Its cleanliness was questionable, but before it closed several years ago, Colonel Lee's Mongolian Barbeque joint on Hollywood Blvd. near Western Ave. enjoyed not just steady, but consistently crowded, cult-like business. The novelty of toddling in line, piling uncooked food into a bowl with assorted rockers (The Red Hot Chili Peppers were regulars), foodies and the local Asian communities who frequented it was unquestionably fun, and it was made all the more amusing by the establishment's proprietor, a whip-smart Korean woman we knew only as Mrs. Lee. "Spicy or no spicy!" an often scantily-clad Lee was known to demand when it came time to add sauce to the frozen raw meats and veggies before they got fried on a giant grill for all to watch.
The owners of Gobi Mongolian Barbeque House in Silver Lake were apparently inspired by now long-gone Lee's, but you wont find any proprietors bullying you about sauce there, which in this case is a good thing. In fact, the similarity between the two spots ends with the humungous flat grill by the window and the tasty warm sesame biscuits swiftly brought to the table before you're back with your bowl.
Photo by Lina Lecaro
Gobi is sparkling, stylish and subtly exotic, and the sauce options go way beyond hot or not. There are 11 liquid flavorings to choose from, and a helpful sign above them attempts to guide you on mixtures (everything from traditional Mongolian to lemongrass to green curry). Of course the build-your-own aspect is what makes the Mongolian experience unique. You pile shavings of beef, chicken or pork, tofu, assorted seasonal vegetables and noodles into a mound that the preparer then throws down, stokes and swaths around the pan, while rising steam adds to the drama of the prep.
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Photo by Lina Lecaro
The ambiance may not be divey as other Mongolian places, past or present, can be but it's definitely not pretentious either. Gobi's relaxed atmosphere is perfect for the area and the people behind it are no Silver Lake-come-latelys: Mike Buch (from the ever popular Pazzo Gelato down the street) is one of the owners, and another partner who looked very familiar at the grand opening event a couple of weeks ago--Ruth Ochoa--turned out to be a John Marshall High School alum just like this writer.
Though the place has been opened "softly" since summer, the official opening bash on November 18th seemed to put it on the radar of uninitiated locals and non-locals alike. DJs spinning funky grooves, signature Soju cocktails and a long line of fashionable types waiting to get in all night, made for little elbow room and even less seating at the party. Another visit was in order and during dinner there last week, it still felt hip and loungey. And luckily the bowls--and flavors--are as big as the pan they're cooked on.
Gobi Mongolian BBQ: 2827 W. Sunset Blvd. Silver Lake. (213) 989-0711.