City Paper is not for tourists
If you’re a king or queen of cozy and actually look forward to winter’s roaring fires, comfort food, flannel everything, and all the hygge you can handle, you must try hot pot. Grab a date or some friends and sample the following four options in the D.C. area, including two that opened in D.C. proper in December.
Where:1358 H St. NE
Good for: A double date or dinner with a small group of friends
Open: Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to close
Chef Erik Bruner-Yang seemed to open Yangs inside Impala Cantina on a whim. One day there weren’t any hot pot restaurants in D.C. proper, then boom there was Yangs. Follow the scent of Chinese five spice-flavored broth to find the pop-up on the second floor. Start by choosing between chicken or vegetarian broth, then move on to selecting dipping sauces and a range of more than 35 items to cook. Fried Chinese dough sticks, bamboo noodles, head-on prawns, Spam, and quail eggs are some of the most intriguing offerings. When you start gently cooking your meat, seafood, vegetables, and noodles, the broth may seem too mild. Give the floating sauce sack time to diffuse and the Sichuan peppercorns in the broth will eventually leave your tongue tingling. In the meantime, utilize the nutty dan dan dipping sauce and fresh sambal to flavor what you’ve cooked. If there’s one shortcoming, it’s that the dumplings arrive at the table frozen. Bruner-Yang says the filling is pre-cooked and the little parcels only require two minutes in the broth. If the Yangs concept proves successful, the pop-up could turn permanent.
Where: 301 Water St. SE
Good for: A date night splurge
Open: Mondays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 9 p.m.
Acknowledging that waterfront seafood restaurants aren’t as sought after in the winter, Whaley’s operators Nick and David Wiseman introduced a Japanese shabu-shabu takeover that will last through March. Compared to some hot pot restaurants whose menus can stretch on with an overwhelming array of choices, the slim menu at Fuyu only boasts eight selections: tuna, scallops, matsutake mushrooms, Roseda Farm ribeye, wild shrimp, monkfish, oysters, and heritage breed pork. These premium proteins make Fuyu the least wallet friendly hot pot experience. For the best value, go for the “choose three” option, which is $48 for tables of two and $95 for tables of four. Then pick between a mild kombu-based broth or a more robust red miso broth. Each table participating in hot pot gets a basket of vegetables like shaved carrots and radishes as well as udon noodles towards the end of the meal when it’s time to enjoy the broth that’s benefitted from everything you cooked in it. If you don’t finish it, Fuyu will package your broth to-go for next day sipping. The house made noodles make the Fuyu experience feel homey. Only the dipping sauce department feels incomplete, as it lacks the traditional creamy sesame sauce. There’s only a yuzu ponzu sauce, plus a smear of yuzu kosho (a salty, citrusy condiment), and togarashi spiced pickles.
Where: 6799 Wilson Blvd. #10, Falls Church
Good for: Dinner with a large, rowdy group
Open: Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Little Sheep is an Inner Mongolian hot pot restaurant nestled into Falls Church’s Vietnamese enclave. Service at the casual, family friendly restaurant is brusque, but portion sizes are the most generous of the bunch. Diners can choose the original “milky” broth, spicy both, or a combination of the two presented in a hot pot with a curved divider down the center. Both are flavored with bone marrow, which adds a silky quality. Most tables choose the spicy bone broth, which is deep crimson in color and replete with bobbing goji berries, jujubes (Chinese dates), black cardamom pods, ginseng, herbs, and Sichuan peppercorns. The smell fills the air and sticks to your clothes. Take your time building a meal by ticking off proteins and vegetables using a pencil on a sushi bar-style menu. Highlights include lamb shoulder, hand-sliced fatty beef, fish balls filled with fish roe, green mussels, house made lamb wontons, lotus root, pumpkin, the mixed mushroom basket, wide noodles, and fried tofu skin rolls. Little Sheep is the top hot pot destination for vegetarian with about 40 meat-free ingredients and vegetarian broth is available upon request. If you like what you taste and feel like spending a night standing around your stove, note that Little Sheep hot pot spice kits are sold at grocery stores like H Mart and the company that just renamed Crystal City.
Where: 3081 Nutley St. SW, Fairfax
Good for: Solo dining and germaphobes
Open: Mondays through Fridays from noon to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m.
Find this Japanese hot pot chain inside in a suburban Virginia strip mall. Unlike other hot pot restaurants, which are designed to be a communal dining experience, the California Shabu dining room is arranged in an oval with diners around the periphery looking in. You can only converse with those seated on either side of you and each diner selects a personal hot pot, which makes California Shabu best for small parties, solo diners, and people who cringe at eating out of the same pot as other humans. Ordering here is confusing, which the servers acknowledge by pointing customers towards their combination sets. The “choice beef plus two additional proteins” set runs $27 at dinner and comes with a basket of vegetables and noodles for a filling meal that eats like a good value. Those proteins can include green mussels, bay scallops, salmon, and chicken. Broth comes in four flavors: tomato, kombu, spicy miso, and tonkotsu and the meal also arms you with an arsenal of free flavor boosters such as sesame peanut sauce, ponzu sauce, green onion, daikon radish, hot sauce drops, garlic, chili oil, and sesame seeds. Bring your appetite and bolster your dinner with an order of okonomiyaki tater tots.