Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Restaurant Review - HuHot Mongolian Grill, 1187 Florida Mall Ave, Orlando, FL

This past weekend, Grandma, Grandpa, the boys and I tried the new Mongolian grill concept called "HuHot" near the Florida Mall. For those of you who have never heard of Mongolian grill style cooking - it's basically stir-fry, except you gather the raw ingredients and they cook it for you. I've seen this before at a few of those huge Chinese super-buffets but this is the first time I've seen it as a fast-casual restaurant concept.

The interior of HuHot Mongolian Grill looks simliar to a lot of Asian restaurant chains - at the same time BB said "This looks like P.F. Chang's!", Grandpa said, "This looks like Doc Chey's!". You know, lots of red, brown and black in the decor. I wasn't sure if HuHot was going to be a 'go up to the counter and order' type of place or a 'sit-down' type of place - turns out it is sit-down with table service. When we were first seated though, we were placed at a booth for four, which was clearly too small for the five of us. We had to flag down the hostess again and ask for a bigger table - we were then placed in what they called the "VIP area" - which was really just a small open room with a larger table inside. On the table was a small container with "recipes" - little cards saying what kinds of ingredients to gather to make Beef with Broccoli and other Asian dishes. We started to flip through them when our server arrived. She asked if we had been there before and when we replied "No", she gave a huge sigh and said, aloud, "Wow, everyone's new today" and then proceeded to tell us how she's had to explain to all of her tables today about the whole concept and what to do and that it was much easier when she had people who knew what to do. However, she then did go on to tell us what to do - we were to go to the (raw) food bar, grab a bowl, put in our protein (beef, shrimp, pork, chicken, seafood), then put in our choice of noodles (pad thai, chinese, soba), then our veggies (broccoli, cabbage, water chestnuts, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, baby corn, spinach, cilantro, etc.), and then finally add at least 5-7 ladles of sauce or sauce additives. Sauces range from mild - teriyaki, sweet-n-sour, and Khan's Favorite (their signature sauce) - to hot (their Kung Pao - Yow! sauce) - with curry, ginger, thai peanut, and other sauces in the middle. The "sauce additives" as they call it were items such as sherry, sesame oil, garlic broth, and lime juice. Our server emphasized again that it was very important to put enough sauce and she encouraged us to put more than 7 ladles in if we want. Oh, and HuHot is all-you-can-eat so we could go back and try a different "recipe" if we liked. She said she would bring rice and wraps (these ended up being tortillas - I really don't get that - what is that doing at an Asian restaurant?) to the table. She then took our drink orders and asked if we wanted any appetizers - the menu lists several - but we decided to just go ahead and Mongolian grill.

The prices are pretty reasonable for an all-you-can-eat place - our weekend lunch was $9.99 per adult, kids 4-10 are only $3.99 and kids 3 and under are free. Dinner prices for adults are $11.99 and include a soup or salad.

Grandpa helped BB at the raw bar and I helped LB, which worked out pretty good. I was able to choose my options for my dish and put ingredients into LB's bowl as well. I decided to do something like a chicken stir-fry for LB and just put in chicken, chinese noodles, a few green beans (practically the only veggie he will actually eat) and then just started ladling in the mild sauces - a few of the Khan's, a few of the teriyaki, and a sesame oil. There were also suggested sauce recipes on a board above the sauces which was helpful. For me, I decided to attempt a Pad Thai - I chose pork, a few shrimp, pad thai noodles, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, cilantro... and... and... darn it - I should have paid more attention last time I got pad thai so I knew what went into it! I tossed in some bean sprouts, and then ladled in some thai peanut sauce, a Khan's, some lime juice, some garlic oil, some sesame oil, and then figured I was close enough. And then came... the line. I guess it was a busy weekend because we had to wait in line with our bowls to approach the enclosure with the huge circular grill. This was very difficult to do with LB as he was very impatient so I finally handled my bowls to Grandpa and BB and walked LB back to Grandma at the table. He was happy to sit there with her, especially since the rice had already arrived so I went back to wait in line. We were now approaching a tall counter that surrounded the large circular grill. There were only two grillmasters working (I thought there should be more, especially with the long line) and they would circle around the grill and stir fry each group of food in turn, making about 2-3 rounds before they would start plating the food and handing it out to the guests. This took about 5-10 minutes so it is probably better to leave the kids at the table. BB got bored waiting as well and headed back to eat some rice. One important note, if you are holding two bowls and the cook comes to take your bowls to put on the grill, state very clearly if these should be mixed together or if they are separate. The cook grabbed both bowls in Grandpa's hands and mixed them together - a big problem because Grandpa's was spicy and BB's was not! After Grandpa told him, he tried to split them up but I was worried it was now too spicy for my 7-year old. As I watched the cooking process, I realized that you cannot be a germ-a-phobe eating here - and you really shouldn't be allergic to any foods either. Sure, the grill was smoking hot but the grillers were using the same spatulas to cook up everyone's food. And the area around the grill was very dirty with spilled food parts all over the floor. Again, this may be because they did not have enough staff - all of the food was really left on there a long time - long enough to pretty much dry up all of the sauces. We finally received our food - I added some peanuts to the top of mine and we headed back to the table. The food was actually good - a little dry like I expected - but tasty. I wish they would have had additional sauces at the end that you could add back to your meal. Grandpa and I actually went back to try another dish - I tried to make a chicken curry this time which came out okay, but I liked my pad thai better. One thing, on our return trip to the food bar, they had run out of noodles and some other items and they were slow to refill those - again, seems like they need more staff to do cleaning and other maintenance during weekends. I may go back to HuHot and try other recipes another time, but I may have to wait until the kids are a little more patient.


Anonymous said...

Great concept, wonderful taste food.!!
Wish there was one closer to my home.
We go there everytime were in orlando.


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