Niskayuna’s Volcano Asian BBQ and Hot Pot Restaurant offers a different and delicious experience – At the Table

Fresh ingredients are ready to cook in a hot pot or on the grill at Volcano Asian BBQ and Hot Pot restaurant. (Photo courtesy Briana Lin)
Fresh ingredients are ready to cook in a hot pot or on the grill at Volcano Asian BBQ and Hot Pot restaurant. (Photo courtesy Briana Lin)
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NISKAYUNA — Dinner at the new Volcano Asian BBQ and Hot Pot in ShopRite Square was different, delicious and a lot of fun. Let me tell you about it.

First I’ll tell you about Briana Lin, entrepreneur extraordinaire and owner, now, of six restaurants in the Capital Region.

They’re not cookie-cutter or all the same concept. In Latham, there’s Yang’s Asian Bistro, a Pan-Asian upscale restaurant; Kobe Hibachi Japanese Cuisine; and T-Swirl Japanese Crepe, for portable sweet and savory gluten-free crepes. And there’s Azuma Sushi Bistro in Malta, as well as Sawa Sushi Bistro in Glenmont.

Each is attractively, colorfully and tastefully decorated, and distinct.

Volcano combines the spaces that housed Smashburger and Thai Thai Bistro in ShopRite Square into one large space that can seat 153 guests.

The décor is dramatic and stunning. Large LED screens on two walls project majestic landscapes, slowly panning over magnificent mountain ranges while we were there. There’s a galaxy of lights on the ceiling, complete with shooting stars. Lighted smoke coming up from tracks between the rows of booths looks for all the world like flames.

There are booths and various-sized tables. Each table has a grill, and each seat has a hot-pot cooker.

Guests can enjoy both barbecue and hot pot at the same time. Amy and I tried both and enjoyed them very much.

Let’s get this out of the way, though: You’re doing the cooking.

“If you go with the understanding that you’re cooking your own food it’s fun,” commented Amy. “And you have to do it once before you figure out how to order,” she added.

We expected a learning curve and were a little slow, but figured it out.

You order either hot pot or BBQ ($37.99 per adult, child sizes less), and they are all-inclusive meals, from appetizers and soft drinks to dessert. For an additional $5 you can get both the hot pot and BBQ.

Alcohol is not included but there is a full bar. Popular wines, such as Josh cabernet sauvignon, are available by the glass or bottle.

Luckily we had our sharp server Cynthia to explain things to us. At first she dropped an iPad on our table and flew through instructions for ordering, then looked at our blank faces. “Can we have paper menus, please?” asked Amy.

Of course. She came back with plastic-coated, place-mat-sized menus that have instructions for ordering hot pot on one side, BBQ on the other. She started again, explaining slowly, and we got it.

For the hot pot, you choose a flavored broth and protein, starch and vegetables to cook in it. For BBQ, you choose what you want to cook on the grill.

Cynthia recommended we pick five items to cook for each as a start, and the plastic menu with its illustrations and organized categories came in handy here.

We also wanted to try appetizers and picked a few of those: chicken wings, edamame and spring rolls.

While we were choosing our ingredients, Cynthia brought over pots of broth: chicken and pork bone broth with dates and pumpkin for me; and Tom Yum Thai hot and sour soup for Amy. Cynthia steered Amy away from the Sichuan Spicy, saying it was probably hotter than she’d like.

She showed us how to turn on and adjust the burners, then we headed over to collect drinks from a cooler and sauces and salads from a counter along the back wall of the dining room. There, small dishes and cups are stacked up and sauces are clearly labeled. We scooped sesame and house BBQ sauce, and Amy got some kimchi, pickled vegetables and seaweed salad.

When we got back the food was piling up at the table. It all seemed to arrive at once and we were a bit overwhelmed.

There was the plate of appetizers — crispy spring rolls with chili sauce, deep-fried battered chicken wings and edamame.

“The kimchi is tasty,” reported Amy, but what really stood out for her was the seaweed salad, bright green with specks of sesame seeds. “It’s delicious,” she said, adding, “It’s a beautiful color,” and she even went back to get a little more.

Our chosen ingredients were attractively arranged on long plates, ready for us to pick up, with the supplied tongs, and cook. And there were so many plates of ingredients that a server had to roll a cart next to the table to provide more room.

Then we learned how to cook our food. Some of it went into the boiling hot pots (dumplings, soft tofu, broccoli, ramen noodles, shrimp) and some was destined for the grill. For that, we chose mostly meat.

We sprayed the hot grill with oil and cooked pieces of pre-sliced meat. Thin slices cooked quickly, thick ones longer. Once the server knew we were set, she left us alone and checked in periodically.

I spoke with Lin, who said that soon there will be a video on the iPad showing you exactly how to cook your food. That’s helpful.

And boy, did we have a good time. It quickly became clear that Amy has healthier eating habits than I do. While I barbecued one piece of meat after another, she dunked healthy ingredients into her hot pot. It worked out well: Between us we tried many different things.

“There’s so much going on I haven’t started grilling yet,” said Amy, who was eating edamame and dunking soft tofu into hot broth. It’s overwhelming, and we agreed that we’d like it better if things came out in stages.

Meantime I was grilling away. I recommend the delicious marinated meats: pork belly and beef and chicken, though the plain steak was satisfyingly beefy. The pork belly is like bacon, but not smoky, and it crisps up the same.

We should have been using the sauces we picked out and lettuce leaves to wrap our cooked meat, but we were enjoying it right off the grill.

Pleasant flavors announced themselves. Cilantro in Amy’s Tom Yum broth; pork and ginger in the dumplings; sweet, complex marinades on the meat.

The meats come rolled up and it takes a bit of skill to unroll them. The thin slices of ribeye steak were fatty at the edges but chewy in spots, though delicious. The tender hanger steak and beef bulgogi tied for best — they both came with sweet and spicy sauces that charred on the hot grill.

I was careful to put the raw marinated chicken on the grill with one utensil and take it off, cooked, with another. You can’t trust chicken. Next time I might even skip it.

Amy worked her way through asparagus and broccoli, soybean rolls and shrimp. She favored the hot pot. I mostly stuck to the grill. We couldn’t finish everything.

We helped ourselves to tiny squares of coconut cake for dessert and passed on cups of ice cream. In addition, there was cut fresh fruit that looked appealing.

Lin said the kitchen would like to add more desserts and that customers would like one that flames at the table. The menu is still being developed. When it’s done the website will go up. Until then, visit their Facebook page.

You really can’t take home uncooked meat and it’s a shame to waste any of your ingredients. Trust your server to help you order if you’re not sure. You can always order more if you’d like. It’s all the same price.

So it’s sort of all-you-can-eat. Finish one round and they’ll bring you more. But one round was plenty for us.

The dining room had mostly filled up, and when we weren’t watching the mountain panoramas and galaxy of stars we people-watched.

There were mostly family groups there — and you could tell who knew what they were doing and who was new to cooking tables.

We decided it would be fun to go to Volcano with a group. We saw plenty, including multigenerational families around us that night.

The total came to $92.86 with tax for two hot pots with BBQ (adult). With a well-deserved tip, it came to $110.06.

Lin is happy with the response to the Volcano Hot Pot and BBQ restaurant. It has been very busy, even since the beginning with the soft opening back in August.

I can see Volcano as an excellent birthday-celebration destination. The surroundings are exciting, and you’re keeping busy as you socialize and celebrate. Or just go for no reason. You’ll still have a good time.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts, Reviews

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