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REVIEW: Saddle up for adventure at Asuka Hotpot, Sushi and Buffet

By Kyle Young
Published: Last Updated on
hotpot reservoirs atop burners.
Hotpot reservoirs atop burners. Image: Kaitlin Young.

As the name suggests, Asuka Hotpot, Sushi and Buffet offers all-you-can-eat hotpot, sushi and Chinese buffet. The restaurant hopes to soon offer Korean BBQ to its already wide list of cuisines. Diners can look forward to a show as hotpot ingredients and sushi circulate on conveyor belts. Asuka offers a wide variety of proteins, starches, produce and preparation methods.

This isn’t Hanna Yan’s first rodeo

My wife and I had the pleasure of speaking with Asuka co-owner, Hanna Yan. We also got the opportunity to chat with her son/employee, Rickey Tang, and her employee, Mary Elkins. All three people, and really the entire staff, were exceptionally friendly and helpful during our experience.

Yan owned her first restaurant at age 22 or 23. Asuka is Yan’s seventh restaurant in the last 20 years.

Asuka booths
Sushi bar and booths at Asuka. Image: Kaitlin Young.

At Asuka, their goal is to become our area’s go-to spot for hotpot. Although Yan is proud of all the food prepared in her restaurant, hotpot is the primary focus and sushi and Chinese buffet are secondary. Because hotpot has not yet caught on in our area, some of the local markets do not carry all the supplies that Yan requires. As such, Yan has made frequent trips to Chinatown in San Francisco to acquire some of the ingredients.

blue crab
Blue crab waiting for a bath in the hotpot. Image: Kaitlin Young.

Many have heard that Korean BBQ is in the works at Asuka. Yan confirmed that this fourth type of cuisine will become available at her restaurant, but the installation of hoods and a slow permit process with the city are holding things up.

Yan advised that instructional displays and posters will soon arrive to help diners better acquaint themselves with the restaurant procedures and layout.

What exactly is hotpot?

Hotpot is a do-it-yourself cuisine that has two principle features: cooking broth and ingredients.

If you opt for hotpot at Asuka, you get seated at a booth with burners built into the center of the table. One burner is for heating your two broths and the other burner has a grate for Korean BBQ.

Asuka table burners
KBBQ grate and hotpot reservoirs atop burners. Image: Kaitlin Young.

Each booth cozies up to a conveyor belt that has your hotpot ingredients constantly circulating. When you see an ingredient that you like, you pull it from the conveyor and cook it in the broth of your choice. You are given a slotted spoon and a ladle to scoop your cooked ingredients and broth out of the reservoirs. The buffet wall has plenty of small bowls and soup spoons.

You are served two broths by default, one spicy and one not spicy. The broths take eight hours to prepare, and the exact ingredients used to make them are a secret. If I had to guess, the white broth seemed to have been prepared with pork bones, salt, mushrooms and scallions. The spicy broth had red chilies, high heat and a robust amount of Sichuan peppercorns.

Asuka hotpot conveyor belt
Asuka hotpot conveyor belt. Image: Kaitlin Young.

The hotpot conveyor includes ingredients of all types. The basic categories are vegetables, proteins and starches (mostly noodles). You can also ask your server for thin strips of beef, pork, chicken or lamb. An order of the non-conveyor proteins includes 8-10 strips.

Just about every ingredient takes 1-3 minutes to cook. The more items you cook, the more complex and tasty the broth becomes.

Here is a list of conveyor ingredients that we sampled, saw or read about online: blue crab, crawfish, beef ball, shrimp ball, tofu, kombu (kelp), udon noodles, glass noodles, enoki mushrooms, king mushrooms, taro, tofu skin, Chinese sausage, fish balls, clams, mussels, imitation crab, spam, cabbage and many more.

Get to know the Asuka layout

Upon getting seated at Asuka, our server asked if we’d like to purchase the hotpot, sushi and Chinese buffet for $25.99. We eagerly agreed.

The restaurant is divided into two main sections: the sushi side and the buffet / hotpot side. Because we chose the three-cuisine combo, we sat on the buffet / hotpot side.

Salt n pepper shrimp and pork chops
Salt n’ pepper shrimp, pork chops and wings. Image: Kaitlin Young.

Most of the buffet offerings are labeled. Some are not, but there are plenty of friendly employees that will fill you in when asked. At the front of the buffet, you can find things like raw oysters, fresh fruit, lemon wedges and some prepared sushi. After this section, you’ll find plates, bowls, silverware, etc. After that, you’ll find the heart of the Chinese buffet.

Mary Elkins, an employee at Asuka, advised that you are welcome to make special requests for dishes not seen in the buffet. Many dishes are also scheduled to hit the buffet line at different times, so that special food you’re craving might be available faster than you’d think.

labeled condiments
Eat the tasty, house-made condiments! Image: Kaitlin Young.

On the other side of the restaurant, you’ll find the sushi bar. You needn’t walk over to the sushi bar to order sushi. Just ask your server for an order slip.

Behind the sushi bar at the rear of the restaurant are all the condiments and the desserts. The condiments are made in-house and they include fermented tofu paste, chili paste, sesame paste, wasabi, ginger and many more. The desserts include miniature eclairs, bars and soft-serve ice cream.

So, what’s the food like at Asuka?

After floating about the restaurant and sampling this and that, my wife and I reconvened at our booth.

“It’s like the wild west in here, ya’ll,” my wife remarked. This had me dying laughing, because it definitely felt like an adventure throughout the restaurant. When the dinner hour hit, the staff pumped up the pop jams on the speaker system. Different dishes were rapidly being brought out to the buffet. Employees were constantly scooping up used dishes, offering drink refills and asking us how they could help with our experience. Excitement and warmth emanated from the employees and atmosphere.

sushi
Chef special roll, albacore and salmon. Image: Kaitlin Young

Neither of us found any of the dishes unpalatable, but there were a few that didn’t impress. I’d love to go into a deep dive into everything that we ate, but the variety was staggering and my space here is limited. Instead, I’ll comment on the stand-out items within each cuisine category.

We sampled the albacore, salmon and quail egg shooters for the nigiri. Outside nigiri, we tried the rainbow handroll and chef special roll. The chef special ended up being yellow tail, tempura shrimp, cucumber, avocado and surimi. We agreed that the nigiri was tasty all around, and the rolls were unremarkable.

clams, crab, shrimp and chicken wing
Clams, snow crab, salt n’ pepper shrimp and fried chicken wing.
Image: Kaitlin Young.

Regarding the hotpot, I didn’t especially like the beef or pork strips. My wife enjoyed them. I thought they were a bit tough. I thoroughly enjoyed the blue crab, fish cakes, glass noodles and a variety of the vegetables. The blue crab was sweet and delicate. I shelled it and placed the meat in some of the white broth. Both broths offered distinct, tasty flavors. I could imagine the spicy broth having too much heat for those with a mild palate.

spicy chicken, baked salmon, baked mussel, pork chop and lotus leaf
Spicy chicken, baked salmon, baked mussel, pork chop, and sticky rice and red bean in lotus leaf. Image: Kaitlin Young.

The stand-out offerings in the Chinese buffet for me included the red beans and sticky rice in lotus leaves, snow crab legs, pork chops, baked mussels, baked salmon and sugar buns. The red beans inside the sticky rice were subtly sweet. The lotus leaves imparted a lovely fragrance and flavor akin to tea. The sugar buns had wonderfully crisp exteriors and delicate, bready interiors. I recommend the rice bundles and sugar buns for dessert.

Asuka Hotpot, Sushi and Buffet Details

Visit Asuka Hotpot, Sushi and Buffet at 2010 Oddie Blvd., Sparks, NV 89431. They are open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Their website is not yet complete. Call Asuka at 775-355-9999.

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