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Friday, October 19, 2007

Jazz Cat Cafe - Alhambra (Closed)

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Travel, of course, is #1. But traveling needs to be saved up for, planned, and if I'm lucky, occurs a few weeks a year, or every other year. So let's talk about tangible happiness. I've really only got two: books and food. I love it when I glom onto a new author. I love getting so involved in a book that I have to finish right there and then, nevermind that the sun has risen and I have to be up early the next day. Then I scour bookstores to buy up their backlist because waiting for Amazon would just take too long. And then I stay up all night again reading the next book. Well, every once in a while, I glom onto restaurants as well.
Jazz Cat Cafe 9
Such was the case with Jazz Cat Cafe in Alhambra. How did this restaurant escape my notice before? I drive along Valley Boulevard all the time. After I first saw the array of hot pot flavors on BiggestMenu, I immediately nudged this restaurant to the top of my neverending "to-eat" list. I've eaten here about half a dozen times in the space of a few months, and at one point, three times in one week! Talk about glomming! And no, I haven't tasted all the hot pot flavors yet (Not for lack of trying, mind you.). Is it the individual hot pots that appeal to me? The squash and bok choy and other veggies that makes me feel like I'm eating healthy? The fusion variety of broths from Japanese curry to Korean kimchee to Thai spicy chili? The somewhat trendy and intimate atmosphere? All of the above? And so it was that on the eve of my birthday, with cousin Q and his brother, who was in town but not free until nearly midnight, that I chose to go here for dinner. I don't always need a menu with 200 choices. Sometimes a restaurant that specializes in one item, with some variations, is just what I need. I know this isn't terribly exciting food, but I've always left with a warm, happy belly. And sometimes, that's all I need. My first visit occurred several weeks before with another cousin, who really loves hot pots, and her husband and baby. Umm, just a bit of advice, rambunctious babies around open flames are not a good idea. :P The individual hot pots start at $10.95 for beef, chicken, pork, or lamb. Add four shrimp and it's $12.95. Add two mussels and one scallop and it's $14.95. The veggies are all the same. And you have a choice of regular rice or a Japanese rice ball - wrapped in seaweed and filled with pork floss. If you've never had Chinese or Taiwanese hot pot before, it's basically flavored broths that you dip meat and veggies into. Japanese hot pot, or shabu shabu, is more likely to be plain water to cook the meat and several different dipping sauces. And of course, there's the Swiss fondue, with cheese. On my first visit, I ordered the kimchee hot pot. Clockwise from the hot pot, there's Japanese rice, a raw egg to crack into the hot pot, dipping sauce, and a plate of beef, veggies, and that long tube is fish paste.
Jazz Cat Cafe 1
I lifted the beef so you can see the various veggies, tofu, and vermicelli bean thread noodles.
Jazz Cat Cafe 2
And my kimchee hot pot merrily bubbling away.
Jazz Cat Cafe 3
The hot pots use sterno can gel for fire so there's no regulating the heat. Don't be greedy and put everything into the pot at once or else you'll get overboiled veggies and a flame that won't die. Now, you don't have to follow my method, but I've managed to portion my veggies so that it lasts until the flames die out. Wait until the hot pot starts boiling and then put in your veggies. Start with the hardest to cook veggies first such as squash and cabbage. Don't use all your cabbage, basically it serves to lower the temperature of the broth when it starts bubbling. Only add a few veggies at a time. The meat is sliced very thin so it only needs a quick dunking to cook. If the broth is boiling, add some cabbage to tone it down. By judiciously portioning your veggies, you should make it last until the flames die out. My cousin had chosen the sukiyaki hot pot with chicken. Blech! This is the second time I've had sukiyaki and both times the broth has been way, way too sweet for my taste. My cousin didn't care for it either.
Jazz Cat Cafe 4
Her husband ordered the Jazz Cat house special, which tasted like Chinese five-spice to me and also looked very much like the Japanese curry hot pot, which had a nice light curry flavor.
Jazz Cat Cafe 5
My favorite though is the Thai spicy hot pot. It actually looks much redder in person than in the picture. It's got pickled chili paste ie. sambal oelek, slightly spicy, sweet, fish sauce savoriness. While the other broths are fine for dipping, I actually slurp this hot pot as soup. And after trying this flavor with cousin Q and his brother, I went back a few days later with lil' sis because I was craving it again.
Jazz Cat Cafe 6
Lil' sis ordered the Taiwanese tossed noodles. Tasted like the house special hot pot, in other words, Chinese five-spice flavoring. You can also add various iced and milk tea drinks for $1.95 to $2.50 if you're ordering a hot pot or entree.
Jazz Cat Cafe 7
As for atmosphere, most of the tables are meant for two people and if you both order hot pots, that takes up the whole table. There are some booths on the other side, and a set of tables that are often pulled together for big groups. Head there for an early dinner and the wait isn't too bad. But any time between 8 to 10 p.m. and it may be upwards of 45 minutes waiting time.
Jazz Cat Cafe 8
And of course, since it is Jazz Cat Cafe, there's a memo board of various cats. A little freaky, but it did keep my cousin's baby entertained while I played with her so her parents could eat.
Jazz Cat Cafe 10
2007's birthday eats: Uzbekistan - Los Angeles (Closed) Perfectly Sweet - Alhambra Tagine - Beverly Hills Sunday Bistro - Alhambra Elite Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Monterey Park Who else ate at Jazz Cat Cafe? Henry Chan's Food Videos filmed his "bubbling cauldron." December 8, 2008 Update: On a recent visit, Jazz Cat Cafe no longer lets you cook tableside. Everything is cooked in the kitchen and then brought out. There is no longer a Japanese rice option and the egg is hard-boiled. The broth flavors are still good, but the hot pot experience isn't the same. :( A new location is being built on Valley Boulevard and Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel. Supposedly, the burning hot pots will be available there. August 28, 2009 Update: Hot pots are no longer being served at all at this location. January 21, 2009 Update: This location has closed. See my post Jazz Cat Restaurant - San Gabriel for information on the new location. Jazz Cat Cafe 640 W. Valley Blvd., Ste. #A Alhambra, CA 91803 626-293-8999 Open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.


  1. My fiance and I have been several times and it was so wonderful. The Thai Hot Pot is my favorite too... I am so sad they no longer have the cook at the table option anymore. Several months ago, it was my fiance's brother-in law's birthday and I suggested going to the Jazz Cat Cafe. It was a group of 7 and was so sad to discover they only cook in the kitchen. I hope they do bring back the cook at table option at the new place. Anh Hong 7 course beef in Rosemead is no longer offers cook at the table option either :( so sad.... The experience is not the same...

  2. I'm pretty amazed that they closed the option of cooking it by yourself last year. We used to come to this place just for the hot pot but didn't go back very much! Now we have seen the new location and it looks very promising. And it is closer to our reach too so I can't wait for it to open!

  3. Yum Cha Girl,
    I asked once what was in the Thai hot pot and they said it was the chef's secret recipe. Darn.

    Anh Hong doesn't do tableside either? Well, I remember when I went that the Jazz Cat sign said the gel was too expensive for them to serve it right then. But then later heard other people say they're claiming ventilation issues.

    The new location looks nice and bigger, so hopefully we won't have to wait for a table.

  4. We were going to go here for C's birthday last month but heard about the ban of the flames. Do you know when it will reopen in the new location? I'm dying to try it.

  5. The brought back the DIY cooking?!?

  6. The new location is pretty nice- and plus they got a great spot for their restaurant. The plaza itself though for parking looks pretty cramped though- especially the entrance to it. Hopefully there is underground parking like at the Hilton plaza.

  7. Awww man, I was posting on an old post no wonder! You got me excited for nothing!

  8. SIS,
    I dunno when the new location is set to open. Was still under construction last time I passed by.

    Ha, yeah, sorry man.

    Well, parking can't be any worse than its current location!


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