The first and last time I willingly ate a variation of hot pot in New York City was nearly five years ago at Quickly in Chinatown. The meal left me wondering why I had given money to a restaurant so I could cook my own food. ...And have someone else clean up the dishes, I guess. But still. As someone who wasn't (well, still isn't) adept at cooking, nor skilled at mixing dipping sauces from the ingredients the restaurant laid out for us, it seemed like a waste of a good meal out—the kind where the dishes require no further cooking by my ill equipped hands. And thus followed five years devoid of hot pot.
But after eating hot pot with Morten, Behnaz, Kåre, and Diana at Sichuan restaurant Bamboo Pavilion in Bensonhurst, I had the opposite reaction: "OH MY GOD, WHY DON'T I EAT THIS MORE OFTEN? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? ...Do you see this bounty of pork?" The meal was better than my first experience in many ways: 1) There was a flat price for unlimited foodstuffs (aside from a few special items), allowing us to order with semi-abandon; 2) We could order spicy and non-spicy broth (it being a Sichuan restaurant and all); 3) The sauces were already made by someone possessing knowledge in sauce-craft; and 4) I was spending my time with Diana and the weegies.
I don't remember all the ingredients we ordered and I foolishly failed to grab a menu, but my favorite was the thinly sliced pork strips. We got lots of that. Oh yes. There was also cabbage, fried tofu, non-fried tofu, seaweed knots, thinly sliced beef, mung bean sprouts, watercress, and lobster-fish balls (for an extra fee).
Shove everything in the bubbling pot for a good time. Diana doesn't handle super spicy broth very well, so the blood red, hot oil-laden side was for the rest of us. And it was...quite hot. I loved it—the sweating, the tingling infused in every mouth crevice, the occasional gagging—but unless you're a big fan of chili peppers and peppercorns, steer clear of that. I was dumb and occasionally used my strainer to scoop stuff out of the spicy side and the non-spicy side, thus marring the non-spicy side with hot oil bits. ...Oops. Don't be that guy.
The burning sensation was offset by three thick sauces: mega-garlic, sesame, and something soy sauce-based. Yeah, those description suck, but they give you a general ideal. My faves were the garlic and sesame. Slathered. On. Everything.
We put Diana in charge since she had a better idea of what to do than the rest of us. ...Not that it's hard to figure out. "Boiling soup? Frozen meat? COMBINE?" I trust her more than I trust myself.
We did a good job of polishing off our mound of ingredients and making a dent in the soup vat. Our enthusiastic eating also resulted in a soup-splatted table. If your table isn't messy, you're doing it wrong.
I left with intense stomach-bloat. Happy stomach-bloat.
...Actually, I think my stomach was in a not-so-good state of frothy and burny, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Is it worth going out of your way to eat at Bamboo Pavilion? I wouldn't say it's...not worth your time. Surely you should try it if you live nearby. I'd like to go back someday to try the non-hot pot dishes, and I probably will since Diana lives nearby.
And since she lives nearby (that was the reason we chose to eat at Bamboo Pavilion), we went to her house for tea and desserts, mooncakes being the holiday-appropriate dessert. My distended belly couldn't handle much more than one bite—one bite being roughly 600 calories and all. To settle my stomach I tried drinking some tea whose constitution I can't recall, but as it tasted like it was steeped with bark and dirt, it may have been a Chinese medicinal thing.
For the grand finale, Diana took our portraits in her humble basement studio. The photo above? Oh, it turned into this:
- Dramatic Morten. Photograph by Diana.
Yeah. Pretty fantastic. She used a $30 desk lamp to light the shots taken with a 5D Mark II. If you haven't seen her photos before, do that now. Her photography is the opposite of mine: thoughtful, directed, artfully arranged. In the meantime, I'm still learning how to use my camera. You can see more of the portraits from that night in her Flickr. She took a bagillion; I'll have to poke her to unearth the ones that didn't make it online. :)
- Group shot! Photograph by Diana.
Of course, we needed a group shot too—Behnaz, Diana, and me in the back, with (sleepy looking) Morten and Kåre in front, documenting perhaps the only time that Norwegian tourists have traveled to Bensonhurst. I wish the night could've lasted longer, but it was a Tuesday night, so...damn our pesky jobs, making us wake up early and all. (Actually, I don't have to wake up until 9 a.m. to get to the Serious Eats office, so it's not bad at all. My problem is that I have a tendency to go to bed at 3 a.m., which is totally my fault. Surfing the Internet magically turns wasted minutes into wasted hours.)
I think this is the best hot pot-venture I may ever have—the combination of good food and friends is unbeatable—but I'm looking forward to trying all the hot pot options in the city. Eventually. Before I die. (My next stop is only a week away! Going to a hot pot dinner in Flushing organized by Tom.)
6920 18th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11204 (map)