January 9, 2013

iCook Hot Pot

For Christmas, we're not much for turkey or anything in my family, instead, we like to go out to eat. This year we took my parents to iCook buffet, where you guess it - you cook your own food! It's quite the fun experience for anyone up for a foodie adventure! 

During the day iCook serves up dim sum but at night they turn into an ayce hot pot restaurant. At iCook, everyone gets to pick their own broth and the hot pot items are served up buffet style. My dad ordered the lobster broth (additionall $9.99) which came with one whole lobster, my sis and my mom ordered the tom yum broth and I ordered the pork bone broth. The lobster and tom yum were excellent choices. Very rich in flavour. Mine on the other hand was a little bland. I was picturing the korean style pork bone broth but ended up with something a little more flat. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the meal. For dinner each person is $21.00 but they're open pretty late and offer the buffet at a reduced price after 9pm. 
The buffet isn't very large if you compare it to other ayce joints, but considering this is a raw buffet for hot pot, there are plenty of items! You get an array of veggies, seafood, sliced meats, meatballs and some mystery items here and there. 

There really aren't any labels on the buffet so you just gotta take a leap and go for it! For example that thing in the piping bag below? I had no idea what it was but thought "why not?" and ended up really liking what came out! 
Some of my favourite things on the buffet had to be the sliced tripe, shrimp, muscles, squid balls, watercrest, sliced bacon and lamb!

The tricky part about iCook I find, is that you have to make your own sauce. When I make hot pot at home I use a very spicy tofu based sauce that we buy at the asian store. Having to make my own sauce is a bit of a downer so we usually sneak in a jar of our sauce from home. Of course I am not condoning this or even asking you guys to do this. But to be honest, if you can't seem to get the right sauce - hot pot can be a not so fun dinner.

To me, the broth and the sauce are the two main flavour components of hot pot. If those flavours aren't sitting right on your pallet - you might not be so into the meal!

On this occasion, we were in such a hurry to get out the door, my sister and I forgot the sauce! I happened to enjoy my sauce but my dad wasn't really diggin' anything he whipped up! I like to mix green onions, cilantro, peanut sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil,  and hot chilli paste together. I also like  raw egg handy to dip the hot sliced meat in. 

The pastry tube ended up being filled with a fish paste that I ended up squeezing into my broth and creating sort of a fish "noodle".  I really enjoyed it but the rest of my family couldn't quite get on the same boat!
At the end of the night we were all pretty stuffed! We haven't been back to iCook buffet for a few years now but its pretty much stayed the same. 

The dynamics of the buffet could be organized a little bit better. If you're pretty new to the restaurant it can be a little overwhelming. For example, there were no new plates to pick up from so you have to reuse your plate over an over anytime you wanted to get things off the buffet again - this I did not like! Also, each item didn't have their own tongs, instead you picked up tongs at the beginning of the line and then returned it when you were done walking through the buffet. For anyone who has food allergies, this could be a huge nightmare considered the huge chance of cross contamination between the food. 

The service was also.. for lack of a better word - pretty crappy! More like there was no service. You get your own water, your own food, and occasionally someone comes by to take a few plates off your table or top you up on stock - other than that, there really isn't much of a staff presence.

7030 Warden Ave
Markham, On
iCook Buffet on Urbanspoon

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