PARTY TIME: Hot Pot Buffet’s all-you-can-eat menu — spanning from crab legs to corn — is the perfect solution for a group evening out.
|Hot Pot Buffet | 70 Beach Street, Chinatown | 617.338.0808 | Open Daily, 11 am–2 am | AE, MC, VI | Beer and wine | Access up two steps to some tables|
I don't much like any of the international versions of boil-your-own food — fondue, shabu-shabu, Mongolian hot-pot, Taiwan, Thai, Vietnamese — but if you must, this is the right way to do it. What Hot Pot Buffet gets, that all the other Asian do-it-yourself restaurants do not, is that this kind of eating is not about discernment. It's a party.
Hot Pot Buffet has it all down to a single menu item: $19.95 for all you can eat (it's $14.95 at lunch). You have choices, but relatively few — four flavors of broth, a sheet of ready-to-go thin-sliced meats and a few variety cuts, pieces of seafood, and balls of various compositions, plus green vegetables, starchy vegetables, noodles, and mushrooms. You check off what you want and — despite signs asking you not to waste food — they keep bringing more of it until you cry "Uncle." The competition lets you customize your dipping sauce to get some flavor onto what is ultimately a boiled dinner. HPB has one dip. The competition charges different amounts for different combinations of foodstuffs and special individual items. HPB has one up-sell: lobster for $7.95. (With refillable big blue crabs on the order sheet, don't bother.) The other places have appetizers, drinks, and even desserts. Our subject today has no appetizers whatsoever; a wine list consisting of a single brand each of merlot, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon, by the glass or bottle, and if you are good eaters and clean-plate rangers, a platter of sliced orange for dessert. (And, okay, a handful of sakes, plum wine, smoothies, and bubble tea.) But what you are going to drink is beer, and it might as well be Tsingtao.
Getting all that anxiety-producing à la carte out of the way, this is a place for a party of six to 20 to have an evening out. It might do for family fun (kids eat cheaper), but it's too messy for dating. There is a downstairs bar for solo piggery. Really though, this is the place for graduations, business team-building, and mixed groups. People are plopping things into a common pot — sterilized because it boils — and fishing them out with ladles (or chopsticks if you're pretty good). This is perhaps the largest such restaurant ever in Boston (a reported 6000 square feet), and it has already found crowds, mostly young and Asian-American. Tables are well spaced, and it actually isn't noisy for big rooms upstairs and down.
So here you are, with friends. What are the top 10 modestly gourmet moves, tips, and tricks you can use to ensure the best experience?
1. Save room for the best part last, which is the broth when a lot of different things have been cooked through it. That is the real gourmet treat of Mongolian hot pot, and most customers miss it completely.