One cold February evening as I walked up my driveway to the home I shared with a Chinese roommate, I was amazed to see about 15 people standing in a circle through my panoramic kitchen window. Entering the house, I was almost knocked over by the scent of lamb and vegetables simmering in a gigantic boiling pot.
The hot pot is a circular metal vessel with an open top used to make soup of meat, fish and vegetables, and is one of the most popular ways to eat in northern China. Vessels vary in size depending on the number of diners. You can throw anything into one, so the options are endless.
I’ve been hooked on hot pots ever since.
Now, a modest new Chinatown restaurant, Booming Spot Mini Pot, offers a similar experience, except that the chefs put the ingredients in the pot for you before it is brought to the table. It’s the first place in Las Vegas to specialize in the northern-Chinese-style hot pot. I’m guessing it won’t be the last.
The restaurant has little physical charm beyond a few clever lanterns fashioned from colored plastic, and paper butterflies adhered to the wall with tape and string. It’s a tiny room crowded with narrow booths, and a condiment table stocked with chopped garlic, sesame paste, chives and Chinese barbecue sauce. Service is friendly, but English is limited.
Choose a hot pot from a short list, or grilled meats served on long skewers (such as chicken wings and beef tongue), or cocktail-size sausages rubbed with cumin and pepper. Then be patient. Fast food this is not.
I shared a table with two others, and, as the restaurant has a card posted on every table that says “One pot per person,” we had three of them: lamb, cage-free chicken and fish head with tofu, the latter containing an entire salmon head.
The vessels arrived at the table willy-nilly, and when they were set in front of us, the server lit a Sterno burner beneath it, which keeps it boiling while you eat. Although these pots are intended for one, they’re quite large, and you’re not likely to finish. In addition, you can add to it by choosing from an ingredient list that includes baby bamboo shoots, vermicelli noodles, fish balls and about two dozen other options.
Each pot is made differently, and the resulting soups are as diverse as they are delicious. The cage-free chicken hot pot used goji berries and red dates as well as tofu, mushrooms and cabbage to create a unique dish.
The lamb, in shreds, boils up quickly, and dominates the other flavors in the pot. The fish head and tofu soup was my personal favorite, but I realize some people don’t cotton to a fish head in their soup. There are 10 hot pot choices in all, including tasty pig feet and beef.
The skewers are quite good, thanks to a spice rub made by the young owner, Qi (pronounce it “Chee”), who recently arrived here from Denver. The restaurant does not yet have a beer and wine license, but there is fresh-squeezed watermelon, plum and pineapple juice, pulpy, delicious and cool.