There are some concepts that are really great within a certain context that become simply bad when applied differently. For example, there is a wonderful Mongolian BBQ restaurant in downtown Mountain View, CA. Although I had little interest in Mongolian BBQ for a long time, when I did finally eat there, it was great. For some ridiculously low price, you got as many spring rolls as you wanted, egg drop soup, rice and a delicious noodle dish that you design yourself, cooked on a giant griddle. It was seriously great and just different enough to make the wait in line worth as many noodle dishes as you wanted, plus soft-serve ice cream for dessert. It was a slice of Mongolian heaven. Not having any other Mongolian dining experiences to compare it to, I cannot attest to its authenticity, but I can certainly verify its deliciousness.
Now enter Fire + Ice. It is a similar all-you-can-eat concept: Compile a bowl full of ingredients, pick a sauce and let the friendly grill masters do the rest. There is even a salad bar. And rice. And tortillas? Yes, tortillas. Because apparently nothing compliments stir-fry like tortillas. With a location in Boston’s Harvard Square, it was a chain I was somewhat familiar with during college, but was never especially interested in trying. Yet having joined a significant other for the running the Lake Tahoe Marathon (oh, no – not us!), I was letting him pick the meals. Not knowing what fuel is needed for a marathon, who was I to critique a food choice?
So similar to the wonderful Mongolian BBQ restaurant, it was all you can eat. Instead of spring rolls and soup, you got to start with a salad you made yourself. That is pretty nice I guess, although I have been to many a salad bar, and this one wasn’t particularly impressive. There weren’t even won ton strips, which is almost a deal breaker when it comes to a DIY salad experience, in my opinion.
So the salad was lackluster, but I can live with that. Unless I order a fancy salad, I’m usually not putting all my eggs into the salad basket. So on to the main dish, the stir-fry. You can throw together any combination of items that you want from a fairly lengthy list. They have pasta and Asian-inspired noodles at the beginning, so right from the get-go you are in the mode of making an ethnic dish of some sort. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I usually want to go to a restaurant specifically for a specific kind of food. If I want Italian, I want to pick between a lot of Italian choices, not pick between a lot of choices, some of which happen to be Italian. I certainly don’t feel like I’m missing out when I go to a Chinese restaurant and can’t order chicken parmesan. So from the beginning the range of options weren’t quite up my alley.
From the starch portion, you move on to veggies. Then there is the fish. A whole range of fish and shellfish sitting in buckets in the ice, followed by buckets of raw meat. I began to realize that I really just want to see a finished product when I go to a restaurant most of the time – Mongolian BBQ and Fresh Choice being the exceptions. Seeing how things come together is great for some situations, but when I’m paying someone (what turns out to be a lot) for dinner, I just want it delivered to me, in a ready-to-eat form factor.
So then after the raw meat section, you get to choose a sauce. Here we are, back at the Asian or Italian-inspired options. Either a pasta sauce like marinara or alfredo, or a spicy chili type option. I think there also might have been a BBQ sauce. I guess if you have all meat, it would be a good option.
So following the development of your tiny bowl – you take it to the giant griddle. They claim it’s the world’s largest. Exciting…? The bowls where you assemble your creation before it is cooked are really little, which can be good if you want to try a lot of different mini-creations; bad if you just want what you want. From there the grill people make your food and do tricks with the spatulas and/or bowls/sauces. Back to me hating seafood, I really didn’t like that whoever was standing next to me went for seafood surprise, so while my delicate pasta with vegetables was cooking, pile’o fish was right next to my food. And of course they don’t change the spatulas in between moving around your food, so I just imagined all sorts of shrimpy-ness touching my dinner. Not the most appetizing idea in my book.
Then, when you return to your table where there is white rice and flour tortillas waiting. I didn’t really know what to do with either of those, so they just kind of languished there, while we then took turns going up to create more tiny bowls of mildly ethnic food. Finally, after enough trips to the giant griddle, we decided we were ready to call it a night. Twenty-six dollars a person later. That was really the final nail in the Fire + Ice coffin. My delicious Mongolian BBQ place is about $15 and my beloved Fresh choices is about the same, and they have pre-made options, plus dessert is included. For $26 dollars, I’ll have someone actually assemble my food and not show me the frozen “before.”
Bottom line: Fire + Ice – not for the decisive eater. Or those used to a good buffet. Or a good buffet deal.Fire + Ice, South Lake Tahoe 4100 Lake Tahoe Boulevard