There is a class of restaurants, where the food is also the entertainment. Let’s call them “interactive” restaurants. They ran the gamut from dinner theater to cooking your own food. Shabu shabu, Japanese hot pot falls in to the latter category. Shabu Zen is located in the heart of Chinatown. There are only a few tables, the majority of the restaurant is bar/counter style. Each diner gets an individual cauldron of broth and you order proteins to cook in the broth. R and I went with the standard pork broth, but there are different broths you can get for an additional charge. We ordered beef and pork, as well as the seafood supreme (scallops, prawn, salmon, cod, squid, clam, and fish cake). Everything comes raw and thickly sliced. The meal also includes a vegetable platter with napa cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots and daikon, as well as stuff to make your own dipping sauces (soy, garlic, scallion, peppers). The whole idea is you swish the protein in the hot broth till cooked (the thinly slice meats took seconds) and in to the dipping sauce and then in to your mouth.
I found this amusing for about 10 minutes and then I realized I was just paying to cook my own dinner, which is something I can do at home for free. I found everything underseasoned, as the soy sauce quickly got diluted with the broth. The meats were neither particularly tender nor flavorful. The seafood fared better, but R did not cook a clam enough and had to spit it out. He proclaimed that “this is a law suit waiting to happen – raw foods, including chicken and bubbling hot broth. They are asking for illness or injury.” We did have a friendly server who was happy to explain the whole process to us, and we enjoyed our mango and banana smoothies.
So, shabu shabu may be a good activity with kids (bubbling hot broth aside) or a large crowd where the focus is hanging out and not the food, otherwise stay home and cook your own food.