Once we reached Fugu, the restaurant, we were disappointed to discover that our favorite dish, the mushroom hot pot, was unavailable. But, thanks to some expert ordering by our favorite union organizer, KG, we ended up with way more than we [collectively] bargained for.
Within a short time, the waiters had brought over big beautiful steaming pots, two for our table, that they set on burners. Both pots were divided in two, with a deep red chili-infused broth, and a lighter broth with tomatoes and scallions and some sort of red fruits floating in it.
Soon, the central pots were also joined by a variety of delicious additions: fried tofu, long skinny white mushrooms, fresh spinach (all seen below), plus fresh tofu blocks, daikon radishes, bean leaves, and more.
All of this is part of a dish common to Chinese cuisine, known generically as hot pot. When we heard that they didn't have our mushroom hot pot available tonight, KG convinced the chefs to bring a version of the dish with whatever ingredients were on hand. Judging from the presence of other hot pots on the tables of other restaurant patrons who were speaking Chinese (visible in the top right corner of the photo below), we figured we'd gotten the inside scoop on one of the hits that this restaurant has to offer, but doesn't feature prominently on its regular menu.
The hot pots, birthday cheer, and good company made for an exciting dining experience that reminded me what restaurants can be good for: creating a cuisine and ambiance that can't be had at home. Whenever I'm served something at a restaurant that I know I could've made myself (usually for less money and with better ingredients!) it always feels like such a waste. But this time, Fugu served up the real restaurant experience--exposing us to flavors and ways of eating that were so gratifying in their unfamiliarity.
And they even brought the birthday girl a deep fried ball of green tea ice cream with a candle!
Happy Birthday, my friend!
*When all the puzzle pieces came together, they added up to this collage of some events and sightings of the past year: