Monday, November 28, 2011

Flaming Spice - City of Industry

If you may indulge me on a juvenile analogy: If Japanese shabu shabu was Super Mario Brothers; then Mongolian hot pot would have to be Worlds of Warcraft (apologies to anyone reading who isn’t a nerd).

Hear me out: In shabu shabu as in Super Mario, you start with a single character—plain water for the shabu shabu cooking broth, Mario for the game. By contrast, in Worlds of Warcraft as in Mongolian hot pot, you begin with a myriad of options. WoW lets you start out by choosing a character from a range of classes, whether it be a warrior, mage, hunter, etc. In Mongolian hot pot, you choose your starter soups, whether it’s the spicy fish slicked with enough chili oil to burn a hole through your esophagus; a not-as-spicy tomato fish brew; a spicy chicken soup; a duck broth made drunken with beer; or even a mushroom soup.

From there Mongolian hot pot, like the popular MMORPG, can be whatever you want it to be. It can veer into territories unknown. Your eating adventure is whatever you make of it. In every bite of Mongolian hot pot, as in every WoW quest, you will encounter textures and flavors of your choosing. Therefore, whatever you’re putting in your mouth will most likely be unique to you, different from what the next guy is experiencing.

At Flaming Spice in the City of Industry, not only do they have these varied options of boldly-flavored soup, every yin of that is paired with a yang that balances it. That is the function of a murky, milky broth that the restaurant supplies on the other side of the pot. You’ll need it because sometimes, actually, most times, the flavored soups are too intense to handle without the milder one there as a reprieve.

I chose the spicy fish and the first dip of meat I ate from it caused ripples of sweat to stream from my brow. In fact, whatever it was that I rescued from this demon broth with my chopsticks came out coated in thin film of red chili oil, like something fished out of the waters after the Exxon Valdez. I’m convinced that if the liquid completely evaporated, whatever solid matter that remained in the pot would effectively get shallow fried in the oil left behind.

One thing is certain: Those who complain that Japanese shabu shabu is bland would be summarily silenced here. Upon eating this Mongolian hot pot, someone like that would also become a convert. There’s an excess of flavor of the throat-burning, how-have-I-lived-without-this, and hurts-so-good variety. And when you consider that there's a counter of sauces to mix and match, there is actually a danger of thoroughly exhausting your already overwhelmed taste buds.

And if I may be allowed to continue the video game analogy for a moment longer: Here at this restaurant, an eating session can be just as never-ending as a game of WoW. For $19.99, you can continue picking up items, dipping, swishing, slurping until you’re just as over-stimulated like too many online gamers I know.

There are other all-you-can-eat Mongolian hot pots restaurants around. I wrote about a place called Red Pot in Garden Grove once. But Flaming Spice is different. At the former, there’s paper work when you require more meat. At Flaming Spice, the proteins are carted around dim-sum style. Nothing more than a whim allows you to pick up more sliced raw beef than you can possibly melt in the broth; more head-on shrimp than you can possibly peel; more clams than you can possibly scrape off with your two front teeth; more fatty lamb than you can possibly boil; more meatballs than you can possibly chew.

Then there are the vegetables, like the meaty king mushroom, the tofu (fried, firm or silken), the taro, and the greens, all of which soften to scalding mouthfuls that you eat in between the scalding mouthfuls of meat. And if someone in your party still complains that they're essentially paying a fee to cook their own meals, Flaming Spice has a small buffet with some notably well-made items like wontons in chili oil; thin slices of spicy, ruddy beef; and chicken wings that are as equally hot as everything else. Sesame balls, fried bread, egg custard, and pan-fried dumplings round out the offerings.

Like Worlds of Warcraft, however, there are a few minor bugs in the code: the dumplings can be a bit greasy, the catfish in the spicy fish broth is frustratingly characteristic of the bottom dweller (read: muddy); and every other slice of lamb can be a chore to chew. But overall, my meal was good, and with this trip, my spicy food experience went up at least three levels.

Flaming Spice
18518 Gale Ave
Industry, CA 91744
(626) 964-6569

Yosuke Sushi - Anaheim Hills


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