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hot pot at Zone 88

Eighteen 'hounds gathered for lunch today at Zone 88, a seven-month-old Chinese place in the Portola neighborhood that specializes in hot pot and Sichuanese dishes. After much negotiation and careful coordination, each of three tables of six tried three appetizer dishes and a hot pot. Each hot pot had two broths, and each table ordered around 6-10 meats, vegetables, and starches to cook in the broth. (This is starting to sound like, "As I was walking to St. Ives ... .") The big draw was the range of hot pot items and the variety of broths. For broths, we tried:

* mushroom
* black chicken
* lamb
* duck with beer
* spicy rabbit

My table had the mushroom broth and the black chicken broth. Into our hot pot we dipped fatty beef; lamb; black bass; leeks (supposed to be garlic sprouts, but oh well); bai ling mushrooms; and wide rice noodles. For appetizers we ordered the smoked duck; dan dan noodles; and husband-and-wife (tendon and tripe in chili oil).

Personally, I enjoyed the black chicken broth, rich with herbs and other surprises like dates and wolfberries. The mushroom broth became salty after cooking down and was grainy from the mushrooms, though also flavorful. I also liked the smoked duck, which was quite firm and salty. The dan dan noodles were well-spiced, but I much prefer the thicker, chewier noodles at Z&Y Garden. Also, Zone 88's dan dan noodles did not have sesame paste, yielding a thinner sauce that didn't cling to the noodles as much.

To jog everyone else's memory, here's my attempt at listing the other appetizers:

* garlic bacon
* steamed pumpkin with spareribs
* fried pig intestine
* kidney
* chongqing (?) chicken wings (joint pieces, with bone)

Arrgh, I'm forgetting the last appetizer. Someone will remember.

Zone 88
2428 San Bruno Ave (between Silver and Silliman), San Francisco
415 468 6488
7 days, 11-10

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  1. Well each table had three appetizers one you were missing was "Husband and Wife" which is tendon and tripe in a hot sauce. Dan Dan noodles was another. One still missiong. Spicy wonton completes the list. I remember this because Chow Fun turn it down just by looking at it.

    Our table had abalone mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and a lettuce vegatable (I order watercress but go this instead). We also order bok tripe, two order of fatty beef, lamb and finally rice noodles to complete the meal.

    One note was when I ask for a refill of the hot pot they returned with right type of broth instead of water or just plain broth.

    We had the lamb (mild) and duck and beer (spicy). A wondrful blend.

    Also there was nice fruit slushes served.

    1. I'll chime in for the third table: we also had the mushroom broth (and had very much the same assessment of it) and the spicy rabbit. I don't think the menu actually describes the rabbit as spicy, as we were expecting something delicate, rather than the complexly spicy (several kinds of peppers, star anise and, I believe, clove, etc.) broth we received. We had fatty beef, eel (the skinny ones), lettuce, winter melon, tofu, shrimp (everyone commented on how sweet and fresh they were), and other things I've forgotten now (I wasn't the official scribe for our table). For the appetizers we ordered two of my favorite Sichuan dishes: wontons in red oil and bacon in garlic sauce; we also had spicy kidneys.

      The spicing was very good -- hot, but also layered and complex. When asked we specified "medium" and it was plenty hot: hot enough to work up a good glow, but not so hot that it dulled the taste buds to the other flavors. Our table washed it down with plenty of Tsing Tao, except for me: I had a watermelon slush, which was delicious and refreshing.

      Actually, everything was delicious -- I immediately put it on my "recommend" and "go back" lists. I enjoyed both the broths (I didn't eat any of the mushrooms from the mushroom broth, so I didn't notice the grittiness other people complained about). Of the other dishes, in addition to the two dishes I chose (and they were good renditions), I liked the chungking/chongquing/chendu chicken: little nuggets of chicken, dry fried with a salty crust and literally buried in dried red chile pods.

      Despite the shabby-but-bustling neighborhood, this restaurant is surprisingly upscale, with nice dishes and serveware, and comfortable high-backed upholstered chairs. The tab for our table, including tax, tip and drinks, was $25/each.

      4 Replies
      1. The red chili oil wontons were a big hit at our table. Not as fiery hot as some versions, but with depth of flavor from well-toasted chiles. What stood out, though, was the quality of the wontons -- the filling was plump and flavorful and the skins had just the right amount of firmness.

        I think you're going to have to go back, because the fried intestines were another winner -- someone described them as "porky fried calamari" -- crispy-chewy rings bursting with fried pork goodness.

        I just noticed that the hours on the menu are different than the hours on the door (which I assume are more current) -- it's open until midnight Friday and Saturday and 10 pm the rest of the week.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Thank you Ruth (and the rest at the table) for making sure another order of the red chili wontons came out before I left. I missed the first batch but they were wonderful. The shrimp were super sweet cookied in the spicy rabbit broth. But most wonderous of all to me were the "numbing" chilis in the soup. Like a tasty visit to the dentist.

          And indeed, the restaurant was very comfortable and the service pleasant--replacing our dishes, making sure the fire was right, etc.

          Thanks, Melanie and David!

        2. re: Ruth Lafler

          Could you please say more about the "red chili oil wontons"? I missed trying that dish as well as the fried intestines.

          Here's a photo of the restaurant facade -
          http://farm1.static.flickr.com/127/33...
          It's next to the fire house.

          Like you, I'm looking forward to returning to try more from the Sichuan side of the menu. Maybe a dinner time banquet to stretch the kitchen.

          Here's the hot pot menu -

          Zone 88 Hot Pot menu -
          http://farm1.static.flickr.com/159/33...

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Oh yeah, the "wo choy" menus looked really good, and a good value.

        3. First, thanks to David and Melanie for organizing this lunch and I'm very glad that you were able to add tables!

          I was very pleasantly surprised by this restaurant. As Ruth said, it's in a busy but slightly gritty nabe but the place has been attractively decorated. Each of our tables sat 6 comfortably (unless you were in the middle seat where the hot pot stove sat, limited room for that seat. But the comfortable upholstered high-back chairs, attractive dinner ware and pleasant service plus delicious food made for a fun lunch.

          I totally enjoyed everything I tasted. While dishes were spicy, nothing was hot enough to cause a problem (at least not for me...) While the main reason for this lunch was to try the hot pot, I found the "appetizer" dishes much more interesting. Loved the Tendon & Tripe, Kidney, Garlic Bacon, Dry Fried Pig Intestine, and the Chung Qing Wings but I really loved the Steamed Pumpkin with Spareribs - this is really a Kabocha squash and is probably my favorite Winter squash.

          Here's a link to my photos - just things from our table. There were 5 at hour table and with a nice tip it came to $27/pp. I'm looking forward to returning to sample more of this interesting menu...

          http://www.flickr.com/photos/73893588...

          1. Its been a long time since I have been on these boards but am replying to Melanie's kind invitation to chow at this restaurant today. Unfortunately, I wasnt able to make it, so apologies to Melanie for that. Sounds like you all had a great time. I hope to visit this place as I love Sichuan food. I was stuck over New Year in Chengdu about 10 years ago today waiting for a train to Beijing and as the most ubiqitious restaurants around town at that time were Huo Guo Guan, I got to eat a lot of cheap spicy Huo Guo...It made an interesting contrast to the Beijing style hot pot which was mostly flavoured with lamb and served with a sesame sauce.

            Best wishes and happy (soon to be) New Year,

            Panpan

            6 Replies
            1. re: panpan

              Panpan, even if you couldn't join us, I'm delighted to know that you have returned and are still in the City! I'm looking forward to hearing more from you again and chowing with you soon.

              Have to hit the road now and haven't uploaded photos yet. In the meantime, here are the links to sign up for the chowdown groups, open to all 'hounds who would like to help organize meals like this.

              http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SFLunch...
              http://groups.yahoo.com/group/svchowd...
              http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ebchowd...

              Happy new year!

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Panpan...I also welcome you back and I'm looking forward to "catching up!"

                On New Years Day...I introduced my friend John to Zone 88...for nostalgic reasons, I sat in my "old" seat and John warmed Yimsters' place...he really enjoyed it...I then schlepped him to BiRite Ice Cream for fresh ginger, salted Caramel, coffee crunch and Orange granita (we shared ofcourse)...oh my!
                I then went over to BiRite and purchased a cheese with truffles (I ate the whole thing last night.!.)
                All together an auspicious beginning to the new year...

                By the way the pie crust dough they sell (at the Ice Creamery IS 100% butter!

                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                  What did you order on your return?

                  And may I also welcome back Panpan!

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I wanted to share some of the things we already had...like pumpkin and spare ribs, chung king chicken, fried pigs intestines...and he got to throw in one which was a tasty noodle and pork dish.....and we actually finished everything!!!!

                  2. re: ChowFun_derek

                    I too welcome pampan back, need for someone to keep us in line.

                    I too am planning to go back with family. But yesterday was a family meal day.

                    I too want the wings and pig intestine.

                    Soon than later.

                2. re: panpan

                  Just noticed this part of the thread, and let me add my "Welcome Back!" to the others, Pamela.

                3. I thought that someone had posted the regular menu but couldn't find it with a quick search - here's what I was able to shoot:
                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/73893588...