Mala Yuanyang Hot Pot (馬辣鴛鴦火鍋)
Address: 86, Dingzhou Rd Sec 3, Taipei (台北市汀州路三段86號)
Telephone: (02) 2365-7625
Open: Daily from 11:30am to 5am
Average meal: NT$359 from 11:30am to 4pm; NT$399 on holidays and weekdays from 4pm to 5am, plus 10 percent service charge
Details: Menu in Chinese; credit cards not accepted
On the Net: www.mala-1.com.tw
The frequent long lines outside of Mala Yuanyang (馬辣鴛鴦火鍋) first aroused my curiosity. Several failed attempts at getting a reservation prompted me to call on a Monday when business is supposed to be slowest.
"We won't have a vacancy till 9:30pm. Is that alright?" the woman on the other end of the phone asked, with an air of efficient dependability. It was.
Unfortunately, that dependable air was just that, an air. After arriving on time, we were told we weren't on the waiting list. "Don't worry, we'll have a table for you in a minute," the server at the counter said.
After being shown to our seats, the annoyance was quickly forgotten. Like many upscale places serving spicy hot pot (麻辣火鍋) in Taipei's East District (東區), Mala Yuanyang has a relaxing, lounge-bar vibe.
The restaurant has only two rules: There is a two-hour time limit and the meat, which is unlimited, must be ordered.
All food except the meat - including Black Angus beef, mutton, chicken and sirloin steak - is located at the all-you-can-eat section.
Mala Yuanyang serves its hot pot in a pan divided in two. There are four kinds of broth to choose from: spicy, which boasts 38 Chinese medicinal herbs, vegetable, pickled cabbage and another made of fish skin, tendons, sea cucumbers and kelp.
The spicy half won praise for its flavorful, but not painful, kick. The meat was fresher and of much higher quality than usually served at other restaurants in the same price range.
The buffet section stands out for both quantity and quality of the food. The spread includes the basics plus less traditional selections like frog legs, lotus root, shark skin, marinated chicken hearts and claws, scallops, shrimps, crabs, clams and sailfish.
Organic sweet potatoes can be heated on the pot handles for a healthy desert, but we couldn't resist the Haagen-Dazs ice cream, of which the restaurant serves eight flavors.
The servers are in general attentive. Special care is taken to cover bags and jackets with black bags so the hot pot odor doesn't sully them.