I had three meals in the Flushing area, each of them nothing like the other. My first stop was a splurge, Xiang Hotpot, on the second floor of the New World Mall and, like a portal to a different universe, a palatial China-themed hall halfway between elegant and raucous, where on a Sunday night a friend and I were the only non-Asians.
The fun of a hotpot restaurant is that you cook your own food, in our case pork meatballs, pig kidney, black tofu, shrimp paste with bamboo and (because I couldn’t resist) a bullfrog. Here, the built-in pots are divided, in modified yin-yang style, allowing you to choose two soup bases including the “special spicy pot,” with chiles, Sichuan peppercorns and globs of melting beef tallow. (Beef tallow is a standard cooking fat for hotpot restaurants, just as it used to be for McDonald’s French fries and still is for Belgian street fries, for deliciously crisp results.)
The rest of the fun is that sauce bar, where you can whip up your own dipping bowls based in soy or sesame or seafood sauce, say, and adding ingredients like ground peanuts, cilantro or red chiles. Despite the near-infinite combinations, it’s really hard for even the most amateur sauce maker (me) to make something that isn’t delicious. The cost, at just over $120 for two (with tip), is a worthwhile splurge.
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