Finding great Asian food in this state is like playing a claw machine game: you look for the best options based on what is available to you and hope for the best when put your money in. Sometimes you win…but most of the time you lose.
Of course, you’ll have many people who can offer some advice: “Look at it from a different angle!” or who are downright pessimistic “the machine isn’t designed for you to ever win.” But whether you are angling for an unnecessary stuffed toy or a decent meal, the compulsion is still there to try.
Enter Sichuan Hot Pot & Asian Cuisine, what seemed to be a glimmering spectacle in a city densely populated with mediocre options. I first heard about this restaurant from friends who turned me onto Prince’s Hot Chicken so there was some level of trust. And unlike dim sum, hot pot is pretty difficult to mess up. It mostly requires fresh ingredients.
From the outside, the restaurant didn’t seem like much. In fact, like most Nashville eateries, it was situated in a strip mall.
The inside was reminiscent of a casino or club.
…or maybe an arcade.
The menu was pretty expansive. If you aren’t familiar with hot pot, it’s essentially a Chinese soup that contains fresh, raw ingredients cooked in a simmering broth at the table. Some call it “Asian fondue.” It typically involves thinly sliced meat (to cook faster), leafy vegetables, mushrooms, and seafood. Each item cooks very quickly, usually 1-2 minutes, and is often dipped in a sauce. Like the crane game, you make repeated motions of dropping in and hoping to pull something spectacular out. Also, like the infamous claw, unskilled hands may result in an unfortunate drop or spill.
Hot pot restaurants have an a la carte menu of items to choose from: meats, veggies, noodles, and so on. It’s no different here. If you’re unsure of what to order or just want a good variety, you an opt for a combination plate for $8.99-$13.99, with some pre-selected items. The portions are very generous so it’s definitely enough to feed you.
On this adventure, I decided to order the Salt & Pepper Spare Ribs for an appetizer (especially since I had such a good experience at Corner Asian Bistro), though it was totally unnecessary.
The ribs were perfectly mediocre. The balance of the seasoning and fry was fine, though it lacked the punch and spice that comes when the dish is tossed with fresh jalapeños. I definitely missed them here. They were fried for a little too long, causing the bones to be brittle and sometimes blend in with the meat.
Shortly after, gigantic plates started arriving at the table, each one containing a bounty of meat, vegetables, and noodles, ready to be dunked into the broth before us.
The beef combo came with a pile of thinly sliced ribeye, mushrooms, taro, enoki mushrooms, napa cabbage, a-choy, and a nest of bean thread noodles.
The seafood combo had an entire blue crab, prawns, squid, imitation crab sticks, a pair of mussels, a good pile of clams, and the vermicelli noodles.
It was so on.
I tried both the bone broth as well as the green clam broth. The bone broth was hearty and rich, with flavorful goji berries to provide a sweet, slightly sour note, There was also a large bone simmering inside. The green clam broth was a bit cleaner and lighter – still salty, not quite “clam tasting,” but also had a subtle sweet taste with the green onions present.
Excited, I dropped several morsels of seafood in, then hit up the sauce bar while they cooked. The expansive sauce bar was a choose your own adventure of dipping sauce wonderland. On this trip, I went traditional: Chinese barbecue sauce with a little sesame oil, chili oil, and fresh scallions.
At the table, I retrieved the first batch of food with a little broth. It was perfect.
There’s great comfort and satisfaction with a good hot pot. Since I often make it at home, I really want it to be special when I visit a restaurant that serves it – either in using different ingredients, a special broth, or atmosphere. This place had everything I was hoping for in spades, even a large TV playing canto-pop music concerts with elaborate, Gaga-esque regalia.
Nearly everything here was fantastic. The standout items for me: the blue crab (conveniently was quartered under its large shell), the prawns, the beef, and the taro. The fried/hardboiled egg was OK, though a fresh cracked/poached egg in the broth would have been much better.
I ended the meal by cooking the noodles (insider’s tip: the noodles usually go in last because that’s when the broth is the most rich, after simmering all of the tasty foods before it) and it filled me up nicely.
On the way out, I spotted a glowing claw machine in the corner, beckoning a try. The food paid off big time, so why not?
Here’s how that went:
Sichuan Hot Pot & Asian Cuisine, 5680 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN 37211