Twice a month, El Estoque goes to restaurants around the area and takes a chance by asking the waiter to personally choose our food for us. This week, we continued the alphabetical theme by going to Q-Pot Korean BBQ and Hot Pot in San Jose.

Address: 1610 E Capitol Expy, San Jose, CA 95121

When customers first walk into the restaurant, they are met with the sounds of lively music and the savory aroma of grilled meats wafting through the air. Korean BBQ is a course in which customers cook their own meats on a grill built into the center of their table, while for Hot Pot, customers cook a variety of meats and vegetables in a boiling pot of water on the table. At Q-Pot, Korean BBQ costs only $25.99, while Hot Pot costs an additional $3. However, El Estoque did not try Hot Pot as the BBQ selection ended up being enough for two people. Although the meal is on the pricier side, it includes all-you-can-eat options, with new meat, rice or side dishes arriving at any time you like.

Customers use the touch screen to place their orders. Photo by Karen Ma.

Customers use the touch screen to place their orders. Photo by Karen Ma.

The table is set with seven complimentary sides (which we also put to the test), and there is a small screen on each table on which parties can order a maximum of four dishes every two minutes. The only items that come with additional charge are drinks and desserts, which only consisted of different flavors of $5.50 macaron ice cream sandwiches.


Sides:

An arrangement of complimentary sides. Photo by Karen Ma.

An arrangement of complimentary sides. Photo by Karen Ma.

Ranking of sides from best to worst:

  1. Pickled cucumbers: The pickled cucumbers were tangy, crunchy and fresh, and had just the right amount of spiciness to make your mouth water.
  2. Pickled white radish: The pickled white radish was a sharp burst of sweet flavor with a slight acidic savoriness.
  3. Kimchi: The kimchi was crunchy and just as you’d expect, though it did have a slightly bitter after-taste.
  4. Bean sprout salad: The bean sprout salad was a little soggy, and we weren’t exactly wrestling to get the last bite.
  5. Cheese corn: The cheese corn was exactly what you would expect: cheese and corn blended together, wrapped in foil and cooked on the stove until the cheese melted. However, some things are just not meant to be mixed, as the clash of the cheesy and sweet flavors resulted in a bland, confusing taste that almost resembled that of unsweetened greek yogurt.
  6. Mashed potatoes: The mashed potatoes had a thicker consistency than most places served. While the butteriness was perfect, the dish was bland.
  7. Orange radish: The kimchi radish was unnaturally sweet and had an abnormal fruity taste, as if the chefs were competing to find the weirdest flavor combination.

Sauce bar:

The popular sauce bar has a wide variety to suit many tastes. Photo by Karen Ma.

The popular sauce bar has a wide variety to suit many tastes. Photo by Ria Kolli.

There is a wide variety of sauces and other condiments to select, which helps tailor the dishes to a customer’s individual taste. While it is a good concept, the sauce bar is off to the side and removed from the main eating area, so leaving to get condiments can disrupt the lively conversations occurring at the table.


BBQ Meats:

Beef Bulgogi:

Rating: 5/5

The beef bulgogi cooks on the grill. Photo by Karen Ma.

The beef bulgogi cooks on the grill. Photo by Karen Ma.

The beef bulgogi, a beloved Korean dish at just about any restaurant that serves it, was just the right amount of sweet, savory, chewy and tender. While great with the sesame oil sauce option, the marinated beef was a dish that was perfect just by itself.


Spicy Salmon:

Rating: 3/5

A dish of spicy salmon before cooking. Photo by Karen Ma.

A dish of spicy salmon before cooking. Photo by Karen Ma.

While the spicy salmon was tender and fell apart easily, it was not very spicy at all. Aside from it being bland, there wasn’t quite enough seasoning to eat the salmon alone, and we honestly would’ve preferred going somewhere else for fish.


Garlic Shrimp:

Rating: 4/5

The garlic shrimp cooks on the grill. Photo by Karen Ma.

The garlic shrimp cooks on the grill. Photo by Karen Ma.

The garlic shrimp was light and flavorful. The amount of sauce was perfect, as the garlic complemented but did not overpower the shrimp. Unfortunately, the shrimp was overcooked, and became more rubbery as time went on.


Garlic Chicken:

Rating: 5/5

A dish of garlic chicken before cooking. Photo by Karen Ma.

A dish of garlic chicken before cooking. Photo by Karen Ma.

The garlic chicken was tender and flavorful, as the garlic brought out the chicken’s flavor. The chicken did not become hard or rubbery, and fell apart just like the spicy salmon. Just about any of their sauces complemented the dish, as long as you made sure the sauce didn’t overpower the garlic finish. The one downside of this dish is that it took quite a while to cook.


Dessert:

Rating: 4.5/5

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The dessert selection, while not nearly as diverse as the meats or sides, included a frozen macaron-like treat for $5.50 with flavors ranging from mocha to green tea. We went with the strawberry cheesecake flavor and were pleasantly surprised. Although the frigidity made the macaron hard to cut and eat, the tastes complemented each other and could satisfy any sweet tooth.


Overall Rating: 4/5

Going to Q-Pot is a unique experience, with its family style all-you-can-eat ordering system and the way the customers get to cook their own meats. With so much food, the table can get quite messy, as everyone is reaching across the table to get a dish. The DIY barbecuing can also be problematic, as customers are more prone to undercooking or overcooking food than the experienced chefs who serve such dishes in traditional style restaurants. We recommend Q-Pot for anyone who enjoys savory meats paired with flavorful sauces and is willing to cook his or her own food at a slightly hectic table.

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