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Ordering at Little Hot Pot, the first Washington branch of a Mongolian chain, turns out to be like taking the Scientology personality quiz—only you're given stir-fried peanuts and pickled radish while you check off boxes, instead of creepy smiles and Dianetics books. First you select the broth (the half-and-half pot lets you try both), then haggle over which of the 70-some ingredients you want to cook at your table: sheets of thinly slice beef or lamb, cartoon-like baby cuttlefish, pea tips and chrysanthemum greens, cloud ear mushrooms, jiggly tapioca noodles. The milky "mild" broth smells like a cross between an acupuncturist's office and a spice drawer, while wilder smells (cinnamon, cumin, galangal) waft up from the spicy side, whose surface is deliciously, dangerously coated in red oil.
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