NISKAYUNA — Dinner at the new Volcano Asian BBQ and Hot Pot in ShopRite Square was different, delicious and lots of fun. Let me tell you about it.
First I’m going to tell you about Briana Lin, entrepreneur extraordinaire and now owner of six restaurants in the Capital Region.
These are not universal solutions nor the same concept. In Latham, there’s Yang’s Asian Bistro, an upscale pan-Asian restaurant; Japanese cuisine by Kobe Hibachi; and T-Swirl Japanese Crepe, for portable sweet and savory gluten-free crepes. And there’s Azuma Sushi Bistro in Malta, as well as Sawa Sushi Bistro in Glenmont.
Each is attractively decorated, colorful and tasteful, and distinct.
Volcano combines the spaces that housed Smashburger and Thai Thai Bistro on ShopRite Square into one large space that can accommodate 153 people.
The setting is dramatic and breathtaking. Large LED screens on two walls project majestic landscapes, slowly panning over magnificent mountain ranges during our stay. There is a galaxy of lights on the ceiling, with shooting stars. The lit smoke rising from the rails between the rows of stands looks like flames for all the world to see.
There are stands and tables of different sizes. Each table is equipped with a grill and each seat is equipped with a fondue stove.
You can enjoy both the barbecue and the fondue. Amy and I tried both and really liked them.
But let’s get this out of the way: you do the cooking.
“If you leave knowing you’re cooking your own food, it’s fun,” Amy commented. “And you have to do it once before you know how to order,” she added.
We expected a learning curve and were a little slow, but we figured it out.
You order either hot fondue or barbecue ($37.99 per adult, smaller child size), and it’s all-inclusive meals, from starters and soft drinks to dessert. For $5 more you can get both the fondue and the barbecue.
Alcohol is not included but there is a full bar. Popular wines, such as Josh Cabernet Sauvignon, are available by the glass or bottle.
Luckily we had our server Cynthia to explain things to us. At first, she dropped an iPad on our table and looked through the ordering instructions, then looked at our blank faces. “Can we have paper menus, please?” Amy asked.
Of course. She returned with laminated menus the size of placemats with instructions for ordering fondue on one side and barbecue on the other. She started again, explaining slowly, and we understood.
For fondue, you choose a flavored broth and proteins, starches and vegetables to cook in it. For the BBQ, you choose what you want to cook on the grill.
Cynthia recommended we choose five items to cook for each to start, and the plastic menu with its illustrations and organized categories came in handy here.
We also wanted to try some starters and chose a few: chicken wings, edamame and spring rolls.
While we chose our ingredients, Cynthia brought me pots of broth: chicken and pork bone broth with dates and pumpkin for me; and Tom Yum Thai hot and sour soup for Amy. Cynthia steered Amy away from the Sichuan Spicy, saying it was probably hotter than she would like.
She showed us how to light and adjust the burners, then we went to get drinks from a cooler and sauces and salads from a counter along the back wall of the dining room. There, small dishes and cups are stacked and the sauces are clearly labeled. We picked up sesame and homemade barbecue sauce, and Amy got kimchi, pickled vegetables, and seaweed salad.
When we returned, food was piling up at the table. Everything seemed to happen at once and we were a little overwhelmed.
There was the starter plate – crispy spring rolls with chili sauce, fried breaded chicken wings and edamame.
“The kimchi is tasty,” Amy said, but what really stood out was the seaweed salad, bright green with specks of sesame seeds. “It’s delicious,” she said, adding, “It’s a beautiful color,” and she even went back for some more.
The ingredients we chose were beautifully arranged on long plates, ready to be scooped up and cooked with the tongs provided. And there were so many plates of ingredients that a server had to wheel a cart next to the table to make more room.
Then we learned how to cook our food. Part of it was for boiling pots (dumplings, soft tofu, broccoli, ramen noodles, shrimp) and another part was for the grill. For this, we mainly chose meat.
We sprayed the hot grill with oil and pre-sliced cooked pieces of meat. Thin slices cook quickly, thick ones take longer. Once the server knew we were ready, she left us alone and checked in periodically.
I spoke with Lin, who told me there will soon be an iPad video showing you exactly how to cook your food. It’s useful.
And boy, did we have a great time. It quickly became apparent that Amy had healthier eating habits than me. While I cooked one piece of meat after another, she dipped healthy ingredients into her pot. It worked well: between us we tried a lot of different things.
“There’s so much going on that I haven’t started grilling yet,” said Amy, who was eating edamame and dipping soft tofu in hot broth. It’s overwhelming, and we agreed that we would prefer things to happen in stages.
Meanwhile, I was grilling. I recommend the delicious marinated meats: pork belly, beef and chicken, although the plain steak was sufficiently robust. Pork belly is like bacon, but not smokey, and it’s crispy in the same way.
We should have used our chosen sauces and lettuce leaves to wrap our cooked meat, but we were enjoying it straight off the grill.
Pleasant flavors are expected. Coriander in Amy’s Tom Yum broth; pork and ginger in dumplings; sweet and complex marinades on meat.
The meats are rolled up and it takes a bit of skill to unroll them. The thin slices of ribeye were fatty around the edges but chewy in places, although delicious. The tender hanger steak and beef bulgogi were a tie – they both came with sweet and spicy sauces charred on the hot grill.
I was careful to put the marinated raw chicken on the grill with one utensil and remove it cooked with another. You can’t trust the chicken. Next time I might even avoid it.
Amy worked her way through the asparagus and broccoli, soy buns and shrimp. She preferred fondue. I mostly stuck to the grill. We couldn’t finish everything.
We helped ourselves to tiny squares of coconut cake for dessert and passed around cups of ice cream. Additionally, there was some fresh cut fruit which looked appealing.
Lin said the kitchen would like to add more desserts and customers would like one that flames at the table. The menu is still being developed. When it is done, the website will be displayed. Until then, visit their Facebook page.
You really can’t take raw meat home and it’s a shame to waste your ingredients. Trust your server to help you order if you’re unsure. You can always order more if you wish. It’s still the same price.
So it’s sort of at will. Complete a round and they will reward you with more. But one ride was enough for us.
The dining room was mostly full, and when we weren’t looking at the mountain vistas and galaxy of stars, we were people watching.
There were mostly family groups there – and you could tell who knew what they were doing and who was new to the kitchen tables.
We decided it would be fun to go to the Volcano with a group. We saw many, including multi-generational families around us that evening.
The total comes to $92.86 with taxes for two hot pots with BBQ (adult). With a well-deserved tip, the amount came to $110.06.
Lin is pleased with the response the Volcano Hot Pot and BBQ restaurant has gotten. It has been very busy, even from the beginning with the soft opening in August.
I can consider Volcano as a great destination to celebrate a birthday. The surroundings are exciting and you stay busy while you socialize and party. Or leave for no reason. You will still have a good time.
Categories: Food, Life and Arts, Reviews