Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Passage to Mongolia

When I was little kid just beginning to read, I fell in love with an old book of my mother’s, Around the World in 2,000 Pictures (1955 - and it was old when I read it, thank you).  It was loaded with small black and white pictures and simple, brief captions from every country of the world.  I never tired of flipping through it and dreaming of all the places I could go.  When I was older I came across an article or quote someplace that said that reading a book was the cheapest way to travel.  I like that idea…you can see the world without leaving your couch.  Granted, reading about it is very different than experiencing it, but costs a lot less money.  

In recent months I have been reminded of another way to travel the world close to home….eating.  I am becoming a bit of a taqueria addict, while my stepdaughter will always ask for sushi and stepson yearns for pasta.  When we go out to eat, my wife and I simply look for something different.  Lately we have eaten Vietnamese, Italian and Thai.  However, the other night we stepped well out of the normally-available foods and tried a Mongolian restaurant.  We had no idea what to expect.  I had been in a Mongolian BBQ place but knew that wasn’t authentic (I doubt they have shrimp and garlic in Mongolia). Next to a movie theater we were headed to (review to come at Let's Improve Schools Now) we dropped in at Oyunaa's.  Very simple dĂ©cor, soft music that sounded like throat singing and a happy smile greeted us. Only two other tables were seated, so it was a quiet evening. Our server came over to answer any questions and explain that all the food is strictly prepared to order so it might be nice to have a drink and relax.  A glass of wine and a beer from their limited selection and we did just that. It felt like a complete escape – no way was Monterey Bay only a half mile away.  We looked over the short menu and settled on a bowl of kim chee followed by two dumpling entrees – buuz and khushuur.  When we ordered our cheerful server said, “Ok, well she will start roiling the dough for your dumplings now. Your meals will be out in about 25 minutes.” It was so refreshing to know that there was no rush and the food was being prepared just for us. A few minutes later the kim chee arrived.  Cool, but spicy, it was delicious on a cold, rainy evening.  Then the dumplings arrived – they looked beautiful!  The buuz was a steamed ball of meat perfectly wrapped in the thinnest, lightest dough.  Khuushuur was a fried, flat dumpling filled with beef.  Each was delicious! The buuz was light and fell apart in your mouth.  The khuushuur was like a flattened burger, but light and flavorful. The accompanying sides were delicious and the portion sizes were perfect. I think it was all even more delicious knowing that it was all hand-made while we savored the atmosphere and unwound. Our server dropped by a couple times to check on us obviously delighting in our satisfaction. 

Located on the north side of the Seabright neighborhood (one of my favorite neighborhoods) and a couple doors down from The Rio on Soquel, this place should be doing a great business.  I see people in it all the time, but it does appear there is never a wait. If you have the inkling to travel, but lack the funds or time, do yourself a favor and get over to Oyunaa’s for a quick jaunt to Mongolia.