As our cover story will attest, winter time is the time for hot pot. Nothing warms the bones and brings a pinch of ruddy hue to the cheeks in China, quite like hot pot, and, in Hangzhou, there's no dearth of places to go to indulge your blanching plunge. For us, we've always chosen the place that provided the best service, which is how we were referred to Hailidao. Hailidao playfully translates into, dredging the sea, which is quite an apt description, especially if you take advantage of their plentiful seafood options; but what makes Hailidao stand out from the rest of the city's hot pot options is its service. It's not just friendly and attentive, it's downright decadent. On a busy night, you may have to wait for a table, but you'll hardly mind considering Hailidao offers its patrons complimentary shoe shines, manicures, computers with Internet access, board games, an infant/toddler play center and free snacks while you wait. Even if you've gotten a table, all those services are readily available. After carefully draping our winter wear in protective seatback cloths, we were given full aprons to don; guarding our fineries from the inevitable splish and splash of the traditional hot pot dinner. We ordered the 50/50 bowl with a spicy Sichuan broth in one hemisphere, and a savory stock in the other. The menu, while all in Chinese, is categorized with pictures that serve as guides; so with a little help from the server, we were able to get all we wanted. Thanks to the server as well, our drink glasses never went dry, nor did they ever drop below half-empty. Our server remembered what each of us were drinking, and made sure we never ran out. As far as service is concerned, we'd be hard-pressed to think of another place that does it as well. Of all the food we ordered, from rib eye cuts and lamb, to quail eggs, cabbage, and mushrooms, everything was fresh, tasty, and on par or exceeding the standard. The theatrical, hand-pulled, noodles are a must order. The noodle master will come directly to your table and put on a show that turns the mundane act of noodle preparation into an exciting work of performance art. Careful! Acting like a fool will get you smacked in the grill with your own noodles. From beginning to end, our meal was a joy. We left stuffed, sated, and wont for nothing. Even without all the other gratis services (our hands look great by the way), we'd come back to this place for the fantastic food, reasonable prices, and superior service. Expect to pay around 50RMB/person for an absolute feast. Underground and street side parking available.
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