Photo by Keith MayYou wouldn't think Genghis Khan was an Irvine kind of guy, what with his penchant for laying waste to some of history's most notable planned communities —China, for instance—but then again, nobody relates to looting and pillaging like today's fast-track, high-powered, new-economy executive types. Maybe that's why BD's Mongolian Barbeque is pillaging its way into Irvine's shiny, neon heart. We like to think there's a little of the barbarian-horde ethic inside us all—heck, nothing says "dynamic" and "proactive" like sweeping bloodily across the middle-Asian steppes—and BD's wants to make sure that inner horde gets fed. Too melodramatic, you feel? Perhaps you missed that chain of hooting corporate bad boys that arrived at BD's with seemingly no purpose beyond rampaging arm-in-arm through the restaurant, but never fear: after one noisy trip through and back, a waitress stepped in and asked them to please rampage more quietly. Which they did—score one for civilization!
There's really only one item on the menu at BD's: the "all-you-can-conquer" Mongolian feast ($9.99 during lunch, $12.99 during dinner), which entitles you to as many attacks on the stir-fry, soup and salad bars as your gullet can handle. The centerpiece of this feast, the stir-fry, is a considerably kinder and gentler dish than that purportedly enjoyed by the Genghis boys after a long, hard day spreading darkness over one-third of the globe. Whereas their choice of ingredients was determined by whatever couldn't swim, fly or run faster than a horse, BD's presents a veritable cornucopia of fry-worthy material: the standard beef, lamb, pork and chicken are augmented nicely by traditional Mongolian seafood like scallops and calamari and even an assortment of vegetarian options. Historical inaccuracy never tasted so good. Let's hear it for Mongolian North Atlantic cod barbecue!
This is how it works: you graze your way through BD's selection of ingredients, scooping whatever you like into a bowl for grilling by a phalanx of perky, stir-fry wranglers. Since the whole Mongolian barbecue concept hinges on "interactivity," you're responsible for putting your own meal together, which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on your culinary skill level. Besides their comprehensive variety of meats, BD's offers an equally imposing array of sauces and seasonings, featuring delicious incongruities like the spunky Hawaiian Kona BBQ sauce. Be advised that a little sauce —or salts and seasonings—goes a very long way.
We tried some standards first: the pork, onion and noodles with a dash of garlic oil was delectably tender and quite hearty, sticking to our ribs with real gusto. Sausage and pineapple was good, too: the freshness of the ingredients translates into a particularly flavorful meal. But then we got a little crazy: Cajun corncob cod with extra cayenne? Well, it was worth a shot.
But that's how it works. A barbarian lives his barbecue as he lives his life: unafraid to risk it all for glory. They'll hold your hand at other barbecue joints, but at BD's, you've got a lonely date with destiny. Maybe Genghis would have appreciated all the exotic dishes he never got to plunder for himself. Maybe he would have cracked a wry smile at the nutty stir-fry guys so fond of flipping a bit of hot beef through the air to impress the ladies (they almost always catch it, too). But that heady, heady freedom—to snatch up your favorites and sear 'em stupid, be they tofu or teriyaki—would probably most remind him of his own devil-may-care, future-is-wide-open days. And he probably would have had a word or two for those hooting corporate guys, too.
BD's Mongolian Barbeque, located at 13122 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., noon-10 p.m. (714) 665-0810. Dinner for two, $30, food only. Beer and wine. MC and Visa accepted.