At the risk of sounding ignorant, wouldn’t a Mongolian BBQ historically consist of Chinese villagers roasted over an open flame? Or is that just what happens on Memorial Day over at Genghis Khan’s house?

I only ask because it would seem that a barbecue in Mongolia should be more interesting than what is offered at the Wok’n’South on Main Street in Ventura. The concept, in and of itself, is not a bad one: Patrons are invited to peruse a food cart and toss whatever they’d like into a bowl, then hand said bowl to a guy standing around a huge circular wok, who tosses the concoction onto said huge circular wok, cooks it up for about a minute, then dumps everything onto a plate, adds a side of rice, and you’re good to go. Rinse and repeat as often as necessary to fill your gullet; if you arrive after 5 in the afternoon, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sounds cool, no?

Well, the problems with this set up are twofold. First of all, I personally have a problem with this whole make-your-own-meal, eat-until-you’re-stuffed thing. If I actually wanted to think about what combination of food I want to eat for dinner, and how much I want to eat, I’d make some Top Ramen at home with a side of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Basically, when I go to a restaurant, I’d like the restaurant to determine how much they want to serve me. I prefer eating under a dictatorship, not a democracy. Give me a choice, and I just can’t handle it.

The other thing is, once it’s scraped off the giant wok, the food isn’t much better in terms of quality than some place in the mall or one of those booths that are always at big rock festivals. Here, I threw together what appeared to be a can’t-miss mix of beef, noodles, cucumbers, those adorable little baby corn cobs and hot sauce.

The dude fried it up and handed me the plate and I was expecting to sit down to a delight of my own making, but it ended up tasting like sub-par Panda Express. And just to demonstrate why I prefer a chef to prepare my food when I eat out, I must have put way too much of that hot sauce on there, because with every bite I had to suck down the glass of Asahi beer I ordered, which didn’t help matters because the beer is promoted on the bottle as being “super-dry.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like a little spice with my grub most of the time, but if left to figure out just the perfect amount of hotness on my own, I know I’m going to put in too little or too much.

I guess, though, for certain people quantity is more important than quality, and Wok’n’South surely serves up heaping helpings at an affordable price: $10 gets you soup, wontons, a sesame roll and an unlimited amount of trips to the mammoth wok. This would seem to be the perfect opportunity for, say, a starving college student (or journalist) to scoop an entire week’s worth of dinner into a take-home box.

Unfortunately, the restaurant has outlawed doggy bags during its dinner hours; the only time you can take stuff home is at lunchtime, and then you’re only allotted one trip to the buffet. So, essentially, what you’re left with is spending $10 for mall Chinese food that you have to basically make yourself, and even though it’s all-you-can-eat, the heft of the food is such that you’ll likely only make it through one plate anyway.

Of course, you can always sneak some Tupperware in there. Not that I condone food smuggling.