Chinese hot pot, shabu shabu, whatever – is a communal form of eating which I’ve only had limited exposure to. In the center of the table the heating element and the cooking broth reside. The table orders meats and vegetables and noodles etc and you toss it into the liquid and then fish them out and eat. It is fun – any sort of DIY eating sort of is – but the treatments I had had previously were actually fairly bland. The various side dishes were more exciting than the cooked meat and stuff.
It is with these sorts of notions that I approached when I heard of Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot in Falls Church. This restaurant, as the name seems to indicate, is about hot pot, Sichuan hot pot in particular. Sichuan, as loyal readers (and I wonder why you would be) would know is one of our favorite cuisines – and so the idea of spicy Sichuan hot pot broth was positively titillating. Further add that the restaurant was opened by the owners of the resplendent Hong Kong Palace, and expectations were high. What can positively be reported, is that the high expectations were well founded. This was an absolute homerun.
Walking into the shopping center location, the telltale smells of Sichuan peppercorn fill the nostrils. We knew this was a good sign. As we sat down, we were given the hot pot menu, where the broths themselves were in Chinese. For $6 you could get the spicy or mild, for $8 a half-and-half (which we ordered), $10 a mushroom and $20 for a special fish broth. We then ordered four meats (flounder, fried pork, beef, squid) and four vegetables (celery, dry tofu, king mushroom, string bean leaves) along with some vegetable dumplings. The wait staff was patient and good at explaining to us novices what to do (even with a Chinese patron in our group – which did not hurt language-wise) and what made sense – and the menu of ingredients was quite expansive, including pig’s blood, duck feet and things that scream authenticity.
When the broth arrived, the mild side was a flavorful chicken broth with goji berries, while the spicy side was just a compendium of Sichuan wonderfulness, full of body, chili oil, Sichuan Peppercorns and – I can’t discuss this rationally. Needless to say the next couple of hours were spent in communal bliss with friends and delicious meat. The mild side was very good, and better if you want to test the dipping sauces (whose options were vast). However, the spicy side drives the train – and really no other spice is needed when you use that. Overall, a lovely feast, and at 85 bucks (with tip) for 6 people, very affordable too. For a communal dining experience, this is supreme.
P.S. Apparently during the day they offer a lunch buffet with both your “General Tso” type of American Chinese and a good chunk of Hong Kong Palace’s menu. As such, this is a boon for Fairfax/Falls Church. But I live too close to the real thing to partake in this.