Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shabu gone shabby

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A few weeks ago, I came home to discover that my apartment had been broken into. The thieves had made off with my Macbook and my roommate's, and a few other items as well. I stayed home from work the next day to deal with everything, and when MH and TC proposed that we meet for dinner that night at Minni's Shabu Shabu in Flushing, I jumped at the opportunity. A hot, comforting meal of Chinese-style huoguo with close friends sounded like exactly what I needed.
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Minni's is one of our regular meeting spots, so after we were seated the three of us placed our orders quickly. Between us we covered the trifecta of animal flesh: beef for MH, pork for TC, and chicken for me. A waitress came and poured hot broth from a kettle into the individual pots sunken into the table in front of us, and we each received the standard plate of accompaniments: sliced napa cabbage and water spinach; enoki mushrooms; shitaki mushrooms; pickled vegetables; several types of fish balls; three kinds of tofu; a small corn cob; a wedge of tomato; and some thin rice noodles.
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The easiest way to cut meat thin enough to cook quickly in broth is to slice it while it's frozen, which is also how the chicken can be presented in these neat little rolls.
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My favorite part of eating huoguo is creating the dipping sauce. Unlike Japanese-style shabu-shabu, where typically two condiments are employed—one sesame-based, and the other ponzu—Chinese huoguo includes a pretty large variety. At Minni's, the choices are presented at a bar to the side so that you can mix things up to your liking. Usually I end up with a hodgepodge of ingredients in my bowl, some combination of chopped scallions, cilantro, shacha, hot sesame oil, peanut sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, and red fermented tofu paste. Certainly I could keep things simpler with a classic sauce of shacha with a raw egg yolk swirled into it, but I just can't say no to a condiment bar.
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While we waited for the broth to come to a boil, we snacked on an order of egg pancakes. We get these every time. They aren't the greatest and I'm always disturbed by their flavor of artificial butter, but I always end up eating a piece or two—the layer of egg is thick and fluffy, and the pancakes, despite their fake taste, are addictive in that greasy, bad-for-you kind of way. (But ughhh, that chemical flavoring.)

Before long, the broth in our pots was bubbling and our meat was ready to cook. And here is where the meal really falls flat: the chicken was terrible. The pieces emerged from the broth as tough little discs of freezer-burnt rubber, not even saved by the sauce I slathered over them. About halfway through I gave up on the chicken and just ate from the plate of vegetables.

After I was done with my veg, I cracked my raw egg into the soup to quickly poach it, and then added in the rice noodles to suck up the remaining broth. I mixed these with the sauce left in my bowl and topped the combination with my egg, and as always, that small final bowl of noodles was what did me in. I was stuffed.

Minni's used to be a good bet, but I am starting to conclude that the place might have gone downhill. Their beef and pork options are superior to their chicken, so it's not all terrible, but I think the place just used to be better overall—fresher ingredients, and more variety. I'm not done with the place just yet, but if anyone has suggestions for other huoguo in the Flushing area, do tell.

2 comments:

  1. I just ate there on Friday and yes, they used to give you more veggies and fresher things. i don't eat non-organic meat, so I usually get shrimp huoguo. I've found that shrimp is the most consistent item in flushing (as it is always readily available and pretty fresh from the market). There's little lamb i think on main street and another place on that street where prince winds around onto Main st.

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  2. Let's have our own hot pot party!

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