Add hot pot to the list of do-it-yourself cooking in Lakewood’s Korean dining district.
Bon Asian Hot Pot opened in August offering all-you-can-eat hot pot meals.
Much like Korean barbecue, hot pot is a choose-your-own adventure in which diners pick a broth, then meat, seafood or vegetables. Diners cook ingredients plucked from platters of raw ingredients shuttled to the table. The cooking vessel is a metal bowl filled with broth, set atop a warming flame.
There are a few advantages to hot pot over Korean barbecue. At hot pot, there’s no minimum diner or order requirements and it’s less caloric.
Here’s a first-bite report, plus a first-timers guide to hot pot.
The restaurant: Some restaurants, such as nearby Tacoma Szechuan, list hot pot, but Bon Asian is the first and only restaurant in the area with hot pot as the entire concept.
The dining room: It looked similar to its former life as Malri Hyang, a handsome restaurant specializing in Korean noodles. Dark wall paneling climbed toward tall ceilings in a dining room filled with tables for two to eight diners; plus cushy booths.
Dinner menu: All-you-can-eat hot pot in four styles; vegetable ($15.99); meat ($16.99); seafood ($17.99) and combo ($21.99). All ingredients were included and we weren’t charged additional fees for requested extras.
Pick a broth: House beef, seafood, kimchi; spicy meat broth. Kimchi was mildly flavored, as was understated house beef. Sauces, meats and vegetables fixed the underseasoned broth.
Cooking implements: I’ve dined at hot pot restaurants that offered just enough warming fuel for about a 10-minute boil, which is 10 minutes less than I need to finish cooking all the ingredients. At Bon Asian Hot Pot, the boil lasted more than 30 minutes before our server removed the warming fuel that could’ve gone even longer.
Meat: The server brought a platter with tidy piles of raw meat, including thinly sliced steak, brisket, beef tongue, tendon, pork belly, chicken and sliced sausage. Do not cross-contaminate. Use the tongs to sink the meat into the pot. Use chopsticks or the soup spoon to stir after the meat has cooked.
Skipping the meat? The vegetable hot pot included cabbage, onions, carrots, scallions, mushrooms, bean threads, baby bok choy, jalapenos and crown daisy (a delicious herb). Also included were tofu wedges and sticky cubes of devil’s tongue (yam) jelly.
Accompaniments: Three dipping sauces — ponzu, sweetened soy, and a spicy mayo — and noodles. Wasabi, soy sauce and Sriracha were on every table for doctoring the broth to your specification. My broth needed a liberal helping of soy and Sriracha, which turned my soup into a piquant broth with a salty finish.
Start with some snacks: Free appetizers are part of the meal. Ours were a plate of breaded, fried vegetables and shrimp.
A little booze with your soup? Yes they have the Korean spirit, soju (be warned, it’s powerful stuff). They also stock sake and Hite, a Korean beer. Prices strangely weren’t listed. A bottle of soju was $11.99.
Cook slowly: This is where the free snacks are important. Order tea or soju. Sit, relax. Balance your checkbook. Talk about the kids. Let the soup simmer and as each ingredient reaches its desired texture, pluck it out for dipping into the sauce. This is a sit-and-enjoy experience built for lingering, not a fast-food meal. Another advantage to going slow: The more ingredients we cooked in the pot, the deeper the flavor of the broth became.
Cooking order: Add the crunchiest veggies, onions, carrots and cabbage first because they take longer to cook. Be careful not to overcook the meat. A rookie mistake is to add noodles first then let them sit in the pot. Don’t. They get sludgy.
Also on the menu: Four Korean stir fries ($11) and five rice bowls ($9.99-$10.99).
Bon Asian Hot Pot
Where: 3615 Steilacoom Blvd SW, Lakewood; 253-292-0629.