August 16, 2014

Choose Your Own Taiwanese Hot Pot Adventure at Simply Shabu

One of the many great things about dining out is being able to sit back and let someone tend to your every hungry need. But sometimes it's more fun to take an active role in the experience. You can experiment with different combinations of flavors, rarely end up eating too quickly and in general have something to do besides just eat and talk.

That's why I liked Simply Shabu. Not only was the food good and cheap ($15 a person. Total!) but it was as engaging as an art class, where you can focus on your own creation and forget about the outside world while also enjoying the company of others. 

Tucked away from the Chinatown rush at 10th and Cherry Streets, Simply Shabu is a Taiwanese-style hot pot restaurant where customers choose their meats, seafood and veggies, cook them in private pot of boiling both, and make their own sauces for dipping. "Shabu shabu," the term for "hot pot," is a centuries-old tradition but varies a little by Asian culture. The majority of Simply Shabu's ingredients come from regional farms and its broths are made without MSG or gluten. 

Here's how it works:

Choose your broth - Pick from traditional chicken stock, veggie, spicy, kimchi or a special of the day. Be warned the spicy might give you a good sweat. A pot will get placed right down into the burner in front of you to start boiling. Choose white rice, udon noodles or cellophane noodles and happily accept the big bowl of veggies included with each meal. Toss the noodles and veggies in to start cooking because they take the longest. I also cracked the raw egg in there so that it would scramble. 

Your very own hot pot, veggie bowl, noodles, handmade sauce and utensil pile. Ready to cook some meat!

Select your main items - Order off the fixed menu to keep it simple, or order a la carte to mix up the options and make larger group sharing a little easier. Mains include beef, pork, lamb, chicken, a seafood assortment or just more veggies. The portions of meat that arrive aren't huge but don't fret. In the end it is plenty of food. You can always order more later or add more adventurous, individual items a la carte, such as fish balls, beef tendon, tripe and egg dumplings.

Head over to the sauce bar - Make your own dipping sauce while waiting for your meat. This is where you really have control over flavors - instructions on the wall help make a standard barbecue/soy savory sauce or a sweeter sauce, but you can play with the sesame sauce, garlic, chili oil, scallions, cilantro, hot peppers and other ingredients to taste. Yes, can you go back as many times as you'd like. 

Finally you're ready to EAT! Use the host of utensils provided to cook the meat at your own pace. They cook very fast - I'm talking 10 seconds or less. Then go to town mixing meats, veggies, noodles and your handmade sauces to chow down however you prefer. I started with a plate of cooked udon, added some veggies and then cooked the meat one piece at a time to place on top and mix with my sauce. It took a while to get through it all but that made for a fun, active and evenly paced meal.

Chicken and lamb ready to go 
10 seconds in the pot, that's it!

These photos are from the big U-shaped bar, where there's a burner in front of every seat. The main dining area is small so if you go with a group, call for a reservation. The staff brings you a pot to share at the tables.

Give Simply Shabu a try for something different in Chinatown. Don't worry if you aren't sure what to do - ask questions, the staff is very nice. And don't forget it's a BYOB.

Simply Shabu on Urbanspoon

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