The title of this post is basically all I have to tell people to make them want to eat at Shanghai Tide in Flushing. Whether or not the quality is good is a secondary concern. BECAUSE YOU GET TO STUFF YOURSELF SILLY. So before I address the quality, let me show you what you can get for your $26*. At least, if you're in a group of ten like I was at Tom's 21st birthday dinner.
Piles of raw thinly sliced meats: beef, pork, and lamb in this case.
Pile of stuff that didn't fit into the "thinly sliced meats" category: broccoli, cabbage, rice cakes, baby cuttlefish, taro, fish balls, and salty fatty pork.
Pile of stuff that we ordered after we finished all the other stuff: spinach, watercress, udon, and chicken.
Soup to cook all the stuff in. Our table got three split bowls of spicy and non-spicy soup.
Pork soup dumplings, which I thought were quite good, although I'll admit I'm not a very discerning soup dumpling eater. As long as the skin is thin (but not so thin it breaks at the slightest chopstick poke) and contains a decently sized, juicy pork ball swimming in pork juices, I'm happy. Most of the soup dumplings I've eaten in the city fulfill my standards.
Scallion pancakes. Crispy, chewy, scallion-specked flatbread. I'd prefer them a bit thicker than this, but I still liked them.
Fried soup buns, or sheng jian mantou/bao. I love these things—pork ball-filled buns with crispy bottoms and whose skin is saturated with pork juice. Reading this post at Appetite for China about shengjian bao in Shanghai is making me weep porky tears of crazed bao-lust, and learning that they're a common breakfast item in Shanghai makes me want to throw bricks at American-style breakfasts because a plate of pancakes, eggs, and bacon excites me about as much as finding mouse poop on my kitchen counter. (By the way, mouse poop does not excite me. Also, I've never been to China [INSERT SAD FACE?], and that I have no family or friends there makes any trip in the near future unlikely. Ideally, my next trip to Asia would be to Taipei, where my dad and grandparents currently live.) Methinks I need to go on a sheng jian bao hunt in New York City.
Make-your-own-sauce bar, plus all the chopped scallions you care to mix in. I suck at making my own sauce (I ended up with some sort of sesame oil-soy sauce-peanut sauce concoction that I wouldn't feed to anyone), but I like knowing that I can do whatever I want. Even if all I want is a bowl of MSG. (I didn't want a bowl of MSG.)
All the Budweiser you want. They also had a bunch of soft drinks for the alcohol-intolerant, like me.
So how's the quality? I don't have much to compare it to, having only eaten hot pot once before in Brooklyn, but I think it's safe to say you're paying for quantity, not quality. But I liked Shanghai Tide enough that I'd go back and recommend it if you want to throw a party. Our waiter was nice, we weren't rushed (we filled the 2-hour limit noted on the menu, mostly because we figured we may as well), and there's no math to do with the bill. AND THERE WAS A SHITTON OF FOOD, in case you missed that part. Perhaps I'm not picky enough, but sometimes I like me a good ol' night of boundless hedonistic face-stuffage for not a buttload of money.
Some of my friends on Twitter have pointed out that the best hot pot is the one you make at home, but I'm totally down with paying $26 for someone else to prepare the ingredients and soup, provide the table setting, and clean up the mess. It let's me focus on having fun with friends, and by "fun" I mean "entering multiple food comas."
(Note: I had a great, super cheap dumpling-centric meat at Shanghai Tide in 2007, in case hot pot isn't your thing.)
13520 40th Rd, NY 11354 (map)