There is no greater gift that hot pot gives than the opportunity to engage all senses. The aroma of cloves and star anise wafting through the air; broth bubbling and snapping as it envelops thin slices of raw pork belly or beef, and heaps of vegetables and noodles; an eager first bite that singes the tongue.
My god, it is good, and Sweet Home Café does it best — if you can manage to wait. It isn’t uncommon to loiter around outside for 30-45 minutes or more before getting a table. But if you can muster the willpower, it is more than worth it. (I highly recommend bringing friends and alcohol.)
Hot pot is and should be a simple affair; an interactive dining experience that requires little fuss or muss, which is exactly how I would describe the atmosphere at Sweet Home Café.
It all begins with choosing a broth. Options at Sweet Home Café range from a very basic beef broth to others such as Curry, Tomato Beef and one made with pumpkin, garlic and cream. My favorite, though, is the House Special.
Rich and flavorful and even a little sweet, it is prepared with Chinese parsley, star anise, and a bay leaf and orange peel.
Ordering meat is rather easy, too, since there are only seven options to choose from: beef tendon, beef, pork, lamb, beef tongue, chicken and pork belly.
The real hurdle comes when it is time to visit refrigerators full of vegetables, noodles, seafood and other goodies to cook. Do I want one plate of bok choy or two? I often ask myself before grabbing three. Should I just start with enoki mushrooms? I wonder before giving in to the sight of shiitake and porcini mushrooms as well. Will I be able to handle udon and glass noodles? I sometimes ponder — and on this most recent visit, I gave in to both.
It’s certainly easy to go overboard here, and that’s OK. The price of each plate is determined by its color, much like Genki Sushi, with $5 being the most expensive plate, so it’s certainly affordable. And think of it this way: Even if you do find yourself with a pot full of leftovers, turn it into the next day’s lunch.
The highlight of dining at Sweet Home Café, though, comes at the end of the night, when a server brings out a huge bowl of shave ice topped with heaping piles of boba, fruit jellies and custards. The restaurant is even kind enough to bring out a second smaller and dairy-free (though certainly not small) bowl for me — it’s like a deconstructed bubble tea, so basically the best thing ever.
I may have only just gone to Sweet Home Café, but I think I need to return sometime very, very soon … you know, just to be sure.
SERIOUSLY, LEFTOVERS There’s no way you’re going to finish everything, so add in some extras at the end for lunch the next day