Smile Politely

Blending ingredients, ideas, and ambiance

The ornate paper lanterns dropping from the ceiling, the sharp reds and grays of the walls and trim, a full bar complete with sleek flat screens and swiveling, leather stools — for me, it all seemed to serve the new menu at 301 Mongolia, which owner Amit Chopra, 32, introduced to give his restaurant a more “contemporary” feel.

Traditional lighting sets the scene

Opening back in October of 2011, 301 Mongolia enjoyed a warm reception from the community due to the interactive element of their stir-fry menu, but Chopra and his team felt that there was something missing in the dining experience they were offering.

“We wanted to give something different,” Chopra said, “something this town didn’t have.” The owner attributed much of what went into the design of the restaurant’s new Small Plates menu to his wife, Ritika, 28, and her “vision.”

“I spoke with Josh Huddleston, our director of operations here and told him we wanted to go in a certain direction. He talked to our head chef Austin Duy, and the two of them started providing samples for my wife and me to try.” The whole process took a little over ten weeks, but eventually options were narrowed down. The result: thirteen new dishes, a full list of which you can find on 301’s website.

“The best thing about the new menu is that it gives options,” Huddleston, 27, said. Huddleston, also a chef, became director of operations back in March and has been working hand in hand with Duy, sharing ideas and blending their styles. Nevertheless the director was quick to give the credit for the new menu to his colleague. “Austin has his heart and soul behind this,” Huddleston said. “All I did was kind of guide and eat and talk with him through it.”

Bringing to the table a culinary background in tapas cuisine, Duy also blended Asian fusion with bits and pieces of Western-style cooking to capture the ambiance of the restaurant in the new dishes. “You look around and everything in here is pretty sleek,” Duy, 29, said. “Stir-fry is a great concept, but you’re limited with stir-fry. The new menu gives this place a little more pizzazz.”

Concocting the Small Plates allows Duy’s ideas to come together while the outcome of a stir-fry dish is largely in the hands of the customer. “Austin has a really creative side to him. He’s got talent,” Chopra said. “It really gets to come out in this new menu all the way down to the type of sauce and presentation of each dish. We take great pride in it.”

I was able to experience what Chopra meant by “pride” firsthand as chef Duy brought out plate after plate for me to try. With the smooth tones of David Howie’s harmonica and vintage Gibson in the background (301 Mongolia features live music every Wednesday), I started off with the Seared Scallops and an Asian Sesame Salad.

Fresh ingredients are key

Immediately I could pick up on the blending of sauce, spice, and freshness of the vegetables. I was then introduced to the Chili Marinated Steak complete with toasted sesame Chinese long beans. Keep in mind, I do not consider myself an eater of “greens,” but whatever they’re putting in the water (or oil?) at 301 Mongolia made me a believer.

I would have held off a bit had I known the Spinach Tofu Stack would appear before I could even get the tang of the steak out of my mouth. The presentation of this dish is what caught my attention: three perfectly constructed squares of tofu, evenly spaced on an elongated plate, the green of the spinach peeking out on the sides, inviting — I had no choice but to complete the task.

Washing it all down with a glass of Underwood Cellars Pinot Noir, I was more than satisfied. Even before the prized dish appeared, I may or may not have been telling Chopra and his team “Five stars.”

My favorite: the Ceviche

Chef Duy’s tapas background is at the forefront of the Ceviche option on the Small Plates menu. Delectable portions of marinated shrimp lay at the bottom of four baked wonton cups specially developed by the head chef himself. Each of the cups is then topped with avocado and peppers with a slice of cucumber providing a cool finish to a bite that’s packed with flavor. On Chopra’s suggestion, I ate the cups in four well-timed bites, relishing the combination of each ingredient to the fullest.

I think that Chopra, Huddleston, and Duy soon realized that I would need some time to process and digest what I had just experienced, so they ordered me a tall Blue Moon Draft while Huddleston turned on a ballgame. This is when I saw the true value of 301 Mongolia — it is indeed what the diner wants it to be. The bar area is relaxed, the stir-fry exciting and engaging, and the Small Plates options a little more on the formal side.

“It’s all about diversification,” Huddleston explained. “We want to bring as many people as we can in on any given day, and when they’re here we want them to enjoy their meal.”

The new menu was released on Monday, June 11. Nevertheless, some changes have already been noted. “I’ve already seen tables focusing on the new dishes,” Duy said. “A lot of our regulars were excited.”

“We haven’t done a huge marketing operation yet,” Huddleston said, “but I see a change in what customers are ordering already. For instance, I see that we’re selling more cocktails than before.”

In addition to 301’s changes to the food menu, a revamped cocktail menu has also been introduced. “We’re getting back to some classics,” Huddleston explained. “Our classic gin is like no other in town. The recipe dates back to 1907.”

Also featured on Wednesday is a half-price special on all wines both by the glass and by the bottle. The overall price of the stir-fry entrée has been lowered as well, in ushering in the new Small Plates menu.

The vibes inside 301 Mongolia are changing despite Huddleston’s philosophy and approach to his job. “I’m a simple man. Simple when it comes to my food. Simple when it comes to my ingredients.”

The dynamic this has created with Duy’s creative flare is proving successful: “I played music growing up. I went to an art school for years before I went to culinary school. I’m really intrigued by art and to be bringing that creativity to food is a totally different realm.”

“I’m extremely proud of my team,” Chopra said. “The entire front line is less than 30 years old, and for them to put together something like this is remarkable.”

What the chefs recommend:

Dish: The Chili Marinated Flank Steak with the Asian Sesame Salad

  • The Red Sangria, “We make our own sangria. It’s got a little acidity that will bring out some of that spiciness.” – Austin Duy.
  • The Classic Gin, “It’s half gin and half dry vermouth. It’s really vibrant, really clean because we use some fresh zest.” – Josh Huddleston

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