Tai Ho Dien, Taipei
While hot pot places are all over this city, these guys (Hsin Yi Road Section 4 Number 315, 02-2705-0909) in particular are known for being a more upscale one that local celebrities go to. What's the difference between this and one of those cheapo all-you can eat places? It definitely wasn't the decor; even here, you were still using plastic spoons and paper cups (and they don't take American Express either). It all came down to the quality of the ingredients instead. Witness those huge sheets of marbled meat, fresh plump mushrooms, and even a huge bowl of sliced scallions whose aroma was delightfully fragrant.
In fact, the scallions played quite a pivotal role. We were told that the proper way to eat this stuff is to use the red broth as the dipping sauce in your bowl, and nothing more, short of some scallions tossed in. And when your meat was done, take it out, wrap it around some more scallions, and then dip the roll back into your red broth sauce with scallions (dragon breath alert indeed!). They did have a huge bowl of Taiwanese sa cha sauce if you wanted it, but they basically said that it was only for wimps...or at least, only for stuff that you dipped into the non-spicy side of the pot. I didn't know that (and don't remember seeing this scallion roll technique in Chongqing).
Admittedly, I still ended up using the sa cha sauce, but it was a bit too sweet for me. And in that sense, this meal was a bit of a buzzkill, even though there the ingredients were certainly top-notch. (Am I getting tired of Taiwanese food?) At least it was better than that stuff from last night. But at around NT$1,000 (US$30) or more per person (this place is a la carte), it had better be.