Restaurant Review: HuHot

So our friend Scott Merritt was nearby, having been to GenCon, an event about which I know little except it's a huge, big deal for science fiction fans of all sorts, and apparently for Dr. Who fans in particular. Scott makes his living selling tee shirts at such events.

Sadly, having had to be at GenCon this past weekend meant that Scott won't be able to make it to the Low Carb Meet-and-Greet this coming weekend -- he lives in Texas, and it's quite a drive -- so he came by and hung out for an evening. Very good to see him.

He offered to take us out to dinner, to a new restaurant that has just opened in Bloomington. Called HuHot, it's one of a chain of Mongolian Barbecue/Grill restaurants. Apparently Mongolian Barbecue in general is catching on; Scott had been to a few others, but not to a HuHot, and he wanted to see how it stacked up. So off we went. And we did not go hungry.

For those of you who have not been to this sort of restaurant, here's the drill: There is a buffet line, like a salad bar. You grab a bowl and go down the line. It starts with proteins: chicken, beef, pork, tofu, a couple of kinds of sausage, and several kinds of fish, including cod, halibut, mahi mahi, scallops -- and, uh "krab." I'd recommend skipping the "krab," since fake seafood nearly always is full of added carbs.

Then come the starches: noodles of various kinds, and rice; you'll skip this, of course. Next, a plethora of vegetables: cabbage, onions, broccoli, pea pods, mushrooms, carrots, baby corn, celery, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots -- just a ton of stuff, and most of it is pretty low carb.

Okay, you've got your bowl full of meat and vegetables. Next you proceed to the sauce bar. This is where you need to be wary. HuHot does make a nutrition list for all their sauces available; you need only ask for it. I took mine up to the line with me, so I could consult it. The sauces range in carb count from zero -- soy sauce, garlic oil, stuff like that -- to 9 grams per ladle-full. Since they recommend you add 5-6 ladles of sauce per bowlful, this can really add up.

The sauces are rated as to their hotness. Personally, I used some of the ones they rated very hot, and didn't notice much, but then, I'm a chili-head. If you are, too, you may want to add chili garlic paste at the end; I did.

Once you have your creation assembled, you proceed to a big, circular, flat metal grill, with cooks working like mad all around it. in turn, they take each bowl and spread the contents, spoke-fashion, on the grill-top, where they stir-fry it for you. This is remarkably entertaining to watch, actually, though it should be admitted that I am, by definition, a cooking geek. You make your way through the line, around the grill, till they hand you a bowl with your cooked food. There are a few condiments available at the end of the grill line, including my favorite, chili garlic paste, plus some chopped nuts, and I forget what-all else. Bowl in hand, you head back to your table and scarf it down. If you're still hungry, you can go back for more. And more. And more. It's unlimited; all you can eat.

Since all the food is cooked on the same grill -- the cooks continually squirt it down with water and scrape the surface into a hole in the center -- there is a concern about allergies and cross-contamination. We were asked as we entered the restaurant whether we had food allergies. Here is a statement from the HuHot website:

Please inform the cooks about your allergy prior to handing to them your bowl at the grill. They will then prepare a clean cooking surface on the grill and use fresh utensils to stir-fry your meal. Keep in mind that, although we take these precautions, due to the nature of our food line and cooking process, we cannot guarantee you will not come into contact with an allergen.

I would worry, in particular, about peanut and seafood allergies. These two are notorious for being triggered by infinitesimal doses. If you suffer from this sort of allergy, HuHot -- and other restaurants like it -- are probably not for you.

It's a neat concept, and quite fun. The food was good, and there were plenty of low carb ingredients. It's those sauces you have to be really careful about. HuHot has recipe cards available, giving you ideas for mixing ingredients and sauces, but of course they don't take carb counts into consideration; you may not find one you like that doesn't involve the carbier ingredients. Still, might be worth a look.

Along with your meal, HuHot includes either a salad or a bowl of soup. I had the Asian salad -- there is also a garden salad, if you prefer. It was okay, but two warnings: First, the Asian salad includes canned Mandarin oranges, which are pretty sugary. Fortunately, they're in a pile at one side of the plate; it was easy to simply ignore them. Secondly, the "Asian vinaigrette" is extremely sugary. I had suspected it might be, and asked for it on the side; I used the barest drizzle of the stuff. You'd be safer, really, to get the garden salad and a less sugary dressing. If you prefer, you could get the egg drop soup; it's 3 grams per bowl.

You'll skip the dessert, right? Ignore the people making s'mores over little sterno burners at their tables. You don't need that, really you don't. Go have more meat and vegetables.

Here in Bloomington, HuHot serves beer but no wine nor liquor; this makes sense, since beer goes best with spicy food. I've pretty much stopped drinking light beer, much as I like beer, because I'm avoiding grain in general. I had unsweetened iced tea with my meal. They also serve Coca-cola products, as the nice waitress specified.

All told, I enjoyed HuHot, and will likely go again. That said, it's a noisy, high-energy sort of a place, more suited for a meal with family and friends than for a romantic night out. Also should be said: My weight was up a little this morning; my meal was reasonably low carb, but had, of course, considerably more carbs than, say, plain roasted chicken, or a grilled steak.

I am pleased to be able to tell you that HuHot makes interactive nutritional information available online. You can take a look, "build" a meal, and see how it comes out, carb-wise. May all restaurants do likewise.

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Mongolian BBQ

Yum, I adore Mongolian BBQ places. There used to be a fabulous one near me, but the got flooded out a few years ago and had no flood insurance, so went out of business. Bummer. Wish I could find a new one around.

Mongolian, cholesterol, and, um, spelling?

So glad you got to try a mongolian grill place---they've come and gone in terms of fad restaurants here in Canada, but there's usually one or 2 around if you look for them. A fun choice for eating out, and your LC experience was similar to mine.
Also note-- some charge by weight (as opposed to all you can eat/unlimited) and proteins cost more than fluffy processed carby things like noodles and white rice. Sigh. Maybe that's why the new ones are unlimited instead?

I'm mining your site for low-budget options-- having a hard week, as we're now down to 1 salary, AND today my DH got word that his cholesterol is quite high (as a result of a a lot of "off" time in our on/off LC life). A 4 when normal is 1.8 (not sure what's being measured--this is 2nd hand news). He's got 6 months to get it back in range, and I KNOW that LC will help. I love your site and am searching back-posts to find some ideas (and all your books :)).

Keep up the awesome work, you rock!
Soren