It’s time for America…well at least American not already happily ensconced in the Chinese-American/Taiwanese American community…to get into Hotpot.
Just because I come with a fair amount of knowledge about Chinese Cuisine, courtesy of my Godparents, doesn’t mean I know it all.
I mean, I thought I knew about Hotpot.
Turns out…not so much.
The last time I had Hotpot was at the late, lamented MYC in Arcadia. What I thought was Hotpot was just a sizzling silver tray filled with piping hot green chilies and Pork…which I kinda liked, by the way, despite the fact it was taking over for my really beloved Liang’s Kitchen.
Shicuan Hotpot it turns out is a different affair.
Well. Guess it’s okay. Can’t go through life thinking I know everything about Chinese Food…especially when I…you know…don’t. Occasionally, I need a lesson. Hai Di Lao taught me one. It taught me a fairly delicious one.
So, imagine this. Sitting at a table, much like you would at a Chosun or a Gyu-Kaku. First you select a soup, a base if you will. You have a choice of four. Once you order your soup, it arrives at you table already hot, and then is place down in the burners to get even hotter. And by even hotter, I mean boiling, scalding, wipe the steam from your face hot. I mean, the Restaurant gives you a cleaning cloth for your glasses, hot.
Then your meat arrives, you give it a bath in that soup that’s boiling away in front of you. Eat and repeat. To top it all off, you get to do it in this swank, nightclub-ish, techno-modern environment. Pretty sweet huh?
Though, I would make sure you have room for your knees (more on that later).
There’s also a…well, what could only be called a “Fixin’s bar”. It is a bunch of free tidbits and fix in’s to help you make your dipping sauce.
Yes, after you give the meat a bath in the boiling hotpot, you let it take a cool swimming bath in your sauce, which makes the how thing extra delicious.
Thing of it is, I had zero clue how to make a proper sauce when I wanted into Hai Di Lao, so I needed help. Serious help. Fortunately, one of the lovely ladies who manages the establishment escorted me right over and whipped up a sampling of her favorite sauce. I saw sweetened Soy sauce, some peppers, some bits of meat…
Man, it was fantastic. Lovely stuff. Made the meal. I should have one of the lovely ladies at Hai Di Lao make my sauce all the time.
But gotta believe that this is a limited time thing, as people who are not familiar with Hot Pot get more familiar with Hot Pot (that’d be folks who are not Chinese-American for the most part), that off will slide off, because…after all…you’ll eventually know what you’re doing.
One of these days.
Man, I have to go back and try it again.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Start with a base, you’ve got your Mushroom, Spicy, Tomato, Seafood, Delicacy and Pickle to choose from. I went with Tomato, and discovered for the second time in my life (the other was at Dumpling House not too far away) that getting something Tomato based in a Chinese Restaurant of any kind is a really good idea. Seriously, I could have eaten a bowl of that straight up
Then you can pick from assorted things to take a bath in said Soup Base. There are a number of Combos you can try. As I said before, I went with the Beef Tenderloin, which cooked…okay. But first time visitors might want to try one of the Combos they have on offer. There are a number of Vegetarian offerings making this place very Vegetarian friendly.
I also got a Spicy Noodle Dish which I probably would have loved, if it did come laced with Peanuts, which, unfortunately I am allergic too. It’s too bad, they looked sensational.
As a compensation, the restaurant was lovely to offer the Dancing Noodle option as compensation. This is where a cook from the back will come to your table with some raw noodle dough, and…pull it into proper noodle form as he…yes…dances at your table. It’s quite a show, and something you should probably do when you come to the restaurant.
Oh, and the Noodles were very good as well.
Make sure you don’t let whatever you order cook too long or it’ll stick to the side of the pan.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Just make sure you get a kind of food that’ll cook well, and with a degree of familiarity. I got the beef tenderloin, and…for some reason, whenever I cooked it, it never looked cooked. Even when it was dropped in there and left to boil away (against the Restaurant’s instructions, since doing so would risk the meat sticking to the bottom of the pan). When I pulled it out, it still felt a touch underdone, even though, it wasn’t. So…keep that in mind.
Also, some of the tables felt like they were made for people who are four feet tall or shorter. I slid in there, and banged my knees something good. Was not pleasant. And since you table comes built in with a…you know…stove, they’ve awful hard to move.
PARKING: Free and plentiful. Hai Di Lao is based inside the new wing of the Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia, There is nothing but Free Parking in and around the Mall. You will find a place to park, the only question is how far you have to hoof it to make it there.
Hai Di Lao Hotpot
400 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 445-7232
Daily · 11:30 am – 11:00 pm