Liquid Fire

Grand Hot Pot Lounge takes the "hot" in its name seriously

Eating Grand Hot Pot Lounge's signature dish quickly turns into a free-for-all.

Look around your table as the waiters are lighting the tabletop burner underneath a bowl of broth and ringing it with plates of raw meats and vegetables, and you'll see your tablemates sporting the same intent gazes as greyhounds locked in the starting gate before a race.

Once the liquid starts to bubble, they're off: tipping cubes of frozen tofu ($4), cuttlefish balls ($5), Napa cabbage ($4) and coins of mushroom ($4) into the pot to simmer, then plucking curls of thinly-sliced lamb ($5) or watercress bouquets ($4) to swish in the broth for a few seconds.

This Inner Richmond Sichuan restaurant, open for three months, has the flashy grandeur of a nightclub. Your nearest neighbors might be 20 feet away. And yet you can smell the hallucinatory-citrus aroma of Sichuan peppercorns surging from their hot pots.

You may want to order a divided bowl, one side filled with the classic broth ($6); Chinese herbs and wolfberries bob on its surface, and the woodsy, gingery liquid actually flavors what you simmer. On the other side, the spicy broth ($6): Its fires are stoked with cinnamon, star anise, and Sichuan pepper and ignited by a quarter-inch slick of chile oil.

The melee stops only when the ingredients have been devoured.