Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sweet Home Cafe

Americans have fondue, Japanese have shabu shabu, and the Taiwanese and Chinese have hot pot.  It all involves cooking thinly sliced chicken, beef, or pork, and other items such as cabbage or crab cakes in steaming pots of broth, but the similarities end there. While shabu shabu uses Japanese dashi-style broth, Taiwanese hot pot offers a wider range of soup styles, from spicy to lemongrass to curry.  Many islanders are more than familiar with shabu shabu, but hot pot has yet to reach that level of popularity. Well, the other day my friends and I tried Taiwanese hot pot and it was awesome.  It was just a really fun (and relatively inexpensive) experience for a group of people.  You can sit around, talk, BYOB, and cook whatever suits your fancy.

Sweet Home Cafe (map) is a complete and total hole-in-the-wall restaurant that is very easy to miss.  The only thing noticeable about this place is the massive line of people waiting outside.  Wait times vary, but it's not unusual to have to wait 45 minutes to get a seat.  That was the first thing that told me this place would be good.  When a local, run down restaurant in the corner of a parking lot is packed, you can be pretty confident the food is delicious.  In fact, they don't have a hostess at all.  You write your name on a clipboard hanging on the front door and wait until you're called.  Since this is a BYOB place, we just brought two 6-packs and drank while we waited.  No big deal.

The Hot Pot of Broth
Before you're called in, they will also ask you if you know what broth you want to order as well as what meats you want.  BE PREPARED.  This is a no nonsense place and they don't have time for your dilly-dallying.  So they have a few broths to choose from:  Spicy, Lemongrass, House Specialty, Curry, and Sour Cabbage. We had the spicy and lemongrass.  Both were delicious.  The waiter recommended trying to curry next time, though.  When you sit down, they bring out your broth and a few small plates of thinly sliced meat. We did beef and pork.
Refrigerators With Food to Cook
Then you can get up and go to the refrigerator and get anything you want.  Things are priced by the color of the plates.  So, for example, a blue plate is $2.95, green plate $3.95, and orange plate $4.95.  The plates vary by size and ingredient.  We went and got rice noodles, crab cakes, octopus, garlic tempura (fried garlic), fish balls, lobster balls, watercress, and some other stuff I don't remember.  There were plenty of CRAZY items that we were not brave enough to try, but everything we got (except the fish balls) were really good.  You can also get all sorts of spices and "add ons" for your meal.  For example, they have spicy garlic paste, green onions, thyme, garlic, red pepper, and other weird Asian stuff that I didn't ask about.

Then at the end of the meal, they bring FREE shave ice.  Now, admittedly it wasn't the best shave ice in the world, but it was good enough and it was the perfect palate cleanser after the meal.

Shave Ice

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