301 W. Channel Islands Blvd.
The last time I set foot in this particular part of Port Hueneme, I was living just across from the Naval Base down a cul-de-sac. Next door was a pizza place and two blocks up Channel Islands Boulevard was Mariann’s Italian Villa. Times change, and in that spot now sits Ragin’ Pot, a unique venture specializing in Chinese-style hot pots filled to the brim with all manner of goodies, some familiar, others quite the trip.
The self-described “Asian fusion” joint offers up traditionally Asian décor within. White flowers and lanterns hang from the ceiling over dark gray tables, a few taller than the booths. Decidedly not atmospheric was the television featuring college football, but at least it was tuned to an entertaining game.
First up: beverages. Ragin’ Pot does not mess around, an omen of things to come. The mango green tea comes in a sealed plastic cup with the image of a cute mascot on top promising “juicy fruits” within. One pop of a straw and said mascot is impaled, sacrificed for this refreshingly fruity beverage. I also ordered a hot tea, but realizing the folly of my ways when our mains arrived, I also ordered a traditional Thai iced tea, served here with another cute mascot top that would also receive the sharp end of a straw to the face.
On to the reason for the visit: the hot pots. Ragin’ Pot, like its sister restaurant Ragin’ Crawfish in Oxnard, is a kind of build-your-own affair. First, choose a soup base, with options ranging among miso, spicy kim chi, sour tom yum and vegetable. Next is where the magic happens: your goodies. Seafood ($13.95) is a whopping combination of shrimp, “fish tofu,” imitation crab, a fish filet, clams and much more; beef is a trip to flavortown via the cow, with sliced beef, beef balls and kamaboko, the radish-shaped and colored fish cake often found in Japanese soups. Finally, the spice level, from Ragin’ Mild (oxymoron?) to Ragin’ Flame, noted with three chili peppers.
We chose the nutty satay soup broth for one and the ‘Ragin’ Special’ for the other — which is described as Szechuan-style soup with hot chili oil and peppers. Both of us chose the vegetarian ($12.95) course which includes tofu, enoki (a type of mushroom), corn, kabocha squash, Taiwan bok choy, napa cabbage and fried tofu. What the menu neglects to mention is that it also includes mock-meat made of soy in the shape of chicken and beef slices, a nice surprise. I also ordered a few extras: instant ramen noodles ($2) and napa cabbage ($1).
We also had a side of vegetable egg rolls ($4.95) because I can’t help myself, though other offerings show the eclectic nature of Ragin’ Pot: gyoza, chicken wings and pork bao.
What appeared before us after a short wait was intriguing and not without a hint of danger: a wooden box with a flame seated inside, and atop it a huge honkin’ bowl of broth filled to the brim with all manner of vegetables and mock-meat. No wonder the menu features the caution, “WARNING: HOT POT EXTREMELY HOT.” With my instant noodles and extra cabbage, and a side of white rice (or vermicelli noodles, which come with the meal), the bowl would be one formidable foe.
The first thing I did was take a sip of the broth. The vegetable-based soup had a nice hint of spice from the hot chili oil and a pleasant tang. I gave the bits and pieces a few minutes to soak in the now boiling soup, and then added my instant noodles and requested that the fire be snuffed. The waitress took a small device and did so, and after a few minutes, my bowl had reached the Goldilocks zone of just the right temperature.
Mock-meat is not something I often deal with. rather, I choose just to stick with tried-and-true vegetables. The soy-based “chicken” and “beef” here soaked up the broth like a sponge, however, and proved rather good vessels for the Szechuan spice, though themselves a little bland. The star of the bowl was undoubtedly the kabocha squash, a semi-firm veggie with a lightly nutty flavor; ’twas delicious.
Here’s the kicker: Without the instant noodles, I may have left feeling a little less than thrilled, but I’ll be damned if those noodles didn’t elevate the entire bowl. In the end, there is more than enough going on to do without many of the extras available, but do not skimp on the noodles.
On that particular Saturday afternoon, the restaurant was quite busy. It appears that Ragin’ Pot has struck a chord with locals, and as word spreads that Ventura County finally has a hot pot shop, I’m certain a number of foodie tourists will arrive, too, to find that the trip was more than worth it.