I receive an email invite from the new Mala Tang in Arlington. They have come across my blog, like it, and invite me to come for dinner. Mala Tang features Sichuan hot pots. It is already on my radar and I am anxious to try it. So I delicately dip into the murky waters of blogging and free dining. I say yes, and make a vow that it is critical to write an honest review. I bring my husband and sister-in-law along with me. I have no expectations of free dining for all and am not even sure what I am going to receive, but at this point it’s inconsequential. I have succumbed to temptation.
We arrive at Mala Tang and I want to make sure they know about my invite at the start. There is some confusion from the hostess and then Tomer, the manager, arrives. I show him the invite on my phone, and begin to fish in my wallet for my card. He spots another card from someone I met who works at the Israeli embassy and asks (in Hebrew) if I speak Hebrew I don’t understand at first. I am in a Sichuan restaurant, so I am not expecting a Hebrew-speaking manager. Tomer, who turns out to be the managing partner, has someone lead us to a table outside (per our request), and I don’t see him again. At least not on this night.
Mala Tang’s hot pot concept isn’t entirely foreign to us but we request an explanation. We each select a broth (there is a vegetarian option) spicy or mild, a protein, and vegetables. There is a prix fixe meal for $25 or a la carte options. We opt for a la carte because there are small plates we want to order which aren’t available with the prix fixe dinner.
My husband likes the menu format, which is filled with color photos and arrives in a binder, which we learn later is authentically Chinese. The protein page describes farm-to-table beef. As I noted in a previous post recently, I am more surprised these days when food is not farm to table, although I certainly don’t expect it here. It’s nice to see.
We begin with spicy cold noodles and cucumber salad. The cold noodles are sprinkled with Sichuan peppercorns, sprouts, red chili oil, and soy sauce. There is a complexity to the flavor and just the right amount of “tang.”
My sister-in-law finds the cucumbers a tad too salty, but my husband and I like them just fine.
For our hot pots, I order shrimp, my sister-in-law wine marinated beef, and my husband tofu. We order lotus root, bok choy, and green bean leaves to share as our vegetables. To accompany the hot pot dishes there is bean paste, barbeque sauce, hot chilies, and homemade soy sauce which you mix together according to your own taste. We all like it hot.
A server comes with the food but it isn’t ours. Oops wrong table. Our order is served just a bit later but my husband notices that his tofu is soft and not the firm tofu that he ordered. Another oops. Neither mistake is a big deal, but clearly I am not getting the royal treatment as a known blogger. This is actually a good thing because I can’t be accused of having an inauthentic experience.
The vegetables are fresh and beautiful. I’m glad we’ve gone with more eclectic choices.
|green bean leaves|
The farm-to-table beef really is special. It’s tender and has a nice flavor, even without the sauce.
|red wine marinated beef – before it hits the hot pot|
I enjoy the fresh ingredients and the experience of preparing my food to suit my own taste. My only negative and it’s not a big one, is that the service is a bit scattered. We have a few different servers and some mixed messages. I am a little surprised that Tomer doesn’t make his way back to us to check in. We do receive a discount which covers my meal and a bit more.
We think this concept would do quite well in the Rockville area, and while it isn’t a restaurant that is necessarily destination-worthy, it is a great option for Northern Virginians or anyone who finds themselves in the area. (However, there is an Open Table discount offer available now for Mala Tang, and that changes everything!)
Flash forward to the next night. It’s the RAMMY Awards. The RAMMY awards are presented by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. I have won free tickets to the event from Washington City Paper as a result of a contest I entered with a blog post about Volt. We are happy to have friends who are going as well.
It is a lovely event, which includes a reception, the awards ceremony, and then the gala itself with plentiful stations of food and alcohol. We consume a respectable amount of food and a small amount of alcohol and decide it’s time to leave because in truth we only know a handful of people in a room with close to 1,500 attendees. And although I would probably recognize the names of many in the room, there’s really no way to know who is who. So while I enjoy the evening and know that I would have been sorry had I missed it, after a few hours it’s time to go.
We’re making our way out the door when we run smack into Tomer from Mala Tang. We get to talking about Israel as I relay to my friend how he spoke to us in Hebrew the previous night. Tomer happens to mention that when he was in high school and living in this area (he is now in his thirties), he went to Israel on a special study program. My friend now works for that very program. What are the chances! It truly is a small world.
Am I tempted to up my score for Mala Tang as a result of the RAMMY run-in? Maybe just a little bit. But rest assured my review is authentic, as is the Sichuan hot pot experience at Mala Tang. Try it. And if you do, tell Tomer I said “Shalom.”