I have always known how to get my way. In fourth grade, I somehow convinced my teacher that it would be not only educational, but pertinent to our study of China, to go to my favorite Mongolian barbecue restaurant for a field trip. Selecting thinly sliced lamb and vegetables to go with a pile of kinked egg noodles, I had already won at life and I wasn't even 11.
I often say that Khan's Mongolian Garden was my culinary awakening. Because of my mother's lack of sense of smell, I was already cooking for myself often, but with recipes. Mixing my own sauces from basic components like lemon, ginger and sesame oil taught me how to build a flavor equivalent to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound from practically nothing. The age of Mongolian barbecue has come and gone (you can still find the places, but I'm not eager to use their pre-mixed sauces or prescribed combinations), and dining out has gotten a little bit less fun.
But my dining joy just got a B12 shot. Welcome month-old 75 BBQ and Hot Pot Buffet. Apparently, most people will tell you not to. On Yelp, it currently has one-and-a-half stars, mostly complaining about the $29.99 price not being clearly posted. I saw it right at the door, as well as $17.99 for diners over 65, $15.99 for kids 8 to 10, and $7.99 for littles 3 to 7. And for my money (I ended up paying cash due to a credit card machine snafu), it was easily worth it for a diverse all-you-can-eat experience.
My heart pumped a little faster when I saw the "sauce area." A grown-up playground of elements ranging from garlic and sesame seeds to something labeled "sand tea sauce" (satay, on further investigation) and more than one variety of chile paste. For folks who like their flavors, big, American and corporate, there are even two different flavors of Sweet Baby Ray's waiting to be used alone or incorporated in a Frankenstein-style creation. There's no denying it's a world of flavors: I was able to throw together a pretty accurate version of Szechuan cumin fish, but also something that reminded me of my Russian father's shashlik marinade.
And yes, there are the correct proteins for pretty much anything you want to make. Before I even had time to look at my options, the gentleman who appeared to be the owner threw some unmarinated ribeye on the barbecue grill on my table. It was soon joined by a chile-laden pot of broth bubbling away and ready to be filled with pretty much anything I could imagine. In a freezer, thinly sliced pork belly, lamb and beef were intended to be thrown in the hot pot. In refrigerated trays, things got more eclectic, with a range of tofus (I loaded up on yuba, or tofu skin), water-dwelling animals from frog's legs to mussels, to a variety of different cuts of mammals and birds, including burgundy chunks of liver.
Though I was opposed to the ribeye at first, you couldn't argue with results: It was creamy in flavor, with a light sear that paired well with a slew of sauces. Some meats are marinated ahead, but I found that I liked my combinations better. In the case of the hot pot, there was plenty of flavor without augmenting it in any way. The broth was spicy enough to make my nose run, but full of flavor, even after a server whose sole purpose seemed to be refilling hot pots with plain broth, worked his magic on mine. Often, my complaint at hot pot places is that not enough noodles are provided. As master of your own destiny, this is never a problem at 75—my friend and I ate our way through more than our share of three different kinds.
Between plain barbecued meat (with lettuce leaves for rolling, natch), and bowl after bowl of spicy soup, I had no room to even think about ice cream, but I can't say the glow of the freezer at the back of the restaurant didn't beckon. I avoided it this time, but next visit, I doubt I'll be able to help myself.