This cheery little Capitol Hill spot attracts a wide age-range of customers, and often large parties: Hot pot engages a crowd.
If you’ve never had hot pot before or been a bit hesitant to give this Asian, DIY-style of communal eating a try, consider making your initial plunge at Morfire, where a cotton- candy machine parked just inside the front door is your first clue that something fun is in the offing.
Some version of hot pot — cooking various raw ingredients in broth at the table — is common among East and Southeast Asian countries. A large Chinese population contributed to its widespread popularity in Thailand, where it is commonly called “suki,” a name inspired by an internationally famous Japanese pop song of the early 1960s.
Those old enough will recognize the lilting tune of Kyu Sakamoto’s “Ue o Muite Arukō.” The song was No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts in 1963 even in this country. It was nicknamed “Sukiyaki” because it was familiar and easier to pronounce. Thai restaurateurs who were beginning to capitalize on the craze for hot pot at the time, latched onto the name and Thai hot pot became known as “suki,” though it had nothing to do with either the song or the Japanese dish of cooked beef.
1806 12th Ave.
Hours: 2-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 2-11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $$ (small plates $3- $7; a la carte hot pot ingredients $2-$7; large plates and bowls $9-$15)
Drinks: full bar; original and classic cocktails, beer, wine, sake
Service: easygoing and helpful
Parking: on street
Sound: moderate to loud
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Morfire’s owners are a group of eight 40-something friends and relatives who’ve known each other for decades. One is a Northwest native, one is from Indonesia and the others were born in Thailand. They all love suki and frequently host hot pot dinner parties in their homes.
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They had long hoped someone would open a Thai hot pot restaurant in Seattle. Instead, last May “the stars aligned,” as one put it, and they did it themselves. Not all have restaurant experience. Three work full time at Morfire; the rest pitch in when they can by working the front of the house, doing kitchen prep or keeping the books.
There are many suki franchises in Thailand but Morfire is an original. The name comes from the Thai words, “mor fai,” meaning “pot with fire.” The cheery little Capitol Hill spot attracts a wide age-range of customers and on each of my visits there was at least one large party: Hot pot engages a crowd.
Morfire’s menu does a great job of guiding diners step-by-illustrated-step through the how-to of hot pot. You cook items in the communal pot, transfer them to your individual bowl, add some broth, stir in some sauce and slurp.
The experience is almost endlessly customizable with four broths, seven sauces and nearly three dozen a la carte items to choose from: meat (beef, pork, chicken, lamb), seafood (prawns, wild cod, fish cake, shrimp balls), vegetables (cabbage, chrysanthemum, lotus root, pea sprouts, mushrooms), tofu and noodles. The overall freshness, quality and presentation was impressive.
The price of the meal is based on the a la carte items you choose. The broths and sauces are complimentary. All four broths (two with meat, two vegan and gluten free) are pleasant. I am partial to the herbal broth, made with pork bones, but even that one starts out light and herbaceous. You can request a spicier version. No matter your choice, the flavor deepens after you’ve simmered whatever proteins, noodles and vegetables struck your fancy.
Seven house-made sauces give things a further boost. They are meant to be stirred into your individual bowl as well as used for dipping. The three Thai sauces start out rather tame. If you like more fire, ask for extra chili and garlic. Black vinegar puts plenty of backbone in a pair of Chinese-style sauces: the barbecue-like shacha and a soy-chili combo. Japanese sesame sauce skewed a little sweet for my taste, but I loved the subtle smokiness of dashi in the ponzu sauce.
I poured a generous dose of ponzu into Suki Nam, a ready-made bowl of soup brimming with chicken, egg, cabbage, bok choy and glass noodles, that is an alternative to the interactive hot pot. Another is Suki Hang, a stir-fry of hot pot ingredients without broth.
I also recommend the “Nutty Noodle” plate, notable for a luxuriously creamy peanut sauce that is drizzled over a tangle of spinach wheat noodles stir-fried with vegetables, egg and your choice of chicken, prawns or tofu.
Snacks and small plates didn’t excite me as much as the rest of the menu, except for tofu. A chilled block of soft tofu sat in a ponzu pool beneath a corona of fish flakes, nori threads and green onion. Crispy/creamy triangles of fried tofu dipped in sweet chili sauce were also delicious. I preferred the pork-filled gyoza over somewhat rubbery pork and beef meatballs.
Raw florets of cauliflower in “buffalo” sauce and teriyaki chicken wings were humdrum. I’d rather have spent those dollars on more ingredients for the hot pot. Judging from the oohs and aahs of the two women next to me, I missed out on what might be the best of the snacks: spice-marinated fried chicken nuggets.
Just as the kitchen searches out high-quality products — Painted Hills beef, Carlton Farms pork, Anderson Ranch lamb, cage-free chicken and eggs, organic produce when available — the bar stocks some excellent spirits.
A vibrant hibiscus sour is all the better for Botanist gin and house-made syrup, but the #cottoncandytini is a waste of Tito’s vodka. I ordered the cocktail in the interest of research, also because I wanted to see the cotton candy machine in action. After consulting a recipe book, the bartender deftly whipped up an azure cloud, thrilling a youngster sitting nearby. He presented me with a spiral of spun sugar poking from a tall, narrow glass and a small cocktail shaker.
As I poured the liquid over the cotton candy, it melted faster than the Wicked Witch of the West, becoming a sweet blue lagoon of vodka, peach schnapps, triple sec and Sprite. It’s not my poison, but if it’s yours, no judgment here.