Sunday evening we were supposed to meet some friends in Arlington for dinner, but a family emergency precluded their meeting us. We had just returned from Baltimore and had nothing in the house, so we decided to keep our plans and went with Samuel to MALA TANG (www.mala-tang.com) in Arlington at 3434 Washington Blvd near Clarendon. The place offer complimentary (up to 2 hrs) underground parking and it is quite central and a beautiful setting as well with lacquer tables, great service and a super friendly staff that will be happy to explain the individual hot pot concept.
We started with a plate of tasty complimentary pickled veggies (carrots, cabbage and more) that Will & I gobbled up with our SPICY CUCUMBER SAKE MARTINIs, a super drink to start with a spicy crystalized pepper rim on the glass. Sam loved his Shirley Temple.
We started with an order of SPICY COLD NOODLES which even Samuel liked and were some of the best around.
The ZHONG DUMPLINGS (soft, but I think they are steamed and then finished somehow else come 8 to an order which is HUGE with pork, chili oil, green onion & garlic. They need no dipping sauce as they are divine alone. Samuel devoured most of these and insisted on another order as his main course. We also tried the tasty STEAMED PORK BUNS which are really just steamed dumplings.
We thought Sam might enjoy the lightly chili dusted Deep FRIED TOFU and while he did not, we loved them.
We were getting full but decided to order TWO hot pots to share as they can come with either mild or spicy (Mala)broths (the broth can be chicken or vegetarian as well). The hot pots can be ordered a la carte or better yet with a veggie combo and that's a real deal. Our Veggie Combo #1 included the ZHONG GUO or Chinese veggies and these were Lotus Root, Wooden Ear Mushrooms and Napa Cabbage, but I guess they ran out of Lotus and substituted Enoki Mushrooms. We chose the WINE MARINATED BEEF as the protein (you can have a choice of dozens of proteins including many fish items as well as vegetables). The raw beef is marinated in wine tableside and has a bit more taste this way as well. Don't cook the protein more than 30 seconds in the boiling pot as it cooks real fast (the veggies need 2-3 minutes). After cooking you can dip and this is one of the most fun things about Mala Tang, the "dip sauce bar." There are various ingredients on the bar from the expected soy sauce and vinegar to thick beefs sauces, oyster sauces and plum sauces as well as chilis, cilantro, scallions, garlic and more. It is a ton of fun. Samuel realized he could play and created a superb Garlic/soy/scallion mix!
We also ordered an ala carte hot pot of SQUID alone and this was a wonderful treat.
We chose to have one of each of the hot pot broths--Mala and Mild and I would suggest you stick with Mala as it's not too spicy and gives the food more flavor.
A wonderful bottle of MASSIMA MALBEC 2009 works well with the spicy food.
At one point we could not find our server and discovered she had gone to make some amazing complimentary smoothies made of CUCUMBER that was the perfect refreshing foil when the spice get real hot from some of my dipping sauces!
We chose not to order dessert and enjoyed some orange slices and fortune cookies in the true Chinese tradition, but Mala Tang is not your everyday Chinese take-out joint for sure! It's a fun and novel experience that many kids will enjoy as well.