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hot pot at Zone 88

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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. re: Melanie Wong

        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...

                  1. re: chinese lucky numbers, 8 in particular:
                    http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/07/0...

                    interesting bit about "customized lucky lic plates":
                    >anytime "you see a nice car with four of five 8s,
                    >people know they must be rich."
                    >

                    "we thought the 8s were lucky ... until we got car jacked"

                    the store "88 entertainment" was about a block down, past
                    the 101 silver ave off ramp".

                    if you punch in "88, san francisco" into google maps,
                    you'll notice a cluster of names on powell/chinatown area,
                    the place on san bruno, a place on clement ... do the math.

                    getting back to the food at Z88, let me put in a good
                    word for the sea bass flesh, which was a delightful
                    surprise for me.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: psb

                      I was also impressed by the black bass filet. Several kinds of seafood are specified, e.g., rock cod, on the hot pot menu, as well as an item just identified as "fish filet". I'm glad I though to ask what type of fish it was, as it turned out to be very fresh black bass. Cut in thickish slabs, I found it actually took longer to cook than the thin shavings of beef or lamb. It absorbed the flavorings of the two broths quite nicely and added a nice sweetness to the pot.

                      Here's the plate of fish filet -
                      http://farm1.static.flickr.com/141/34...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Melanie, that is absolutely the most gorgeous plate of fish ever.... thanks for putting up your photo.

                    2. I really liked this place and am thrilled that it's only 5 minutes away from my house. I was also surprised at the lovely interior of the restaurant with its comfortable chairs and charming dinnerware. I can't wait to try it for dinner because the menu has so many interesting sounding dishes like cumin seed lamb (or beef,) duck and beer clay pot (I assume that it uses the same flavorful and spicy stock that we had as one of our hot pot choices,) Szechuan soya marinated duck, and a bunch of others.

                      My favorites today were the Chung Qing chicken wings, the dry-fried pork intestines, the tea duck, and the pumpkin (kabocha squash) filled with braised spareribs, and the tripe. John liked the lamb cooked in the hot pot, the duck, the intestines, and the spicy kidneys cold dish -- I liked that one, too.

                      I preferred the rich duck and beer stock to the rather mild lamb stock. The duck stock was very complex -- spiced with star anise, cassia (cinnamon,) sichuan peppercorn, chiles, garlic with, of course, the duck and beer adding other rich flavors. We both enjoyed tasting the last course of wide fun added to the meat, mushroom and lettuce enriched broth. I liked it a lot, but would have liked a few more vegetables in the hot pot. That's really a minor complaint because it was really quite delicious.

                      John and I are very happy that we attended this Chowhound lunch and are looking forward to joining a group of Chowhounds for dinner at Zone 88 in the near future.

                      --Nancy Berry

                      1. I'm the belated official scribe for our table and Ruth covered almost everything: the spicy bunny and mushroom broths with eel, shrimp, fatty beef, tofu, cellaphone noodles, winter melon, garlic sprouts, and yanak choy as dipping fillings. My favorites were the fatty beef, well marbled, but not too fatty; the winter melon; and (to my surprise) tofu. I thought the tofu would dilute the flavors, but instead it absorbed the wonderful flavors of the broth. The garlic sprout appeared to be leeks and the yanak choy was very similar to romaine lettuce. I didn't care much for the mushroom broth, it lacked the layers of flavor for me of the spicy rabbit and the mushrooms that came with it were VERY gritty. On the other hand, some of the other table ordered mushrooms to add to the broth and the ones I tasted were delicious.

                        Of the appetizers I loved the garlic bacon, chili wontons, spareribs in pumpkin, and fried pig intenstines (I was the one who took one taste and thought they tasted like piggy fried calamari, a very good thing).

                        One warning though, they use msg although I think most of it is in the hot pot broth. I had an allergic reaction at the end of the meal, after having a couple of bowls of broth. Since I'd been eating for over an hour by that time with no problem, I'll go back, but not drink the broth (which was pretty concentrated by the time I had it).

                        A great meal. Thank you Melanie and David.

                        1. I was also at table three and LOVED this place. What a great find!!!!
                          My favorite apps were the kidney with chilli sauce, the fried intestines, the chili wontons, and the garlic bacon.
                          I really liked our spicy rabbitt broth. Didn't care for the mushroom broth. And very much savored the duck&beer broth from yimster's table. I liked the fatty beeff (good quality) and the incredible sweetness of the shrimp.

                          1. I don't know that I can add anything more. I loved the chili wontons. I liked how the broth developed so nicely. I'll definitely go back.

                            I thought the three separate menus were a little bit daunting - the hot pot menu, an abbreviated lunch menu and a large multi-page menu with a picture section, a family meals section and an individual dish section - if I hadn't been with the hounds and focused on hot pot, I probably would have sunk into a mire of indecision.

                            1. I am glad that everyone seemed to enjoy this place, as this district was seriously lacking for good AND cheap Asian/Chinese lunch options. I was very skeptical when I first tried it, but came away very please and Zone 88 is now part of my lunch rotation.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                We certainly liked the Sichuan standards. What are your favorite dishes there?

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  I am not very adventurous when it comes to ordering intestines and the like, and I have only managed to order from the rice plate and appetizer menus so far. The Cumin Beef is pretty good, and I absolutely love the spicy fried squid tentacles!

                              2. Just went back tonight. Had the duck and beer base with fatty beef, whole shrimp, cabbage, and bean thread to dip. Just as good as the other day. I really like the slightly herbacious quality of this broth. Also ordered the garlic eggplant (very clean in flavour and not overdone with sticky brown sauce). I love this place!
                                P.S. Was packed when we went at 8. All tables were full.

                                1. in case the need comes up, they have two small private rooms in back with a big round table each, and one with two tables.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: echo

                                    There are actually three private rooms. The larger one with two tables that seats up to 22 or 24. Then smaller ones on each side of the hallway with one table each that can seat 8 to 10 people.

                                  2. Went back today with a couple of friends who couldn't make the lunch last week - they left the ordering up to me so I had to have the Fried Pork Intestine, Beef Tripe & Tendon, Chung King (Chong Qing ???) chicken wings, and Spareribs in the pumpkin - then on to the hot pot! I hadn't tasted the black chicken broth so I ordered that with the fatty beef, shrimp, tofu skin knots, water cress and another green veggie that in Japanese is Shinjuku (I think...). That fatty beef is the BEST - with little bits of the sesame paste and soy - couldn't be any better. I just gave the slices a quick swish thru the hot broth and ate them while they were still quite rare. Wonderful stuff. Lunch was great and I can't wait to go back and try more of this menu! Then we were off to Bi-Rite for Salty Caramel, Ginger and Coffee Toffee ice cream - sigh - another great Chow Day!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: RWCFoodie

                                      We took the same route on New years day...it's like the Chowhound version of "the stations of the cross" in this case culinarily!
                                      Did you see the all butter pie dough at Bi Rite?

                                      1. re: RWCFoodie

                                        It's certainly a testament to the quality here that three of you have been back already!

                                        Here's a photo of the yin-yang (divided into two sections) hot pot at my table. We had mushroom broth (left side) and black chicken broth (right side). I LOVED the black chicken stock. The mushroom was tasty, but too much grit on those (dried) straw mushrooms.
                                        http://farm1.static.flickr.com/165/34...
                                        In the background, the frothy orange juice and one of our diners identified only by her ladybug. (g

                                        )

                                        And for those who haven't experienced hot pot, one chooses one or two broths, and then orders additional ingredients that you cook in the boiling liquid at the table. Zone 88 had insulated wire baskets for containing the ingredients simmering in the stock.

                                        This is a wintertime favorite to heat and humidify the house. Hope this took care of any head congestion and helped our complexions to share a steaming hot pot.

                                      2. >stations of the cross ... Bi Rite ...
                                        >
                                        It's the like the Via Dolorosa, except with Happy Meals,
                                        so to speak.
                                        Or in this weather, the Via Dolores Parka.

                                        You *could* almost do a food Via Dolorosa
                                        from Z88 ... Allemany FM, Ritual Roasters,
                                        Tartine, Bi-Rite Creamery, Defina ... "What
                                        would Jebus Eat?"

                                        It might even merit a mention in
                                        the next edition of "The Gospel of Food"
                                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/355854

                                        Ok, ok, mea culpa. We now return you to
                                        your regularly secular food testimonials.

                                        --felix mignon

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: psb

                                          ".....it's like heaven on a bun!"

                                        2. Good grief, I didn't see the butter pie dough at Bi Rite but I'm glad I didn't! That's all I need... As it is, I did get one of the chocolate Pot de Creme but shared it with Bob (actually I only ate about 1/4 and fed him the rest... I can't believe all the wonderful places to eat in that area - Derek, I love your Stations of the Cross reference! So ecumenical... :-)

                                          I can't wait to explore more of Zone 88's menu - there are so many yummy sounding dishes - a couple that sound good are with salted egg (pumpkin is one and another is taro).