Chow Down

Originally Published 01/20/00

BD’s Mongolian Barbeque isn’t just a restaurant. It’s an experience. The restaurant chain, based in Detroit offers interactive dining where you get to play Julia Child and concoct your own stir-fry. Then the staff takes it from there.

You start with an empty bowl that could hold a softball, but you fill it with food. For meat lovers, you can add beef, chicken, a bunch of kinds of seafood, including calamari or pork. It’s recommended to use only one meat at a time, but some chefs are adventurous. For vegetarians, tofu takes the place of meat.

Add a ladle of oil – there’s sesame, garlic and olive just to name a few – and proceed to fill your bowl with vegetables galore. From snowpeas to water chestnuts to bamboo shoots to plain old celery, all the essential stir-fry veggies are at your disposal.

But, the fun doesn’t begin until you hit the spices and the sauces. The restaurant has almost any spice you can think of – lemongrass, rosemary, cayenne, black pepper and probably a few you’ve never heard of. Then you need to add two or three ladles of sauce. You can mix and match or stick with just one. The sauces are as fun as the spices – white wine, soy sauce, teriyaki, sweet and sour, and the list goes on.

Then, with your bowl in hand, you head over to the centerpiece of the restaurant – a huge circular grill that heats up to 600 degrees. The cooks take your bowl and dump the contents onto the grill. Smoke pours from the sizzling food and the smell of your creation infiltrates the air around you. The cooks turn the food with huge wooden chopsticks, which are a few feet long. If you’re a vegetarian or have an allergy, tell the cooks and they’ll use a different set of sticks to use while cooking your food.

Finally, when the stir-fry is done, you take it back to your table in a new bowl to eat on top of rice or wrapped tightly in a tortilla. Once you’ve gobbled up your first scrumptious delight, head back for more. BD’s Mongolian Barbeque is all-you-can-eat.At dinnertime, you can fill your tummy with the all-you-can-eat soup, salad bar and stir-fry for $13.95. For lunch, you can have the all-you-can-eat soup, salad and stir-fry for $9.95, or you can have a single bowl of stir-fry for just $6.95.

Although the restaurant is located in Bethesda, it’s only a few blocks from the Bethesda stop on the red line of the Metro. It’s the only BD’s Mongolian Barbeque on the East Coast. There are 11 restaurants nationwide, with the greatest concentration in Michigan, the origin of the chain.

In 1992, Billy Downs opened his interactive dining restaurant in downtown Royal Oak, Mich. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management, he traveled to London where he became general manager of the restaurant. During his years in London, Downs noted that the vast variety of restaurants did not include an all-you-can-eat stir-fry. So he returned to the states with an innovative idea and started BD’s Mongolian Barbeque.

Unless you live in Michigan, Missouri, Illinois, or near Denver, Cleveland or Indianapolis, this could be your only chance to visit a BD’s Mongolian Barbeque. And it truly is a worthwhile experience.

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