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david kaplan | Dec 30, 200610:04 PM     34

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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