There are those who pooh-pooh the notion of going to a restaurant to cook food, but I kinda like making a splash of myself at hot-pot joints. I really don't mind sizzling marinated rashers of meat on tabletop grills at Korean barbecue houses, either. I suppose I enjoy the uninhibited swell of it all — the flirtations with raw ingredients, the sheer variety of options, the shared communal experience. Not to mention it's just plain fun. But I'd never indulged in any of the hot pot/KBBQ combo spots that have been popping up all over the city with plodding names like KPOT, Volcano and Sizzling. Then I learned of a place called Boil Spot and, well, decision made.
So I put on my rattiest T-shirt and dashed off to the unfortunately named restaurant to see if it lived up to its pustular handle.
"It's boil as in boiling," declared the pal.
Nevertheless, weekends are when the Boil Spot boils over with patrons pawing with tongs at the buffet bar, stacking seafood, proteins and veg onto plates headed for gurgling vessels and tabletop grills. For $34.95 ($28.95 hot-pot only), the all-you-can-eat affair is comparable in price to other such joints in the city. Of the seven soup bases offered, the spicy chicken-beef broth laced with Sichuan peppercorns was my potent potable of choice. The "bone" base comprised of chicken and beef broth boiled with pork bones was my friend's. The pots were fired up by our very helpful, and heedful, server while we hit the food line for things to cook, and condiments and sauces in which to dip them.
No doubt, the number of options is a bit mind-boggling — blue crab, crawfish, frog legs, cuttlefish; there's fatty beef, lamb, pork belly; and then there are additions like dumplings, lobster balls, duck feet and quail eggs. Heading back to our table, we eyed numerous options on the conveyor belt — bok choy, enoki mushrooms, snow peas, Shanghai noodles, corn and more. Then back to the buffet table we went to grab barbecue items like bulgogi beef, short ribs, ribeye steak and garlic shrimp.
After setting those plates down, our server placed our selected meats onto the tabletop grill. While they hissed and sizzled, we made one more trip to the sauce and condiment bar to grab banchan bites like kimchi, pickled veg and seaweed salad, and then fashioned our own dipping sauces from a variety of oils and pastes and seasonings.
By now, the gridlock on our table was, admittedly, overwhelming, but we navigated around the snarl of plates, bowls, tongs and utensils as best we could with some proper assistance from our server. She even made us a customized sauce, which we used to dip the grilled meats. Alternating between bites of seared galbi and piping-hot slurps of soup has its inherent risks — thankfully, splatter on my specs was about the worst it got for me.
Now, when it comes to hot pot, the rules are, pardon the pun, fluid. But there are some basics to adhere to: Add root vegetables into the roiling broth first, as they take longer to cook; leafy greens will absorb the flavor of spicier broths; and corn and duck blood are said to lend lighter broths more flavor. Adding a block of the latter into the ruddy, fiery liquor in my pot imparted a deeper color, but no discernible change in taste.
For the most part, the ingredients offered here, be it for hot pot or KBBQ, are fresh to fresh-ish. The only issue I had was with the Korean short ribs — way too chewy to enjoy. And the grills aren't the mesh ones used at higher-end DIY barbecue joints — but, then again, Boil Spot isn't trying to be the next Cote Miami.
And about those meats — a charge of $12.95 will be added to your bill for every pound of uneaten meat, so eat your meat! And do it within the two-hour time limit — the clock starts running the moment your chosen soup bases are fired up. So pay no heed to that old adage because, here, a watched pot always boils.
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