>> Chongqing Lao Zao 重庆老灶 | Eat the World NYC

12 March 2019

Chongqing Lao Zao 重庆老灶

CHINA 🇨🇳 (Chongqing)

Chongqing is a city and municipality often erroneously linked to its neighboring Sichuan province to the west. The city itself is actually one of four in China (the others are Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai) under the direct control of the central government and given special recognition as a National Central City (国家中心城市). 

A city of over 8.5 million people, its inhabitants are fierce advocates of spice and claim to be the people able to eat the spiciest foods in all of China. They do share a similar cuisine with Sichuan, much of which is indistinguishable to an outsider, but their hot pot style is famous throughout the country a point of pride.

At the entrance, some spicy signs of things to come.

"Lao zao" (老灶) might literally translate to "old stove" but there is still a lot of work to do before we understand its significance and relation to this style of hot pot. Using oils that have been "aged" and cooked with beef tallow (delicious fat), the richness and depth is what is immediately striking. Many hot pots can be covered in peppers and spicy, but the tastes here are full of flavor that latches on to eat cut of meat dipped within.

Opened in January, the place was given a full makeover from its previous incarnation which was also a hot pot restaurant, although a very forgettable one. Starting on the exterior, everything has changed. A large and heavy wooden door is the first thing you touch, but this sense of style and more modern version of a rustic farmhouse carries through to the silverware and cups for tea they use. Flushing already knows its virtue, as the place is packed and requires a good wait on most evenings.

The oil in the broth is important, but so is the oil they serve as a dipping sauce for this style of hot pot. Our group of six all found the sesame-based blend that you are supposed to dip in after the broth to be too thick and not of value. They will bring the ingredients for this to the table and serve everyone their own dish automatically, but do note that a $1.95/person charge will show up on the bill. Maybe get one or two made for the table so you can try it and then go from there.

In addition to this sauce presentation, there is an enjoyable theatre to everything they do. It is all very organized. Multi-tiered trays show up beside your table to hold all the small plates of each order before it gets put in the hot pot. They will watch over the progress and move dishes up for you and remove used ones. I found the service excellent.

The explanations are also good, which side of the pot each item should go, what to do, what not to do. Even for those that consider themselves skilled in hot pot, there was something to learn.

They give many options for your soups, but the split pot option ($15.95) should probably have some kind of heat on one end. This can be done mild, medium, or spicy, of which I lobbied for the latter but was overruled with a compromising medium. It turns out medium was enough, as even the spicy potions I mixed for myself at the sauce bar (above) were not as spicy as the broth. Shake off the dried red peppers and Sichuan peppercorns from your bites to avoid losing consciousness too early.

Orders of sliced lamb ($7.95) and sliced beef ($5.95).

All the foods we ordered, from the slices of lamb and beef seen above, to beef tripe ($12.95, below, right) goose intestines ($15.95) and duck tongue ($7.95), to dumplings ($5.95), juicy beef balls ($4.95), shrimp paste ($9.95, below, left) and everything in between was of very good quality. Crisp greens and other vegetables complemented the meats and seafood.

The meal will be more expensive than usual, but afterwards it will not feel unwarranted.

Are you not really a hot pot person? Have you been underwhelmed with it to this point in your life? I think this is the right place to try and see if you can have your mind changed.

Chongqing Lao Zao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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