It’s not every day I walk into a Chinese restaurant and immediately remember the opening of Act IV of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” That’s when the three witches begin their famous incantation: “Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn, and caldron bubble.” They then go on to itemize the bizarre ingredients they throw into the boiling pot.
I’m talking about Hot Melody (5283 Buford Highway). It’s the new Chinese restaurant that’s replaced the iconic Chef Liu, whose soup dumplings were a foodie fetish for five years. Hot Melody has a different classic gimmick: individual-sized “hot pots” of boiling broth into which you throw ingredients for a few minutes. Then you fish the meat and veggies out and anoint them in a sauce you have concocted at the impressively florid sauce bar. On a Friday night, the place was frantically packed. The countless bubbling hotpots turned the restaurant into a mild steam room with a very strong odor. Toil and trouble, indeed.
I’m not a witch, really, but I had mixed feelings about the place, which has been open a little more than a month. Part of this is my western laziness. I’ve done it a zillion times, but I don’t really enjoy cooking my own meal in a restaurant (and each table also has a grill to barbecue ingredients, if you prefer). Four of us found the yellow laminated menu absolutely overwhelming and our overworked server was mildly impatient while we reviewed dozens and dozens of meats and veggies after we chose three of the four broths. Two of us ordered the Sichuan-style “spicy numbing butter” broth. Be warned: Even at medium intensity, it was hot enough to completely drain the sinuses. It also tends to overwhelm the taste of all additions to the pot. Two friends ordered the pork bone and surprisingly flavorful mushroom broths. They were not spicy.
We ordered three meats to share — ribeye, lamb, and pork. A plate of each meat looks like a huge serving, but it’s not. The meat is virtually shaved and curled; it shrinks in the bubbling broth. We ended up ordering another plate. Other ingredients, from wontons to egg noodles to leafy greens to organ meats, are rolled out on a cart. One serving of each is more than enough for two, but not really enough for four. After we ordered, we headed to the sauce bar. This was vast enough to add another level of studied confusion. Eventually, our server streaked over and created a delicious sauce for us.
We plodded back to our table. Once everything arrived, the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld” interrupted my Shakespearean reverie. I have no idea who he was. Loud, abrupt, and not-so-intentionally funny, he went about the business of directing us how to eat. A couple at a nearby table began laughing hysterically while he cut off every question we tried to ask. I don’t know if he felt he needed to do this because we were virtually the only non-Asians in the restaurant or because we looked as stupid as we are. I love him.
All of the ingredients for the pot, whose temperature is regulated with a switch in front of every seat, are a la carte. This is unusual and has provoked many complaints on Yelp. At most hot pot restaurants, you pay for the meat but all ingredients are included in the typically lower price. The point is that you can spend a comparatively large amount of money at Melody, but, honestly, its menu is far more diverse than the usual. When I return, it will be on a weeknight when I can hopefully study the menu peacefully without witches providing a cackling soundtrack.