- Published on Tuesday, 02 October 2012 09:42
- Written by Scott Joseph
Here’s a fun restaurant with an odd little name: Hotto Potto. It’s an Asian restaurant where guests cooked their meals at the table by simmering meats and vegetables in simmering broth. Or as my server explained it, it’s sort of like an Asian fondue. Except, of course, there’s no spattering oil, you can drink the broth the food cooks in, and it isn’t ridiculously overpriced.
Hotto Potto is located in a strip mall at the corner of Aloma Avenue and Semoran Boulevard. The large dining room has numerous tables that have been modified with induction heating elements inset in the formica tops. Here’s how it works: guests first choose the type of soup base they prefer, vegetarian of one made with meat stock, and also the level of spiciness. You can get mild, medium spicy, or what the menu labels “numb spicy.” (My advice, and also what the server advised, is to go with something less than numb because you can use the tableside condiments to give it some more heat, if desired.)
Once you’ve got the soup base decided, you can start selecting the meats, vegetables and noodles you’d like to go into it. There are dozens of choices, ranging from the expected beef and chicken slices to the more obscure, such as the duck feet or tripe. You make your choices by checking the box next to the selection on the paper menu, a la ordering in a sushi bar. Most meats are $2.50, seafood is $2.90 or higher, depending on market pricing ($18.99 for live lobster -- plus you’re going to need a bigger potto), and $2 for vegetables and noodles. Be careful or you’ll find yourself getting carried away and checking boxes willy-nilly, and pretty soon you’ll be spending as much as you would at that other fondue place (let's call it Melto Potto).
I liked the four lunch options that ranged from $7.99 to $11.99 with predetermined selections. I chose lunch B, which included beef chicken and pork slices, tofu, napa cabbage, rice sticks, and pork, fish and beef balls.
My server brought the pot of soup and placed it in the cooking well and set the element to bring it to a boil. (By the way, if you and your companion want different broths, you’ll probably be brought one with two chambers.) Once it was roiling, she turned it down to a simmer and showed me how I could raise and lower the heat to keep it steady as I added food. By the way, because it is an induction element, the “hot plate” doesn’t actually heat up -- it needs the metal pot to transfer the heat. You can put your hand on it and not get burned. So, it’s safe for little ones, as long as they don’t stick their hands in the boiling broth. (And if you want to test this yourself, make sure you’re not using a hand with a ring on a finger.)
The server also explained the condiments and sauces, which indeed take some explaining. There are 19 of them, ranging from house-made sriracha (the bottled stuff, as well) to bean paste, peanut paste and other unknowns. I say unknowns because once they were identified by the server I forgot which was which. And although it looked as though someone had attempted to write the name of the sauce on the glass jar, most of the words had been rubbed off. But, I did some experimenting and found some good stuff to add to my soup.
My meats were delivered to the table glisteningly raw, arranged on a bed of cabbage. The rice stick noodles were brought in a small colander. A handwritten crib sheet had been taped to the table with recommended cooking times, the most being five minutes for the meats (no timer is provided, so bring your own clock element.) You can use the ladle, slotted spoon or chopsticks to dump the foods into the broth (be sure to leave the utensils in there a bit to sterilize them from the raw meats, especially the chicken). Then scoop the meats, vegetables, noodles and some broth into your soup bowl and enjoy. you can cook the foods in stages, or you can just dump everything in at once.
I found the portions of my lunch special to be ample. In fact, after I had had what I wanted to eat, I cooked the rest of it and ladled it into a takeout tub to enjoy later.
The dining room is an open expanse with tables in orderly rows. The chairs have covers, with ties in back, that look as though they were rescued from a wedding reception.
My server was exceptionally good, from the greeting that made me feel immediately welcome to the careful explanation of the process. A woman who appeared to be the owner was present, as well, and visited the tables to ask how guests were doing. It’s nice the have that kind care.
Hotto Potto is at 3090 Aloma Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, and get this: it’s open until 2 a.m. most days, 5 a.m. on weekends! (I was told that a lot of crews from Asian restaurants will come in for something to eat after their shifts end -- you’d think they’d want someone else to do the cooking.) Here’s a link to hottopotto.com. The phone number is 407-951-8028.
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