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Poorly organized service leads to a disappointing meal at One Pot Simmer

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Don’t be mislead about the kind of food you’ll get at One Pot Simmer, a Chinese simmering pot restaurant across from MacEwan University on the western fringe of the new Plaza of the Oligarchs. I sure was. Expecting a place where I’d be seated in front of my own roiling pot of soup stock with which to cook chunks of meats/seafoods/veggies at a pace of my deciding, I got something other than that.

One Pot Simmer’s tiny receiving area with a couple of tables is a trick. Beyond it is a big open dining room with tables in multiples of four, each inlaid with an immaculate glass-topped heating element. Carts stand tableside ready to receive pot lids and utensils, pails and plates of cookables and some seasoning agents (vinegar, soy). It seemed conceivable that soup was about to be made.

But One Pot Simmer’s main product is not soup, at least not the version I ate. It’s a big zesty pan filled with your choice of protein and plant blandishments that pretty much cries out for starch, so you might as well go ahead and get rice with whatever you order.

Having arrived late after scrambling through a downtown construction hellscape, I missed the briefing on how things would proceed, but it seemed like the co-diners and I would select a big simmering pot to share, and that would be cooked before our very eyes. We arrived at the consensus of a seafood pot ($60), along with some steamed dumplings ($5), shredded kelp ($4) and shredded potato with chili ($3).

We craned our necks to see what the other, more experienced tables were doing with their meals. Did any of them have a big pot of bullfrog legs ($70) in front of them?  How did they know it was ready to dish up?

It looked like our server was mostly responsible for preparing and serving our meal, which he also seemed to be doing for everyone else in the room. As a result, the pace of things was a bit halting. The sides arrived before the main course was even on the hob, for instance. Surprisingly the al dente shreds of kelp made the most diverting dish of the three, dosed with chili, ginger and vinegar to pickle-ish effect. The pale, slippery dumplings were, as one co-diner—let’s call him Jerry—noted, well seasoned by our hunger but otherwise unextraordinary. We ate greedily. The potatoes were shredded but contained no trace of chilis. In all it was a weird group of things to be eating while waiting for soup to cook.

The cooking proceeded in stages with diced veggies—onion, carrot, sweet potato, peppers—followed by gobs of calamari, octopus and huge whole prawns, then a thick, dark saute sauce redolent of ginger, cinnamon, soya, garlic and clove. Our server was doing his best to keep up with the many tureens he had on the go, but our intervals of his attention were inconsistently timed.

As though to further refute the notion soup was being served, we were given plates for the saucy, saucy contents of the pan. It occurred to me that perhaps we were supposed to augment our simmer with the additional ingredients on the rest of the menu—Chinese greens or oyster mushrooms or frozen squid flower—to attenuate the potent sauce and sweet veggies, which mounted an insistent clove-iness over the course of several mouthfuls. The cross-hatched calamari was toothsome but chewy, each wee squid harboured a nugget of grit and the prawns (“Crawdads!” claimed Jerry), which generally require a bit of finesse in the cooking, were overdone to a firm pastiness, while the root vegetables had started to melt.

I thought 90 minutes would be plenty of time to simmer and consume a pot—there was only one of them, after all—but I had to abandon my plate part way through the meal. It can’t be a good sign that it didn’t bother me that much. There’s probably a better experience to be had than that at One Pot Simmer, but I don’t see myself going back to try to find it. Maybe your luck will be better. 

SCOTT LINGLEY
DISH@vueweekly.com

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