It was only two weeks since my last visit here, but I was so enthused at having a translated menu, I wanted to return quickly and try the hot pot.
It was the day after the Big Feast of thanksgiving, and we were in the mood to stray away from leftovers. We came here for lunch and found it wasn’t that busy. Not surprising, since just about everyone was probably still recovering from the previous day of endless gluttony.
First off, a little appetizer of eggrolls. These were fresh and very hot inside. Chinese eggrolls aren’t my favorite in general, but no real complaints about there. Perhaps the dipping sauce was more sweet than chile, but that’s okay.
Our main item is a broth hotpot. It cost $15 and came with a choice of meat. Once I heard “pork belly” I stopped listening, so I have no idea what else is available. Obviously, we got pork belly. It comes out raw on a platter with other soup-friendly goodies, like noodles, greens and enoki mushrooms.
The broth itself was unexpectedly filled also with goodies, like more mushrooms and more meat. We literally had to eat our way down to reveal enough broth to add our raw items to it. Meanwhile, the pot bubbled away with the sterno light underneath it.
I really enjoyed this meal, it’s good to share with one other. Some Chinese guys walked in and they ordered something similar. It’s not as abundant with the range and quantity of goodies as my mother’s broth hot pot, but it’s totally fine.
I went to Mama Lu after attending an art exhibit opening near the area. Pulling in, the car park was filled with young Asian students, over a dozen people in the throes of bidding each other adieu after eating at Mama Lu’s. Inside, a woman working there confirmed – the place is popular with Chinese and Taiwanese exchange students.
Another thing I noticed in the car park were the trees and shrubs. They were all specimens fitting for an Asian garden, like hedges of bamboo, an orchid tree (Bauhinia) and a Japanese maple, starting to turn autumn colors. If I didn’t already recognize these types of plants, I’d have walked right by them, because they’re all cut and maintained like generic street plantings, i.e. box and ball shaped. There’s a great infrastructure of horticultural gems there, they just need some shaping under the guidance of someone with an eye for Asian gardening to bring them back to their optimal aesthetic. It also goes to show: this spot is perfect for serving up Asian specialties.
If any of you remember this spot when it was Hibachi, a large center portion of the restaurant is the “kitchen” area, but back in those days, the kitchen was in an open space. The center is still the kitchen, but walls probably closed it in a long time ago, giving the impression of a much smaller dining space with the tables lining the remaining outer ring of the building. You might never know your best friend is sitting at a table just around the corner from you.
The popular thing to do is the buffet, offering about 2-dozen options throughout the day for just $9. There seemed to be a natural separation in the restaurant, where buffet diners sat on the side of the restaurant to be closer to the buffet table, and people who ordered off the menu sat on the other side. We sat on the buffet side and were this close to ordering it, not because we were famished for unlimited quantities, but because we were thinking we wanted salt and pepper shrimp and it was in the buffet, whereas an individual portion of it was around $12. Ultimately, we decided not go the buffet route, nor did we order the salt and pepper shrimp!
Instead, we ordered items we weren’t familiar with: a Fish Hot Pot, Taiwanese style, and a dish of eggplant and ground pork. Plus tea and rice.
The tea comes first, where I let it steep a minute. My experience with Chinese dining, it is customary for whoever takes the teapot to pour everyone’s tea before their own. Even later in the meal, if your own cup is totally empty and everyone else’s are still mostly full, you pour a courtesy amount of tea in the other cups, or provide the opportunity for others to decline your offer, before you fill your own. It’s a sign of generosity and being gracious. While we are sipping our tea, the kitchen brought out a small plate of hot salted peanuts, and picking them up with chopsticks is excellent practice for the coming main dishes.
For the hot pot, there was a beef option, but we got the fish and this turned out to be a hot clay pot filled with a very hot and spicy fish stew, the kind of spicy hot that makes my tongue tingle, because the dish is brimming with Sichuan peppercorns. For those who find it too hot, have some rice with it. The portion was easily generous enough to be a complete meal for two people, but we also had the eggplant and pork dish coming.
The eggplant and pork dish was equally tasty, although far less spicy. In fact, not hot spicy at all, just good Asian flavor. The eggplant was in big juicy chunks, and the meat in the dish was generous as well. Would I get them again? Yes! But not before I go through more items of the menu.
The bill was about $25 for two people sharing. I took away all the leftovers, and assembled my own bento box for lunch the following the day, and the rest I delivered to my parents, who made a dinner of it the following the night. It was a lot of food.