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California Pork Pork Belly Hot Pot

hot pot with pork belly and sauerkraut at New Asia in Merced: big thumbs up!

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hot pot with pork belly and sauerkraut at New Asia in Merced: big thumbs up!

susancinsf | Sep 9, 2009 09:45 PM

Hubby and I were looking for a quick and inexpensive dinner in downtown (Merced) before a Costco run. My original plan was to try Rice Bowl, a Vietnamese place I still haven't made it to, but alas it was closed, and had that look of a place that may be closed for good. Does anyone know if it is permanently closed? I hope not: I know of no other Vietnamese restaurant in town and I feel bad I haven't made it there.

I am glad to say that the bad news ended there. As an alternative, we headed to New Asia at the end of Main St. I've reported on New Asia before:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/572506

and it has been our go-to for take out since. However, I haven't dined there since that last report. After our meal tonight, I am going to have to correct that, and soon!

It turns out, per our conversation with our friendly server, that the chef owner has decided to start serving more 'traditional' Chinese dishes, particularly Szechuan specialties. We were given a seperate specials menu along with the more Americanized menu that we've ordered from for takeout; there were also a number of specials posted on sheets around the room. Many of the specials were dishes I've never seen on a menu in a Chinese restaurant in Merced: braised tripe, various hot pots, and oysters among them.

We settled on a special hot pot with pork and sauerkraut from the specials menu. I love sauerkraut, and then our server said, 'the pork is pork belly, is that ok?" Um, yeah! anyway, when the dish came it was a huge portion, easily enough for a filling dinner for two on its own, at a very reasonable price of about $8. The hot pot had lots of thin strips of braised pork belly, tofu and delicious sauerkraut in a broth heavily flavored with star anise, topped with cilantro. It was delicious. Indeed, it was probably the best single dish I've eaten at a restaurant in Merced. Best of all, we loved it despite the 90 degree heat: I can't wait to go back and eat it again on a foggy night this winter...

the rest of our meal was more typical of the type of dishes we've gotten from takeout: potstickers (plump and fresh, nicely done), cumin lamb (ok but nothing to write home about), dry-cooked string beans (good) and steamed rice. We ended up with enough leftovers for another meal.

Sadly, the place was basically empty the entire time we were there. A few folks wandered in to get takeout, but for the most part we were the only diners. If any hounds are reading this, please consider going to check out the specials: I'd hate to have New Asia conclude that only the same stuff you can get elsewhere will sell.....

In any event, I think I've found my new favorite low end place to dine in Merced.....

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