1/2 Hot pot is exactly what it sounds like, a pot of hot liquid (often hot in chile heat, too) where particpants can cook their own food. Yet the name always sounds like a facile double entrendre that could go so many directions. I’ll spare you the meanderings of my mind. The phrase stumped a former coworker of mine (see end of Happy Family post) in ways possibly only hilarious to me.
Sitting around a steamy vessel of bubbling soup is just what you need during the dregs of winter. I prefer restaurants dedicated to hot pot rather than taking my chances with off menu options like at Little Pepper. I was originally thinking Little Lamb, but when I heard about flashy Udu Café with personal TVs, at-table internet access and a checkbox ordering approach, I had to see it for myself (also to witness all the gauche FOBs that New Yorker Chinese were complaining about on Yelp in that strange backlashy manner of established groups distancing themselves from newcomers. Now that I think about it, I’m very judgmental about Oregonian transplants here, always picturing an earnest, indie, social justice trooper).
Backwards judgmental: the only other Caucasian in the joint, a moderately hip white dude with an Asian girl, naturally (now I’m judging) seemed unahappy to see us walk through the door like we were ruining his Flushing fantasy.
We were given a regular table, a two-top that was too small for serious hot-potting. This happens a lot at Asian restaurants, as if they don’t expect the white people to order very much food and then get dismayed when there is no place to put all the plates. The little side table was already being used by the mother-daughter duo across from us who had a whole four-seater to themselves.
This is a booth with the set-up I was describing. It’s common for groups to play C-pop, though one large party was just watching last week’s episode of The Office.
There are seven broth choices, and we picked Sister Su spicy pot, and insisted we wanted it really hot against protests (it was really spicy). I didn’t see an option for half-and-half broth like at Little Lamb, but later we noticed that everyone seemed to have the divided style. I guess you have to ask. You almost need the relief, not so much from the chiles but because the peppercorns start to commandeer every nook and cranny in your mouth and you lose the ability to taste anything.
There are approximately 121 dunkable items you can order–from straightforward chicken or mushroom to charcoal cheese or pig intestine country style, nothing wildly esoteric like pizzle. I do not know what charcoal cheese is. We ordered eight things, which was plenty. With the exception of $38.95 Wagyu beef, most selections are under $5. They do add up quickly, though.
First, you mix up a dipping sauce at the station we happened to be sitting next to. I honestly have no idea what an ideal sauce should be. Shacha, always gets depleted so I know that one is popular. Our waitress saw me taking photos and insisted on making the sauces “beautiful” before I shot that section and spent a few minutes topping off all the empty slots and cleaning up any spills. But my before photo turned out better than the tidier after, sorry.
Shacha, sesame paste, chopped garlic, sugar, cilantro. Seemed sensible enough.
Short rib, shrimp and tripe (way in the back). The flimsy shreds of tripe gets lost in the broth. Fat strips of honeycomb tripe would’ve been preferable, but that might be more Mexican.
Lamb. I would’ve taken more strongly flavored lamb and nixed the beef.
Shrimp balls, pork dumplings and “Hello Kitty tempura.” I’d call the latter fish cake not tempura.
We couldn’t decide what vegetables to order so the vegetable combo bucket sufficed. Corn is impossible to eat with chopsticks and the tomato was just weird. Next time, more pumpkin. Cabbage is cheap filler but I love it.
Full of stuff. I like the Hello Kitty face bobbing beneath the surface in the back.
The meal is ended with warm peanut and black sesame-coated mochi.
It’s not like you can miss the place.
Udu Hotpot * 133-50 37th Ave., Flushing, NY