8655 Mason Montgomery Road
Let me state right off the bat that I really like bd's Mongolian Grill. My husband and I were introduced to the concept six years ago in Denver, and since then we have visited a number of other franchise locations, always going away happy and satisfied. I blogged about our visit to the Dayton, Ohio location a few months ago, but had thus far resisted reviewing the new location in Deerfield Township. Mostly this is because up until this weekend my only visit was for one of their "mock services" prior to their official opening, and I didn't think it would be fair to rate the restaurant while the staff was still learning the ropes. I decided to give them a little while to get into the grilling groove.
After today's visit I'm wondering if maybe I should have given them a little more time.
We made a point to visit during a non-peak dining time so that it wouldn't be crazy busy and we'd get seated quickly, which we did. The first thing I noticed when walking into the dining room was the amount of food, straws and used napkins littering the floor. Since we were seated near families with toddlers I attributed the messiness to them, but the children could certainly not be blamed for the rice that my husband had to brush from his chair before he could sit down. I can't be sure, but it seemed to us that whomever had wiped down the table had been a little careless.
The bd's concept is brilliantly simple: diners grab a bowl and load it up from a variety of meats, seafood, tofu, fresh veggies, sauces and spices on offer at the food stations, then take the creation to a grill master for a quick stir-fry on the 600 degree, massive Mongolian grill.
Since everyone's food is cooked on the same surface and stir-fried with the same tongs, vegetarians need to alert the grill master beforehand so that an area of the grill can be cordoned off and cleared of debris, and a clean pair of tongs ensures that non-veggie foods won't co-mingle. This is one of the main reasons I like bd's so much; they seem to truely understand vegetarianism and have taken steps to make sure they get it right.
That is, until now. I'm gutted to give this restaurant anything less than a glowing review, but for the first time since first discovering bd's, I've been let down. It started when I took my bowl of veggies and tofu up to the grilling station. When I told the grill master that I was vegetarian he set up the stainless steel railings to cordon off the area, and half-heartedly wiped the tongs he'd been using on someone's prawn stir-fry, but didn't bother to douse the area with water nor scrape down the grill before squirting on the oil. When he came for my bowl I said to him, "You mean you're not going to clean off the grill first?" and he shook his head and gestured for me to go to the "allergy" station to get my dish cooked.
This is the first time I've ever been sent away from the grill, and to be perfectly honest I was a little stunned. It wasn't as if there were queues of people waiting either - I was one of only four people at the grilling counter.
I went over to the "allergy" area and the friendly guy manning the wok seemed as surprised as me to learn that I was sent over for being vegetarian, rather than for having an allergy to something like shellfish or peanuts. We chatted as he prepared my dish and admitted that he suspected the grill master was "just being lazy." He relayed my experience to a manager, who took it to another manager, who apologized and said that he would have a word with the grilling team.
It wasn't my intention to get anyone in trouble, but all three team members assured me that they need to know when an employee isn't following company policy so that it can be dealt with. I feel fortunate that I am familiar with the restaurant's rules, because had that been my first ever visit - as a vegetarian - it would have also been my last. It's a simple rule of thumb - you do not cook vegetarian foodstuffs on the same surface as non-vegetarian foodstuffs unless that surface has been properly cleaned.
Although my stir-fry was good, a wok is a far cry from a scorching hot grill, so the tofu was somewhat underdone. Certainly not the fault of the wok-meister; more a case of knowing what tofu flash-fried on the Mongolian grill tastes like.
The errors didn't stop there. The price for a vegetarian bowl costs less than a regular bowl, and we made a point of letting our server know that mine was vegetarian, but she forgot somewhere between our table and the cash register. We had to send back the bill a second time to get it sorted. Had that been the only issue it would have been no big deal, but when coupled with the unkempt surroundings and the slackers manning the grill, it equaled a less-than-stellar experience.
I'll chalk it up to growing pains and will give them a shot at redeeming themselves at a later date. Let's hope they can rise to the challenge.