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Mala Tang (麻辣烫), Virginia Square - Offshoot of Uncle Liu's in the Former Mei's Asian Bistro Space

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Arlnow.com reports an off-shoot hot pot/shabu shabu in Virginia Square now, by the name of Mala Tang (as in ma2 la4=hot, spicy and tang4=to heat by water) to occupy the former Mei's Asian Bistro vacancy.

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Even better - looks like they are also going to serve some of Hong Kong Palace's best dishes.

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Even better - looks like they are also going to serve some of Hong Kong Palace's best dishes.

I know some Chinese students at GMU that are going to be very, very excited.

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Well my prayer has been answered (maybe). I had high hopes too when Mei's opened, but this sounds a lot more promising.

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(By the way, the place did not look ready to open yesterday. The "coming soon" sign was still in the window, while the tables were outside. Did someone stop by?)

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(By the way, the place did not look ready to open yesterday. The "coming soon" sign was still in the window, while the tables were outside. Did someone stop by?)

It's open. We got a menu the other day - the hours are WEIRD, closing at 7 PM. Will report when we actually try it out.

Huh. Checked out the website, which does not agree wtih the little take-out menu we got. The website says that they are open until 9 PM weekdays, 10 PM Fri and Sat. Makes much more sense. No alcohol yet!

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Finally went today with the wife and a friend, was very happy with the food and the space in general. Certainly, its a fancier space than either Hong Kong Palace or Uncle Liu's. I can't remember the prices at those places but it was comparable. It was not that busy when we got there. Since both our friend and my wife are pregnant they weren't up for eating much, and it was WAY too hot to eat hot pot so we stuck to the small plates.

The zhang dumplings, a pork based one in a spicy chili sauce were the same as what is at Hong Kong Palace and were very good. The Chendu dumplings, I don't think are available anyplace else. I liked them, but everybody else were underwhelmed. Both were steamed by the way.

We also got the green onion pancakes which I believe I have had at Hong Kong palace as well (and it was good). The one new thing I had was the mushroom salad which was made up of wood ear mushrooms. It's a cold salad, and it was quite good.

Looking forward to going again!

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Went with a giant group of friends last night and literally, ordered every non hot pot pot dish on the menu. Couple plates that stood out: the steamed pork dumplings with soup inside. These were, so so good. If they are still on the menu, order these. They were on special last night. Tofu fries, looked a lot like fries. Really good as well. I liked all the dumplings a lot, but the pork with soup is fabulous. Unfortunately I can't remember the noodle plates we got, since we ordered the entire menu, but both I tried were great.

Some of us still got hot pot, (though I really wasn't in the mood) the wine marinated beef and the milk marinated beef were both good, and diff from Uncle Liu's. I do wish they had the big bowls they have at Uncle Lui's as a choice though.

The two times I have gone, its been nearly empty (though it started filling up as we were leaving around 9:30). If you are in Arlington, you should def check it out.

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Went to Mala Tang last Saturday - loved the concept of the individual hot pot (so I can get vegetarian and not subject anyone else to a meatless dinner). My dining partner and I got one order of the American style vegetables, and one of the Chinese style. You can also create your own dipping sauce to dip the meat/vegetables in after cooking in the boiling broth, which was a nice touch.

I left full and happy after lots of broccoli, bean curd, cabbage, and very thin potato slices. Also tried the buns and dumplings -- dumplings were the better choice. I enjoyed the American style vegetables a little more - I'd go a la carte next time though.

Decor was nice also!

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I went once and overall enjoyed my experience here. Good front of house staff, fresh ingredients and good portions. But they had way too few dipping sauce options. Bob's Shabu Shabu had a big dipping sauce bar with tons of options. Mala Tang had very few sauces and they were brought to the table in small portions, so I ran out of sauce half way through and it took a while to flag our waitress down for more.

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... But they had way too few dipping sauce options. Bob's Shabu Shabu had a big dipping sauce bar with tons of options. Mala Tang had very few sauces and they were brought to the table in small portions, so I ran out of sauce half way through and it took a while to flag our waitress down for more.

I was there a few months ago and they had a table near the entrance with a wide variety of sauces to choose from.

I really enjoyed the whole hot pot concept - it was a fun meal, with the option to keep it relatively healthy. With the Mala broth as our base, we tried the wine marinated beef, flounder, broccoli, sprouts, enoki mushrooms, and a few other items I've forgotten. The zhong dumplings were very good. The space has nice feel to it, not too crowded or noisy. Come to think of it, it's about time for another visit.

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Met up with friends here last night. We got several appetizers -- zhong dumplings were my favorite, dan dan noodles were good as well -- and then shared a mala hot pot with shrimp, bok choy, dried mushrooms and egg noodles. I learned the one thing I need to remember in the future for my hot pot dining adventures, which is don't let the non-cooks in the group be in charge of the hot potting. I was cringing inside when I would glance up and see them dumping the shrimp in then stuffing the pot with bok choy and killing the temp and then ignoring for far too long. It was tasty -- no diss to the kitchen there -- but, oh, my friends destroyed the textures. <sigh> Little rubber shrimp. Next time, I think I want to get my own pot or else go to Uncle Liu;s and try to exert a little QC on the cooking process. The restaurant is lovely and plenty of space between tables. Very few customers last night, but it was a Monday and the day before Valentine's, so I imagine they'll be slammed tonight.

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I was there a few months ago and they had a table near the entrance with a wide variety of sauces to choose from.

I really enjoyed the whole hot pot concept - it was a fun meal, with the option to keep it relatively healthy. With the Mala broth as our base, we tried the wine marinated beef, flounder, broccoli, sprouts, enoki mushrooms, and a few other items I've forgotten. The zhong dumplings were very good. The space has nice feel to it, not too crowded or noisy. Come to think of it, it's about time for another visit.

Good to know, especially since I have a $25 Mala Tang voucher that I need to use up. Thanks!

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I've gotten take out here several times and they've done a good job - always ready in the quoted 15 minutes, even when they are slammed. They have had a wait a few times I've been (a Thursday and a Sunday) and been suprisingly busy but not full on random weeknights as well. A big change from the Mei's patronage and even the early days of Mala Tang. The Zhong dumplings, Dan Dan noodles and Mapo Tofu have all been good - with the Mapo tofu being less oily than HKP (this is a good thing).

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Good to know, especially since I have a $25 Mala Tang voucher that I need to use up. Thanks!

I just redeemed a voucher for 2 prix fixe meals on Sunday night. With an added order of Dan Dan noodles, it was A LOT of food. We left saying we'd love to go back and order exactly half of what we got.

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The room is very pretty! It's good but the cost really adds up once you have a nice mix of meat, veg, and starch. Hot pot is a lot of fun but I feel it is much more economical (and fairly easily made) at home if you have an electric wok or fondue pot. The beauty is in the individual hot pots, which is generally not possible at home. The a la carte version is more expensive but is much more diverse than the set menus - order a meat and get a Chinese (lotus root, napa, and wood ear mushrooms) or American (broccoli, potatoes, button mushrooms) set of veg. Note that the weekday lunch menu is not served on the weekends, so you can't get dishes like the cumin lamb or fish.

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We went last night. Having been to Bob's and Uncle Liu's, we have been jonsing for a closer in place to fill out hot pot needs...

Spectacular:

The sauce bar: amazingly good selection of the usual suspects {fermented tofu, green onion, cilantro, sha cha~ labeled BBQ sauce~ garlic, black vinegar} plus some very creative ones {green pepper, fresh chile sauce, mushroom sauce} Puts the sauce bar at Uncle Liu's to shame, also that of the late lamented Bob's Shabu Shabu.

Koshihikari Echigo Beer

The fish bails in the hot pot. They puffed up to an incredible size and were quite juicy. I love fish balls and all the other odd balls you get in Asian cooking and these were simply the best I have had. Don't know if they are made in house or what, but they were amazing.

Green Bean Leaves: not unlike snow pea leaves in appearance, with a sweet and distinctly green bean flavor. If only green beans tasted as much of green bean as these leaves!

Mushroom Salad: wood ear mushrooms glistening with a sauce, nice heat. Best version of the salad I have had and far far superior to the version at Hong Kong Palace. Better than Sichuan Pavillion's version at their start.

The misses:

The small size of the hot pots meant that when you added things, the pots went froma rapid boil to below a simmer. Not good. The whole point of hot pot cooking is to flash cook the items. Also, with the individual pots there is no chance to adjust the flame {or we saw none} so the heat choices were rapid boil or too cool. Major fail resulting in dried out meats.

The beef and lamb were not better in flavor than those at Unclu Liu's despite the menu saying that they used pastured * grain finished beef {please note that all beef is pastured before being sent for finishing {100% grass fed can be finished on a "feed lot" if the feed is grass derived, or it can be pastured till it date of entry into the restaurant industry}

The fail: The price. It was $104 before tip. Just can't see it as good value for my money.

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Stopped by Mala Tang on my way home from the office last night to pick up some "street food" take away and was pleasantly surprised to find they've expanded their menu beyond the hot-pots and little dishes. Based on my quick review it looks like the menu now includes some favorite main dishes that I've seen at Hong Kong Palace, including the Cumin Lamb, Chengdu Kung-Bao Chicken and a large variety of vegetable dishes. I subsequently ended up over-ordering and now have some fantastic lunches packed for the remainder of the week. The spice is appropriately subtle at the onset but ultimately pleasantly numbing and the flavors were spot on. I have heard absolutely no word-of-mouth on this change but encourage anyone for whom the trek to Seven Corners is out of the way to stop at Mala Tang and try out the expanded menu. Since I live in Virginia Square I'm putting this on my regular rotation...once I deal with my backlog of tasty leftovers!

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No posts on this place in a few years, but I want to say that it is as good as it was. The Hot Pot is great, quality remains high. This isn't a review of a meal, just the overall.

The street foods are cooked almost exactly the way as HKP (same chef or recipes? I know ownership is same), mapo tofu is the same, dan dan noodles are the same. To me, it's a wonder that this place isn't super busy. It's authentic Chinese food and you don't have to go to Rockville or Falls Church or Fairfax. I live in Del Ray so this is a really easy drive, and now I go to HKP less. Though I love HKP, and it's what inspired my interest and love of Sichuan food, it's a little far and service can be a little grumpy. Plus, better beer selection at Mala Tang. There is still not a full bar license, just beer/wine/sake. I love the sauce bar, but I don't always know how to make it, so I have to ask the server to do it for me unless I'm feeling adventurous. In comparison to Uncle Liu's Hot Pot in Merrifield (I think that is also the same owner, too), I think the food is just as good and it's more ambient.

I'd like to know how others compare it to HKP or Joe's. Has anyone had some inconsistency at Joe's? I've heard that recently. Haven't been in a while, but next time I hike at Sugarloaf, I think I'll stop by.

S

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Following goodeats' recommendation about Chinese dining on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I wanted to remind Christmas diners that Mala Tang is open until 10 PM tonight (I called and verified this, although don't be surprised if they close a bit early).

Last night, on Christmas Eve, I got delivery from GrubHub (an unappetizing name, but a service I really like), and it came right when they said it would - in less than one hour. I like GrubHub because you can order everything online, including putting the tip on the credit card, all without even speaking to a live person if you're inclined not to. For me, the ability to put a tip on the credit card is an asset because it minimizes "door time" when there's inclement weather.

Early on, Mala Tang got typecast in my mind as "Szechuan Hot Pot," but it really is so much more than that. Witness:

Salt And Pepper Jumbo Shrimp ($14.95) - Judiciously battered and wok-fried, this would, of course, work better as a dine-in order, but if you know in advance that the batter will lose a bit in the delivery process, you won't be disappointed at all. A wonderful dish, scattered here and there with bits of peppers, tiny diced bits of vegetables, and served on a small amount of finely stripped iceberg lettuce (which I actually enjoy when it has marinated and warmed). This comes with steamed rice, but that's best reserved for the next course (unless, of course, you want to mix everything together):

Chengdu Mouth-Watering Marinated Chicken ($7.95) - Oh my goodness, get this! I couldn't find it on Mala Tang's website, but it's on GrubHub's. In general, I don't love poultry dishes served at room temperature, but this was a huge exception. I suspect in the restaurant, this is served at room temperature, or perhaps a few degrees warmer, maybe at 80 degrees; after the delivery, it had chilled to perhaps 65, so I zapped it for 20 seconds in the microwave (lid on), and that was just enough to take the chill off. Now, as for the dish: I don't see how they can serve this for $7.95 - it's an appetizer, but it's got to be the equivalent of half a chicken, or close to it - and somehow, it seemed like it was all dark meat even though the large, thin slices would indicate breast meat. Whatever it was, this was a *great* dish - a large portion of uniformly sliced chicken, seemingly an impossible task - positively bathing in a thin, Chengdu red chili sauce with a few scallions, some celery-like root (after the marination, sometimes it's difficult to tell exactly what the vegetables are). For me, I got the perfect amount of sauce when I dumped my white rice into a bowl, and used a fork to flip the chicken (and vegetables) over the side of the tray - you'll get probably 25% of the sauce if you use this method; any more than that, and it's dine at your own risk. But regardless of whether or not you're a chili-head, you'll be delighted at this wonderful dish, doubly so when you blink and realize that it only set you back $7.95.

I was so happy with both of these dishes that I'm going to explore the Chengdu and Szechuan items on Mala Tang's menu in more depth. Their hot pot is fine, it's fun, it's a wonderful date dish for two, but this is where the heart of the restaurant lies. If you have an inkling for Chinese tonight in Northern Virginia, consider going through GrubHub and getting both of these items from Mala Tang - no matter whatever else you order, get both of these.

---

I was so happy with both of these dishes that I just ordered them again, along with some further Chengdu and Szechuan explorations. All in the name of strict journalistic professionalism, of course. You know, just to make sure things are consistent.

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I really enjoyed the Ma Po, the seafood curry hot pot came out bubbling, and my wife was suspicious that it had chicken broth in it (it did), so she ordered the crispy flounder rolls which she loved (I did too). 

It's interesting that you say this - I swore on Sunday night that I could taste chicken broth in my Hot and Numbing Pork - it was just a faint undertone, but I thought it was there. Neither good, nor bad, just something I noticed which may not even be correct.

Chinese cooking finds ways to hide chicken stock in lots of stuff.  This was more obvious because it was almost a soup.  Very few places even have a vegetable broth option (Joe's being the only one I know of). 

How often do Chinese restaurants use horseradish? I'm having Salt and Pepper Shrimp from Mala Tang, and it seems almost a given that the batter contains horseradish, mustard, wasabi, or some combination of the three.

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