Going home for the holidays during your freshman year of college is a fascinating experience, mostly because at some point in the night, some dude from your high school is going to show up in a fedora. He’s cultured now. He’s fancy. He drinks whiskey on the rocks. All his socks are argyle. But, big surprise, he really can’t back it up unless you want to have an in-depth conversation on a variety of Philosophy 101 topics.
The Mongolian BBQ of my Midwestern childhood was not fancy. It was all-you-can-eat and pretty damn cheap. The cooks sang Will Smith songs while manning the grill in hopes of earning some extra tips (“Men in Black” will ALWAYS earn you some extra “men in green” from this guy). So when I found this place, I was excited for a similar experience. Unfortunately, Gobi’s wearing a fedora. It’s got all the outward signs of a “classed-up” version of my childhood favorite, but brings nothing new to the table.
At Gobi, you build your own bowl of barbecue, for which you're charged $14 -as long as it's under 3 lbs. Yes, they’ll weigh it if they think you may have gone overboard in making your meal, just in case they want to make you pay for a second meal. As Gobi feels the need to clarify on their website, this is NOT an “all-you-can-eat” style restaurant.
Is the food tasty? It's fine. But the food isn’t the joy of a place like this. It’s the experimentation: making a bunch of smaller bowls with different sauces and meat combinations to see what’s best. But that kind of tomfoolery is beneath Gobi. They’re in college now.
Your selection of beef, chicken, pork, lamb, tofu, or shrimp (though that one will cost extra). Add your sauces onto a solid selection of seasonal veggies and start praying to your favorite deity that it comes out right. This was your one shot, unless you’re looking to drop another $14.
The one place Gobi really wins-out over the Midwestern Mongolian BBQs of my dreams is the drink menu. A mix of Japanese and local California brews are the highlights and a perfect pair with the buffet. No full bar, however, as the cocktails are all soju-based, which is like a Korean liquor or wine or something according to my suitemate in the dorms, and hey, have you heard of this guy Foucault?