Something happened recently that turned our little hot pot world upside down. In fact, it turned my whole theory of eating vs. driving distance around. I liked a restaurant in Bellevue. This is big. A true Seattlite, I try to never allow my West-side of the water snobbiness to be overruled by my search for good food, but I’m afraid it has happened. There is a restaurant that I feel fully justifies driving across Lake Washington for. And yes, I realize it is further to most parts of Seattle from my house than to Bellevue, but it is the principal of the thing.
Szechuan hot pot is a favorite food for B and I, increasingly so as the winter months set in and we crave the double burn of the heat of the sauce and that of the peppers. For the last year or so we’ve been perfectly happy with our usual spot, Seven Star Pepper, at 12th and Jackson. It’s nearby, it’s tasty and it is pretty dependable. We hadn’t veered from it in over a year, since the hot pot addiction completely. Then we went across the street to Sichuanese Cuisine at the request of friends. I will agree that Sichuanese has some incredible chow mein and a few very recommendable dishes, but the hot pot was a severe disappointment. The broth was thin, the peanut sauce flavorless and the meat sliced to thick for proper hot pot dipping. It left us craving more. Much more.
So I listened to the voices of the internet, those voices of anonymous strangers who know of the good stuff. They sent me to Szechuan Chef in Bellevue for a better hot pot. I made the journey, friends, and I return a changed woman. This was incredible.
The broth was thick and flavorful, the peanut sauce deeply flavored. The meat was perfectly thinly sliced and the clincher, the thing that threw us over the edge was the seafood. While Sichuanese Cuisine did not offer a seafood option on the hot pot, it is our standard order for Seven Star Pepper. But at Szechuan Chef, they cut the squid so perfectly that it curled around the chopstick and cooked almost immediately. The fish balls, which we often find near inedible were moist and soft, with just the right amount of fishy flavor. The whole spread was beautifully arranged and the staff was courteous and friendly.
“We have a problem” B said to me as we left Szechuan Chef. “Hm?” I asked. He looked at me gravely. “Now we’re going to have to go to Bellevue every time we want good hot pot instead of just down the street!”