* Where: Chao's Mongolian Grill, 5726 Brainerd Road.
* Phone: 423-553-1128.
* Email: chaos mongolian email@example.com.
* Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch) Monday-Sunday; 4-9:30 p.m. (dinner) Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday.
* Price range: $4.95 (choice of three appetizers)-$11.95 (adult dinner portion grill bowl).
There's something exciting but daunting about choosing the exact ingredients -- from meat to vegetables to spices to sauces to starches -- in your meal.
If it turns out well, your taste buds and your appetite will thank you. If it doesn't, there's no one to blame but yourself.
That's the concept at Chao's Mongolian Grill, a new restaurant in Brainerd Village in the former location of a Cici's Pizza.
With a different franchise Mongolian grill downtown, it's nice a similar experience is now available elsewhere.
Most patrons will opt for the create-it-yourself Chao's Mongolian Grill Bowl (lunch $7.95, dinner with salad $11.95), but there are entree salads for the lighter eater. A Garden Salad is $6.95, and a Chicken Grilled Salad and Shrimp Grilled Salad are $7.95 and $8.95, respectively.
Kids' portions of the grill bowls are $5.95 for lunch and $7.95 for dinner. Both include a soft drink.
The menu also offers three appetizers, Grilled Pork Pot Stickers, Zucchini Pancakes and Grilled Edamame, for $4.95 each.
In addition to soft drinks, ice tea and hot tea, domestic and imported beers and specialty beverages are available.
The menu suggests 12 "signature bowls for first-timers," including Chicken Lomein, Beef Broccoli and Shrimp With Vegetables, but we were eager to make our own.
Because I have never stuck with a suggested dish (with its specific veggies, spices and sauces) at this type of place, I couldn't tell you what all went into mine.
You start with meats, and I selected ample amounts of chicken, marinated beef and a few sausage pieces. Seafood and pepperoni are among the other choices available for your bowl.
Spices are next, and I used some garlic salt, paprika, minced onion, black pepper, pepper flakes and several others that would make the dish vivid.
My veggies included onions, celery, broccoli, mushrooms and peppers among a wide variety displayed.
I topped those with combinations of several of the sauces, whichever ones sounded most spicy, and I choose fried rice for my starch.
You can choose to watch your meal prepared on an open grill or wait for your concoction to be brought to your table.
Mine arrived hot and pungent and was delicious. My brother also enjoyed his melange of meats, vegetables, spices, sauces and starches.
Since most patrons fill their bowl away from the table, there is less for the server to do. But our server brought our drinks, kept them filled and offered to answer any questions we had. We felt our bowls took slightly longer than expected to be delivered, but there were probably several bowls in front of us and apparently just one cook.
Chao's has a large dining room with booths and tables for four. The neutral walls, coral pendant lights, Asian-themed screens and wall hangings, and live bamboo plants provide a relaxed setting.
And if your dining companion is boring, two televisions offer additional entertainment. There is also a party room for larger groups.
I look forward to returning. Not only does Chao's offer plenty of free parking and room to move around, but the combination of items one might put together -- and their ensuing aromas -- is unlimited and tempting.
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.