New: Cha No Ma (vegan!) hot pot
Conventional wisdom would advise against opening a hot pot restaurant right before summer in Hawaii. But then, Hawaii never really follows convention, especially when it comes to seasons. And so there's a new crop of hot pot places: King's Shabu Shabu on McCully and Dipping Pot.com on Keeaumoku, which, ironically, doesn't have a website; manager Michael Park says in The Star Advertiser that the restaurant "is named with the international, modern trend in mind of adding '.com' to the end of company names, restaurants or condominiums" (apparently, having a website, though, is not international nor modern enough).
There's also Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, a Chinese chain, opening soon at Ward Centre.
The most unassuming of all of the new hot pot spots: Cha No Ma, combining Japanese nabe with Taiwanese tea in a peaceful little space on Kapahulu. There are only three nabe options (pork, seafood and vegan) and six broth varieties (original, miso, soy milk, spicy, curry and shoyu). To explore more vegan and gluten-free choices in Honolulu, we went vegan with a soy milk broth ($18.50), which proved comforting and restorative. The broth is infused with kombu, organic oolong tea from Shan Lin Xi in Taiwan, and Chinese "healthy" herbs such as red dates, ginseng and goji berries, which lend a warm sweetness, like cinnamon in pumpkin pie. A bowl of ultra creamy soy milk comes on the side, meant to be poured into the pot just before eating so it doesn't curdle. Altogether, it tastes similar to Sweet Home Cafe's healthy herb broth, but a little subtler and a little creamier.
The variety of mushrooms and veggies doesn't wow, but the idea of a vegan hotpot (and even gluten-free if you choose rice—minus the egg—at the end instead of udon noodles) is good news for the vegans and vegetarians wanting to get in on the hot pot action.
Cha No Ma, 829 Kapahulu Ave., 732-2099
(No one ever seems to pick up the phone, but reservations are not needed—the place is empty to mostly empty whenever I pass by.)