Friday, November 8, 2013

Share your hot pot at Fire Pots

Fire Pots 東來火鍋 on Urbanspoon Waddled home stuffed from FirePots tonight. Soooo many mistakes on my part.

FirePots is very conveniently near Brentwood Mall and the skytrain station. (Incidentally, it's neigbour is the intriguing and delicious-looking Edible Arrangements). We were there for a 7:30pm dinner, and although there was no lineup at the door, the restaurant was busy till closer to 9pm when there were basically just bar patrons -- So for the neighbourhood, it handily doubles as a pub. Not much else in striking distance except Starbucks, and there's no alcohol at Starbucks.

The hot floor staff at FirePots makes it a lousy place for a date with a guy with the roaming eye. Our server was the friendly, energetic Wendy, who was very helpful to a first-timer for "modern" hot pot like myself.

My experience of hot pot was the charcoal-heated metal bowls with a chimney in the middle, and individual dipping sieves for food. This was long ago and far away when I was a kid, visiting my grandma on holidays. It was a family, sharing thing.
Hot pot at FirePots is like a huge bowl of soup, except the ingredients haven't been thrown in yet, because there's so much stuff that you couldn't fit it all in the bowl at once. At around $15, it's really more of a sharing bowl unless you eat like a champ. The two of us barely made it through our two appys and two bowls. No room for dessert, sadly. I was thinking of their chocolate fondue, but we couldn't have forced it down. When you scoop out the food that's cooked in the hotpot kept hot at your table, you can dip it in sauce.

The table arrangements are spacious, in part because each person gets a burner and because there's a lot of dishes involved in all the hot pot ingredients that come with your order. Each person gets a lot of table space. There's also very ample room to move about in this small restaurant. It's generally four to a table and it's not clear if they would be able to change the spacing because you need sprinklers above and electrical outlets for the burners below. (So in this way it actually is good for date night since there's space and your "private booth", so to speak).

The appetizers recommended as "most interesting" were the gyozas and the chicken wings. We tried both, and for the wings opted for "spicy cashew". For hot pot, our server's recommendation and her personal favourite was coconut curry. I assured her I was okay with any amount of spiciness, so for the sauce recommendation she went with sriracha aioli instead of hoisin.
Maybe it was just me, but the spiciness warnings turned out to be ludicrous. Spicy? Where? Just what kind of patrons come in here that they can't handle the barely-qualifies-as-mild spiciness of their sweet sriracha aioli?
If you demand hot-spicy, you might have to gently insist on that and see if the kitchen can throw in some chili.

On to the food -- and my mistakes...

To start, I ordered a pot of tea ($3.50 "specialty drink") and two appetizer plates to share. Completely oblivious to how much food a hot pot would involve. Nothing really wrong with this except a hot pot is a lot of food. Plus, once you're into the hot pot, you may not touch your tea because you're basically having soup. So your tea gets to sit ignored and cold. Duh. Save the tea order for afterwards.

Amuse Bouche - Taiwanese Pancakes ($0)
  • Two mini yam pancakes with sweet sauce and token sprig of greens on top.
  • Yup, more starch to fill you up. You really have to watch out for the size of the hot pots afterwards.
Gyoza ($8) Pan fried with an earthy five spice sauce and a creamy sriracha aioli
  • Tasty and quite interesting with a slight vinegary sourness on the inside, juxtaposed with a curry-like aroma from the sauce. Smaller but fatter/rounder (and therefore slightly cuter!) than potstickers typically served elsewhere.
  • Works out to about a dollar a dumpling. This is a decent sized order.
Fried Chicken Wings ($9) spicy cashew
  • There are various flavours available but we went with the intriguing "spicy cashew".
  • The cashew sauce is sprinkled with a bit of black and white sesame seeds, so you might immediately ask if they got your order wrong and gave you some funny sesame-dusted wings.
  • The sesame gives it a nice presentation touch. The cashew flavour is definitely there and not overdone. But... spicy? Whether the adjective meant chili-hot or flavourful spices, where was it? Still, pretty tasty for about a dollar a wing.
Coconut Curry Chicken ($15) Chicken, potato, and cloud ear mushroom in coconut curry broth
  • One plate of thinly sliced chicken, maybe a cup worth. The raw chicken shrinks during cooking in the broth, of course, but there is a heckuva lot of veggie (broccoli, carrots, cabbage, and bok choy/chinese cabbage) and mushroom. Thankfully not much starch, maybe just a cup worth (which expands after soaking up broth).
  • The potato is thinly sliced and FRIED (but not crispy chips). This turned out to be a very interesting flavour combination with the coconut curry.
  • The coconut curry broth was really decent, but lacking in heat/spiciness to really make it a "curry". I don't like too much heat, which can kill a curry by focussing your experience too much on your tolerance for spiciness instead of the flavours in the curry, but this could have used more kick.
  • The sriracha aioli turned out to be rather useless in this particular case because the curry was thick enough to adhere to whatever you scooped out of it, and in that way was its own sauce. You could still use it, but I found it competed with the curry in a non-complementary way.
  • In case your server forgets, for the curry broth, turn DOWN the heat all the way to "keep warm" or the thicker soup will start to burn at the bottom of the pot.
  • Starch in LAST because it takes forever to find and scoop out. And also because you might not want it if you are too full. In fact, you might want to just refuse it when it first comes out.
Custom Hot Pot ($5 Tom Yum Broth, $4 wontons and meatballs, $5 lamb, $5 beef, $4 sliced pork)
  • My dining partner wanted to skip starch and veggies so she put together her own hot pot. The tom yum soup I've had before has been typically quite sour and mildly spicy. This had both attributes very toned down. Not that big a deal because at the end, after cooking the meats in them, the flavour of the soup changes anyway and at that point too much sourness might have blanketed the other flavours.
  • If I remember correctly, each portion of sliced meat was about a half cup worth.
  • Because this is a more watery broth, it made sense to have a dipping sauce because the broth naturally drains from whatever you pull out of the soup. The coconut curry really is a non-standard hot pot broth.
Two pots of tea, two appetizers, and two hot pots came out to too much food and $62, or about $30 per person, before tax and tip.
In retrospect, we should have had only one pot of tea and one hotpot between us, which would have brought the bill down to about $20 per person, and the food down to a more manageable and reasonable quantity for two persons.
Overall, Fire Pots offers really decent value for money with nice ambiance in a spacious-feeling room, situated in a newer-development neighbourhood.


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