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Worcester's hot spot for hot pot dining.

Byline: Laura Porter

Chuan Shabu


301 Park Ave., Worcester

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Fridays; noon to 12:30 a.m. Saturdays; noon to 10:30 p.m. Sundays.

Phone: (508) 762-9213


Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Prices: Moderate

Parking: A few spaces by the entrance; shared parking lot behind restaurant.

Pluses: Very fresh ingredients, beautifully presented; many options for a range of appetites, tastes and dietary needs; full Szechuan menu in addition to hot pot, both for dining in and takeout.

Minuses: None, as long as everyone in your party is up for the hot pot concept and communal dining style. Adding ingredients individually does make it easy to spend more than you might be expecting.

There are many choices to make at Chuan Shabu, Worcester's new and only hot pot restaurant, but the message boils down to the simplest of principles: the freshest of ingredients burbling away in a delicious pot of broth right in front of you.

Chuan Shabu is the second restaurant that Chef Wilson Wang has opened next door to his signature Park Avenue restaurant, Baba Sushi. Kozara, an Asian tapas place, was open for a brief period before Wang decided to close it in favor of bringing hot pot to Worcester.

Chuan Shabu is an open space with sophisticated modern decor sectioned into dining areas by black dividers; a full-service bar runs almost the length of the restaurant at the back, and the brightly lit kitchen is open to the dining room.

There were a few occupied tables on an early Monday evening when my daughter and I arrived for dinner. We were greeted immediately, two waiters heading toward us at the same time, and given our choice of seating options. We picked a table near the bar with a cushioned bench on one side.

Our waiter, Matt, was quick to ask if we needed him to explain the hot pot process. I had been to the restaurant several times before, but my daughter was new to the concept.

It's cook-your-own: you add fresh, raw ingredients to boiling broth in a large common bowl, then ladle the soup into your own individual bowl, adding further spices as desired.

(I should note here that Chuan Shabu has, in addition to its hot pot menu, a full Szechuan menu with traditional Chinese appetizers, main dishes and noodle and rice dishes.)

For hot pot, you mark your selections on a laminated menu, beginning with your choice of 11 broths that range in flavor and price from the basic chicken broth (free) to the spicy satay at $7. Matt took us through the offerings, explaining the different tastes.

We both like spicy food but weren't quite willing to commit to the spiciest broth, the mala. My daughter's a fish-eating vegetarian, and so we opted for Tom Yum, which can be made with a vegetarian broth. (The serving bowl can also be divided, allowing for two choices.)

Once you've picked the broth, the fun starts. There is a broad array of vegetables, meats, seafood and rice and noodles to choose from.

Twenty-seven items make up the vegetable menu, including an assorted veggie platter. The specific vegetable choices range from garden variety (broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus and carrots) to Asian standards like lotus root, taro, seaweed knot and four kinds of mushrooms.

Of the 14 meat options, chicken, beef, pork and lamb are represented, but so are quail eggs and more interesting cuts of meat like tripe and tongue. The seafood list of 18 includes both fish and shellfish, along with dumplings. And there are five types of noodles (udon, fish, vermicelli, oriental and Shandong) and two rices, brown and white.

A separate section suggests combination plates, which include a noodle, a veggie platter and a choice of meat or fish along with the basic broth. The prices here range from $11 for vegetarian to $24 for prime rib.

Overwhelmed yet?

We simplified and let a combination plate do some of the work for us.

With the Supreme Seafood combination for $16, we chose asparagus, carrots and white radishes, all $3 each, with udon noodles for me ($1.50) and gluten-free vermicelli, or rice noodles, for her ($1). (Our Tom Yum broth was an extra $3.)

All of this deciding was made much smoother by a delicious glass of Ruffino Lumino Pinot Grigio for me, which I shared (she's of age).

Our enormous bowl of broth arrived quickly, and our waiter adjusted the controls of the heated burner in the middle of the table between us. He also brought us each a tiny divided bowl of minced garlic, scallions, jalapenos and satay sauce along with a small bowl of soy sauce and an empty bowl to create our own mixtures for dipping ingredients.

Our plates of vegetables and fish were so beautifully cut and displayed that it was a shame to upend them all into the bowl -- but we were hungry and did it anyway.

The white radish slices were huge, as were the carrot slices. The Supreme Seafood plate included a couple of shrimp, some scallops, three mussels, two clams and thinly sliced white fish and salmon. Our veggie plate featured spinach, tomatoes, chunks of corn on the cob and Chinese cabbage.

Our waiter recommended adding the shellfish, radishes and carrots first, because they required the longest cooking time. We also followed his suggestion to add our noodles only to our small individual bowls so that they didn't disappear in the large bowl.

It's hard to imagine that any combination you choose here would be bad -- the broths are flavorful, the separate ingredients fresh and high quality. We found ours really good -- the tom yum was just the right level of zip for us, a spicy blend of sweet and sour, and we loved everything we put into it.

It's healthy food as well, and so it was pretty easy to agree that we had earned dessert. After all, we cooked, right?

There were five choices: passion fruit cheesecake with a coconut crust, and chocolate tort, each $7.95, gluten-free and made for Chuan Shabu by On the Rise Bakery; two kinds of ice cream (vanilla and green tea), $5.95; and dark chocolate creme brulee and lemon ginger creme brulee, $5.95.

I pushed for the cheesecake and won -- it was fabulous, a lovely lemony pink color with a passion fruit drizzle and a dollop of whipped cream. We saved a quarter of it to bring home, along with a plastic container with what was left from our enormous bowl of soup.

But we'll be back. Given the endless possibilities, it's never the same meal twice. You could eat here every night and never be bored.

Our final bill, including tax and a 20 percent tip, was $60.24, including one glass of wine and one dessert.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Porter, Laura
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Restaurant review
Date:Jul 31, 2014
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