2 spoon of ground ginger, 1/2 spoon of cayenne. Then take the bowl and cup to the grill.
Friendly young grill masters pitch your stuff on the 600-degree grill, using specially made "swords" to toss and chop. The sauce goes on last, and the melange slides into a bowl.
You carry it back to your table where white or brown rice and flour tortillas await.
What if you're a bad cook? What if you make a horrible combination? You go hog mad with the spices, rendering the whole concoction inedible?
On one visit, I freestyled, going Mongolian spicy, but kicking it up with rounds of fresh jalapeno.
I was sweating and gulping water. My server noticed: "Can you eat that? Do you want them to remake it?"
The restaurant also takes special dietary needs into consideration. Food allergies get treated with a special allergy-free wok on the side. There's also a separate grill for vegetarians who don't want their food touching anyplace meat has been.
The staff is friendly-casual, but well versed in the menu and protocol, eager to show you the ropes.
A chance to give back
Since the fall of communism in Mongolia in 1990, the country has experienced more than 30 percent unemployment. Nearly 40 percent of the population is semi-nomadic, living in tents, while the rest of the country's 2.9-million people live in the capital city of Ulaanbaataror other urban centers. Many young girls end up in the big city as prostitutes, sending their earnings home.
In 2004, a Mongolian restaurateur invited Downs to visit. Within a year, a BD's franchisebecame the first American restaurant in Ulaanbaatar. Its franchise royalties fund the Mongolian Youth Development Foundation, which teaches young people life and job skills.
Though BD's in Mongolia seems like a new spin on carrying coals to Newcastle, it has paid off. In 2006 the restaurant received two awards, one from the Mongolian government for being the safest place to eat in the country, and one from the Mongolian tourist bureau, which rated it the country's top restaurant.
Genghis would be proud.
Contact Laura Reiley at (727) 892-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.
Cuisine: Mongolian barbecue Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Details: Amex, MC, V; reservations for large parties only; full bar. Prices: Lunch, one bowl vegetarian, $7.49; meat and seafood, $8.49; with soup and salad, $10.49; unlimited stir-fry, $13.99. Dinner, one bowl vegetarian, $11.99; meat and seafood, $12.99; with soup and salad, $13.99; unlimited stir-fry, $15.99. Reduced prices for kids.