Hawaii residents are known to share aloha spirit, positive energy and to have an extreme enthusiasm for sharing food. Lately, noddle shops have been popping up in every corner as residents appear to have a thirst for hot soup, tasty broth and comfort food from Asia. The latest installment to pop into the Hawaii food scene will open its doors officially to the public tomorrow at Ward Center. Little Sheep, which notably has 300-plus locations around the world started in China and is now in Honolulu.
The hot pot restaurant is known for its bold and fresh flavors utilizing a shabu shabu technique of cooking with an array of different sauces and side dishes. The theme of the restaurant is to inspire people to eat as if you were a Mongol, from a communal table with your soup boiling and ingredients cooking. This is the case here at the old E&O location atop Genki Sushi in Ward. The pots are placed in the middle of the table and the sides include lamb, beef, seafood, vegetables, noodles, tofu and whatever else you fancy.
Sauces are key and there is a sauce bar where you can pick and choose what kind of sauce to add and mix. Various flavors like garlic, soy, sesame, chili, cilantro, onion and other items are readily available at the sauce bar which offers a nice view of the kitchen which is enclosed in glass.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot offers an original flavored broth which is a nice creamy color. It’s a subtle flavor of chicken with a nutty blend of salt and spices. Servers brought out the traditional broth in a yin-yang pot which also showcased the spicy flavor which was riddled with chilies and had a pronounced red color. The spicy broth was full of flavor and not too spicy. At first it didn’t seem spicy at all but then after the warm broth settled into your stomach the kick hits you in the back of your throat, made me sweat a little, but that’s mostly due to the fact that I am not a spicy food kind of person.
We tried the lamb which was a beautiful pink color and wasn’t gamey at all. If you’ve never had hot pot before there are directions on how to cook your food and for how long on the table. It’s pretty easy since you pretty much throw everything into the pot, cook it until it looks brown and/or cooked and eat it with the broth or your dipping sauce or both.
Other treats to include are pickled garlic, seafood balls stuffed with fish egg, scallops, tofu and an array of veggies. There’s lots of other side dishes to try but at this point I was getting full. One thing you have to get is the bread – covered in sesame seeds and nice and crisp on the outside the bread is white and warm and soft, perfect for dipping into the broth and the side sauces for more flavor. I love the crunch of the bread crust paired with the chewy center.
The flavors are delicious and not overbearing. I enjoyed the garden-fresh vegetables and sides that came with the soup. On the table they also offer edamame and a type of kim-chee that was sweet and sour with a kick of chili.
If you are seeking something refreshing and sweet to drink try the passion fruit tea, it’s a bubble tea with various flavors of bubbles in a golden colored tea which is refreshing and offers some relief from the hot broth and the spicy flavors, if you get the spicy broth.
The restaurant is large and offers up a bar as well, the hot pot tables are scattered about the dining room and they also offer a huge private dining room with a very large long table. Grab a couple of friends and get together to enjoy some hot pot sharing – it’ll be an adventure in itself.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot opens Friday, May 16, 2014 at Ward Center 11:30am.