2620 N High St, Columbus, OH 43202
Hot pot is a term that is thrown around fairly freely in local Chinese restaurants – if a dish has a soup base and a source of heat beneath it to keep it simmering, most will list it as hot pot (at least in the English translations). As we understand it, however, Chinese patrons have a different definition, and it involves a significantly more elaborate set up. Secret Vessel is first restaurant in town to focus on cook-at-the-table hotpot.
Before we get into what that is exactly, it needs to be said that we stumbled into being Secret Vessel’s absolute first paying customers, and it was clear that they were not yet entirely up to full operating standards. They handled this with immense grace, and the food displayed so many unique and wonderful traits that we felt we needed to share our experience even at this early point in their evolution.
So, back to hot pot, Chinese style, which is the vast majority of what Secret Vessel does. Broken down to its basics, there are 3 distinct elements – a broth simmering atop a table top induction burner, prepared ingredients on the side to dip into the broth, and sauces that you can dip your prepared ingredients into after they come out of the broth. All of these are customizable, and many options are available for each.
There are four broth options – Szechuan, Tomato, Hong Kong satay, and a clean, light Signature flavor. All can be had at one time in a bowl divided into quadrants. We did this, and found ourselves particularly enjoying the tomato broth, less than fond of the satay broth, and perfectly content with the other two. As broths become depleted, the attentive servers refill them. As far as we could tell there was no vegetarian broth option.
The range of ingredients is vast, and is divided into 8 distinct categories – meats, seafood/fish, meatballs, bean products (essentially tofus), fungi (mushrooms), vegetables, ‘other’, and finally, combinations (assembled plates from the previous categories). We ordered the ‘angus boneless ribeye combo’ (beef slices, tripe, beef balls, tofu, cabbage, bean curd, white mushroom), and were given a couple of extras (shrimp balls, lamb slices) to, I suspect, gauge our reactions to them.
Across the board, we were impressed with the freshness of the ingredients – it was conspicuous in the flavor of everything we tried, and elevated it well beyond anything we’d had before in a hot pot (or ‘hot pot’) setting. The lamb and beef were lovely, and both the beef balls and the shrimp balls were hand made in house (a rarity). Both were genuinely among the best things I’ve tasted in some time. Even the mushrooms and the tofu were transformed from something ho-hum into perfect flavor-packed bites after a few minutes of bathing in the tomato broth.
A wide range of sauces were clearly laid out on a bar, and as it was explained to us, the idea is that a customer who opts for the sauce bar ($2.99/person) can ladle multiple sauces into a bowl and mix them to their satisfaction. Being new to this game, we asked the owner to mix a couple up for us. We dutifully dipped our simmered mushrooms and the like into the sauces, admired the owners ability to concoct such edifying combinations, and ultimately appreciated the flavor of the simmered ingredients without the sauces (they struck us as good, but they served to cover the exceptional flavor of the ingredients themselves).
Quality has a price, and in this case it was just under $60.00 for two. For all we were provided, the obvious labor involved in creating it, and the satisfaction provided, we’d call it a solid deal. We’re looking forward to returning, and especially to trying the full meatball assortment.