Two halves of a hot pot


Eldridge Street in Chinatown is like Fifty Shades of Gray. I'm never quite sure where the food is coming from, how edible it will be, if I will order the right thing and, if I can't hold my bladder, will they have a clean bathroom but, in the end, it'll be lots of fun. (Editor's Note: I have not actually read Fifty Shades of Gray.)

That being said I embarked on a very cold night to join a few friends for what's known as Hot Pot: a simmering metal pot of broth, often split in two halves, that is placed on the center of the table on an electrical hot plate. Tossed into this bowl is any number of edible goodies from meat to vegetables to noodles. Hou Yi Hot Pot (formerly M Tasty), between Grand and Broome Street, is an all-you-can-eat hot pot establishment. For $22.95 a person you can eat sliced meat, fish balls (both a fish version and a fish/pork version), shitake mushrooms, cabbage and tofu to your hearts content. And as many sodas as you can tilt back. There are a few broth options: mild, regular, spicy and extra hot. Don't do what we did. The extra hot is inhumanely spicy. Avoid it at all costs.

Along with the meat and veggies you get to pick a few sauces. We chose sesame and barbecue sauce. Both were excellent. The sesame, thick and nutty, worked especially well with the taro and the meat. And the barbecue sauce, spicy and thin, was perfect on the cooked cabbage and the fish. It's good to point out that this is a meal where you have to do the work. Someone needs to throw the food into the boiling water, everyone needs to fish out what they want to eat and someone else needs to keep tabs on what should be re-ordered. It's a highly interactive meal.

As for the restaurant, it's decent. It's small and clean and well-organized. I cannot vouch for the quality of anything I ate (organic what?), but it was a fun dinner. Pantomiming with the young waitresses was amusing. Lots of fingers in the air, smiling and pointing and eventually we had everything we needed and could eat no more.

My last tip: don't say yes when they ask you if they can clean up, it's not a pretty sight.