Eastside or Seattle, it doesn’t matter. Hot-pot mania has set in, with waits longer than at brunch and dim sum, and on Friday nights after 7 p.m. — forget about it — the line is out the door.
At the trendy Dolar Shop at The Bravern in Bellevue, you need to make reservations at least a week in advance for dinner on weekends. And that might not even be the hottest ticket in town. Two miles east sits Liuyishou, which has a loyal, almost cultlike following in Vancouver, B.C.
Not since the arrival of Din Tai Fung in Bellevue Square has the Eastside dining scene seen this much fuss.
And Seattle, get ready. Things will get bonkers in the fall when the hot-pot spot HaiDiLao, one of the world’s most beloved restaurant chains, anchors at Pacific Place. That 8,408-square-foot restaurant, around 300 seats, will be located on the third floor by the skybridge.
In Asia, HaiDiLao management offers free shoe shines, neck massages and manicures to fans who endure the three-hour wait.
That global sensation will easily be one of the biggest restaurant openings Seattle has seen in the past five years.
This sudden infatuation with hot-pot restaurants is puzzling considering that as long as we’ve had Chinatowns, we’ve had the swishing of hot pots. Little Sheep and Boiling Point are fixtures in the Asian community, for instance.
But in the past year, hot pots have gone mainstream, popping up in trendy enclaves and malls in Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond. The hot-pot experience used to come at less than 20 bucks a head and some resorted to shticks like all-you-can-eat to fill seats. Now, the new wave of them has epic lines and look like a steakhouse for the expense-account set, hawking wagyu beef and lobster tails.
We recently checked out Bellevue’s two hottest hot-pot spots — Liuyishou and Dolar Shop. Both were excellent, though each was a difference experience.
Liuyishou: hot pot for spice-lovers
If you’ve heard chatter about Bellevue getting a game-changing Chinese restaurant that’s as good as any in Vancouver, they’re likely boasting about this chain based in mainland China.
The fervor surrounding Liuyishou has been unreal. In early February, Liuyishou debuted in Washington state in a former dim-sum space next to a ball field with Little Leaguers and all the remnants of suburbia. But step inside, and you feel like you’ve been transported briefly to Hong Kong or Richmond, B.C.
The bright dining room is loud with Mandarin. On my two visits, there were a total of two Caucasian diners and, well, they were both from my party. A server said the young tech crowd is mostly from Microsoft and Amazon.
Raw meat has never looked more appetizing. Shavings of beef are artfully displayed — in a circle the size of a car tire. Marbled cuts get rolled up and plated in a conical formation that resembled a rose bouquet. Seafood platters are served in a boat-shaped dish.
Liuyishou does Chongqing-style hot pot, a numbing, infernal pork-bone broth with floating isles of “beef oil.” Its “mild” broth registers a four-alarm fire.
The broth, a secret blend of 30 seasonings, is scented with mounds of Sichuan peppers.
If you fear heat, the unctuous duck soup or the gamy “braised pork stomach with chicken soup” are among the alternatives. But fans come for the fiery broth.
See those chunks of melons and oranges next to the sauce buffet? That’s your life preserver. Do it like the pros here. Eat till your mouth burns. Then cleanse your palate with chunks of watermelon. Or suck on an orange wedge, a yin and yang of heat and meat to seesaw with the cold juice. It’s delightful, like plunging in an ice bath after exiting a sauna.
The spicy broth pairs well with organs and gristly cuts, which may explain why the chain offers offal, an awful lot of it — goose intestine, beef aorta and duck blood cake to list just a few.
But the staples — beef, lamb, seafood, tofu and veggies — are available, with at least 10 choices of beef offered in different cuts and grades.
The basic $13.95 platter of lamb and beef slices complements the salty, muddy broth better than the seafood platter (oyster, shrimp, cuttlefish, scallop and sole fillet; $28.95 for a small, $39.95 for a large platter). Lettuce and napa cabbage will contrast with the heat. Vinegar and fresh scallions and herbs will also work.
The pace of the service is helter-skelter, with staff ducking in and out, leaving you to your own devices. Flag down a server if you need help or have questions like, “When are you refilling that watermelon bowl? My mouth is burning.”
11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. daily; 1644 140th Ave. N.E., Bellevue; 425-643-9050
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more. It’s difficult to score a table on Friday nights and on weekends unless you come at 5 p.m. when doors open. Leave a cellphone number with the host if you don’t want to wait.
Who should eat here: For those who love spicy food, this Chongqing broth is fiery and numbing. Also lots of offal and exotic cuts. Predominantly Chinese and Chinese-American crowd, and not every staffer speaks English well. If you’re a newbie, you can get lost trying to figure everything out.
The Dolar Shop: fancy-schmancy hot pot
This international chain boasts 52 branches including those with ZIP codes in Dubai, Paris and Milan.
Will the young and the beautiful risk their Armani Privé dresses to splatters of pork broth in Bellevue? Yep.
On Saturdays, Dolar is the place to be and be seen, with a crowd that looks right out of central casting for a Wong Kar-wai movie. On other days, the room looks more business-and-family-oriented, with techies and dads in button-down casual.
Its waiting area looks cribbed from some airline lounge — comfy couches with a complimentary snack station and servers who constantly replenish jars and drawers of trail mixes, chips and jelly candies.
Before I could slouch into the couch, the hostess announced, “good news,” they have a cancellation. My party would be seated. I may be the first diner in civilization to be disappointed I didn’t have to wait 90 minutes for a table.
The gold-trim, two-story restaurant looks like a high-roller-casino restaurant in Macao, with the central kitchen plopped in the main dining room. Chefs in white toques slice marbled steak. Tanks of live seafood are propped behind glass displays.
About 70 different hot-pot ingredients and at least 21 dipping sauces are offered, but Dolar doesn’t feel overwhelming. The chain is tailored for the mainstream, with how-to hot-pot illustrations. Individual instead of communal pots are served so you have more control over the seasoning.
Its signature milky, spare-rib broth is sweetened with corn. For a spicy kick, try the Szechuan version. For those who love to coat their meat in globs of salty dipping sauces, the tart tomato-oxtail broth is the way to go. Skip the mushroom broth that tasted like rehydrated shiitake.
Dolar specializes in high-end cuts. Beef ranges from prime grade ($13.99 for 4.5 ounce boneless short rib) to the premium A5 Japanese Miyazaki beef ($49.99 for 5.5 ounces). Salmon and shellfish are so fresh you can’t detect any fishy scent. You will know when the seafood platter ($39.99 to $69.99) arrives. It makes quite an entrance, with the server decorating the shellfish and fillets with dry ice to form a billowing cloud. Alakazam!
You’re presented with bowls of beef, fish and shrimp in paste form but not expected to do something as plebeian as form your own meatballs. A server spoons them into morsels to drop into your pots.
If you’re not vigilant in doing some mental math, you can drop two Benjamins for a party of two.
But you can also dine for half of that. The two best cuts for dunking are also the best value. Translucent strips of Kurobuta pork are folds of fat that melt in your mouth (about 20 slices for $7.99).
The beef tongue (20 slices for $12.99) resembles roast beef in texture. There are myriad other good dunking ingredients under $10: shrimp paste, meatballs, fried bean curd, Chinese doughnuts, shrimp wontons. For a side, get the green onion pancake to dip with the housemade soy sauce and, to finish, the handmade noodles ($6.99) that — after a five-minute bath — tasted like al dente bucatini and, when coated in XO sauce, makes for a substantial meal.
Not everything was stellar. The strands of seaweed, knotted like bow pasta, tasted rubbery. Cubes of wagyu ($25.99 for 5 ounces)? The bubbling broth just sucks the life out of those marbled nuggets.
On Fridays and Saturdays, it can be a stamina test for an open table, with many looking bored or weary after an hour. Apparently not everyone was as enraptured with that waiting area as I.
11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m. daily; 11020 N.E. Sixth St., Bellevue; 425-390-8888, dolarshop.com
Tips: Reservations are accepted for parties of two or more. Still, it’s hard to score a table unless you dine at 4:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. For other times, make reservations a week in advance. Or go during lunch on weekdays. Check the reservation system on Yelp.
Who should eat here: An ideal place for newbies since Dolar caters to the mainstream with illustrations and patient servers who will walk you through every step. A large selection of meat and seafood. And more than 30 different veggies and tofus, one of the largest non-meat menus as well. Individual instead of communal pots are served. Ideal for those with food allergies.