Tuesday, April 12, 2011

International Smokeless BBQ

600 Washington Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 599-8844

Let's start by saying, this is possibly the most confusingly ambiguous restaurant name in the history of food. International - okay what is this supposed to imply, Indian? South American? Thai? Smokeless - huh? BBQ - I know what this is supposed to mean, but I am also pretty sure that its not the same as what they have in mind.

The restuarant/buffet/interntaionl bazaar is located in one of the Asian-themed strip mall/parking lots on Washington Ave. You would probably never notice this place if you weren't looking for it, or had never heard of it. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your outlook. You will notice upon sitting down that they have one of the most intricately bizarre ceilings that adds a festive yet calming mood to the eatery.

You should also check out the very reasonably priced drink menu: $4 frozen mai-thai's and $5 small sakes are a bargain.

It's labeled as a BBQ buffet and hot pot menu, although you can order a la carte as well. Personally, I would only go here for the buffet. There are plenty of other options for places that serve authentic International (vietnameseish?) food in South Philly. Anyway, for $17.95 per person you will receive a hot pot and BBQ buffet that will test the limits of your gluttony as well as your resistance to cross contamination. Not only do I have an iron-gut, it also holds plenty of stuff, so I was in good spirits. As though it were necessary, we were started with a papaya salad and an appetizer of shrimp on a sugar cane skewer, and fried egg rolls.

Here is a picture of the papaya salad getting crushed.

And the mysterious "smokeless" BBQ heating element. Given there were no ventilation hoods, I was awfully interested to see how this all worked. On a side note, there was very minimal cooking smell when we walked in, which was a good sign.

The kimchi bar was kind of weird (and also totally unnecessary), but they had some delicious sauces that worked well with the food we had on the grill. It wasn't the first time I felt the need to taste every available condiment.

Enter the food. The broth for the hot pot was brought out and placed on top of the grill. A bento box overflowing with various meats and vegetables all stacked on top of each other accompanied it.

In this box (all raw, mind you): squid, shrimp, fried tofu, chicken, pork belly, beef slices, short ribs, pork, onions, zucchini, squash and a quarter stick of butter. Sounds like a party to me.

We were all so blown away by the sheer amount of food that we were really bowled over when the SEPARATE protein tray arrived for the hot pot. This one included whole blue crabs, oysters, mussels, tofu, fish balls, seafood balls, dumplings, sliced beef, fish, shrimp, and squid. Seriously. Oh, and a large plate of rice noodles and greens to throw in – in case you couldn't eat your way to a triple bypass with all of other ingredients. What followed was a blur of cooking, using the hot pot to sanitize the tongs between handlings of the fifteen hundred raw ingredients so generously placed before us.

First the hot pot was filled.

And then the grill was quickly filled.

As soon as the broth fell below three quarters full, the attentive waitstaff was there to fill it back up.

There was no room to complain about the cooking, as we were the ones in charge, so everything was made to order. This is not a slow process, by any means, but it is a very rewarding one, and a great place to go with a group of friends. The interactive nature lends itself to conversation, and although some of the meat was better than others (also some marinated, some not) it is certainly something to experience, and a bargain at about $23 with tax and tip (booze not included).

Also, we ate everything put before us, but backed off when asked if we wanted anything else. I do have standards, right?

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