LIU LIU HOT POT (149 Baldwin, at Spadina, 416-593-8858) All you can eat for $13.99, and endless pitchers of sweet iced tea. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 3 pm to midnight, Saturday and Sunday noon to midnight. Closed Tuesday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier free. Rating: N Rating: N
A pair of misguided yuppies walk into a Chinese restaurant and announce their reservation. While their eyes scan platters of animal parts, a brawl erupts on the street at their backs. Horrified on several levels, they excuse themselves politely to retrieve their double-parked SUV. It's easy to mock their squeamishness, but apart from sweet staff with genuine enthusiasm for the hot pot technique, there's little reason why anyone would stay at Liu Liu Hot Pot.
The idea is to sample anything on the menu, as many as three times if you like. From tofu skin to squid's feet, the choice is vast. You don't necessarily have to choose it: surprises appear on a platter. So if the filigreed whiteness of cow's stomach doesn't appeal, this place is not for you.
The eponymous hot pot is set on a tabletop burner and holds two broths for cooking. Boiling food is dodgy. And boiling a wide range of foods in murky, tasteless broth causes the stock to take on the wrong flavours, which seep into everything.
One side of the pot never quite boils, so we reserve it for vegetables and tofu. On the other side, spiced up with chili oil and black peppercorns, a minefield of mystery chunks lurk at the bottom.
As frozen, thinly sliced beef and chicken thaw, the experience grows increasingly disturbing.
I submerge my chopsticks in the one boiling broth every time they touch raw flesh, but when I wish to wash my hands after handling uncooked shrimp, there's neither paper nor soap in the toilet.