Cooking your own restaurant meal is nothing new to Central Florida.
You can flip your own flapjacks at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle in DeLeon Springs, take part in grilling Korean food at Bee Won in Orlando and Korea House in Longwood and make your own fondue at The Melting Pot in Longwood and Orlando. Along the International Drive tourist corridor in Orlando, cook-at-your-table options can be found at places such as Hanamizuki Japanese Restaurant.
And now we have Winter Park's Hotto Potto, where its cooking style can be traced back more than 1,000 years to China.
All the cool kids are trying this cookery — even a man who transcends cool: Anthony Bourdain, the intrepid author, chef and TV host.
At Hotto Potto, guests sit at tables with induction cooking burners. A divided pot is brought to the table and filled with your choice of broths. We selected tom yum (fish-based) and meat broth. Both were mild in spiciness (our choice), but we were intrigued by the option of "numb spicy."
My guest ordered lunch special "B" ($9.99) and I went rogue with veggies (Chinese broccoli, watercress, green onions, napa cabbage and spinach, at $2 per order) and a trio of dumpling servings (wonton, pork and chive at $2.50 per order). We ended up with enough food for a very hungry army.
With the fragrant broths bubbling, I poured chopped green onions into one for seasoning. We used chopsticks to drop chicken, pork, tofu and beef slices into the hot pots. (Asking for a fork is perfectly acceptable if the sticks are awkward for you.) Each of us had a long-handled, slotted spoon to stir our broths as the foods cooked. .
Cooking times for meats, noodles and other menu items are taped to the edge of each table. It's easy to get distracted, so at least one person should mark the time the food takes a dunk. Timers would be a good addition to the tables. The subtle "dings" throughout the restaurant would add to the anticipation of food being ready. Even timers with sand cascading for three minutes would be useful.
A small stand of shelves next to each table holds at least 20 condiments — from searing sriracha to sweet and smoky hoison sauces — as well as oils and vinegars. Lower shelves can be used to stash plates and baskets that carried the raw foods to the table.
The concept of cooking your own food always adds a fun, experimental element to meals. We mixed and matched sauces as the dumplings and meats bobbed in the liquid. It's an interesting concept for mealtime and is perfect for gourmet clubs, late-night diners and adventurous foodies.
Hotto Potto's dining room is quite large with a few areas suitable for private dining. The room has some worn elements but the owners have spiffed up the place with elegant chair covers.
Our servers were good at explaining the culinary ritual, but we wished they had been better at navigating us through the amounts of food. But you can take it with you. Our server let us cook all the food and pack it up for later.
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Where: 3090 Aloma Ave., Winter Park (at State Road 436 behind Habaneros Mexican Restaurant)
When: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday;.; 11 a.m.-5 a.m. Friday and Saturday .
How much: $8-$13