This article sponsored by Shabu Wasabi.
“Swish swish” is the literal meaning of shabu shabu. It’s a poetic and surprisingly accurate summary of Japanese hot pot cooking — a couple of turns through boiling broth, and a thin curl of kobe beef is cooked medium-rare, ready to eat with any number of different sauces or garnishes — or straight up.
A number of area restaurants offer some sort of hot pot dish, but the newly opened Shabu Wasabi is unusual in its focus on the cooking style. The restaurant is an annex-style expansion of Wasabi restaurant, which is known for its sushi and hibachi.
“[Shabu shabu] is big on the coasts and big in Chicago,” says David Nolan, Shabu Wasabi’s general manager. Nolan explains that Wasabi’s owner, Ichiro Hoshiyama, saw an opportunity to bring the cooking style to Twin Cities. “We realized that there are people looking for shabu shabu in the Cities and it’s a delicious way to eat healthy food.”
“You order whatever you want and it comes out thinly sliced,” says Nolan (pictured below, bottom row right). “With each entree, you get vegetable and noodle plates — so you get cabbage and carrots, enoki mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms and shingiku, which is Japanese Chrysanthemum.”
(Shingiku, if you’ve never had it, is fascinating stuff — somewhat like broccoli, but with an herbal / floral depth that is pleasantly surprising.)
By its nature, shabu shabu is a method of cooking that’s intolerant of low-quality ingredients. The quick cooking time leaves the food relatively pristine — it’s not roasted to a crisp, it’s not covered in butter, it’s not mixed into a jumble of competing or complementary flavors.
“It’s very raw, and so you get the essence of the food,” says Nolan. “If you use good ingredients — like Kobe beef, which is top of the line, you’ll get great food out of it with just a simple cooking process.”
Part of the beauty of shabu shabu is the degree to which the diner can steer the experience. Like fondue, the fact that you’re cooking your own meal tableside — with the help and guidance of your server or chef — means that a great deal of personalization goes into each bite. Beyond what you’re cooking, and what mix of noodles, proteins, and vegetables are going into any given bite, Shabu Wasabi offers diners a selection of six garnishes and sauces to further develop the experience. From left to right, below: a hot chili sauce, daikon (radish), scallions, a spicy jalapeno cilantro sauce, a goma (sesame) sauce, and a ponzu shoyu (soy / citrus) sauce.
Moreover, diners can create some special bites with the help of your chef of server — the addition of tempura flakes to a shabu shabu shrimp and a dab of pineapple jalapeno sauce made for a delightful crunchy / tender / sweet / spicy explosion of flavor. Shrimp cooked shabu style a great deal of tenderness to it, which makes for a strong contrast with the crunchy pop of the tempura flakes.
Nolan says that he hopes diners will be drawn in not just by the flavors, which are pure and simple, but also by the healthy nature of shabu shabu-style cooking.
“If you’re looking at people who are eating healthy, you basically eat protein, and you eat vegetables,” says Nolan. “In the simplest form, you’re just cooking your protein and vegetables in a broth.”
In addition, the relaxed pace of a shabu shabu meal is said to help diners stop eating when full.
The cooking style recalls the simple diet of Japanese fishermen. “You’d put the vegetables and the fish in seawater,” says Jiro, the head sushi chef at Wasabi. “They say the salt water makes the seafood sweeter.”
Meals range from $8 (for the lunch tofu option) to $24 (for the 15 slices of kobe beef dinner option) and include an optional post-entree congee (rice soup).
“After you’re done eating, we put a scoop of rice in the broth to make congee,” says Shabu Wasabi sous chef Mike Allen, pictured in red, above. “And right before we serve it, we drop an egg in there. People who try it tend to really like it, but sometimes they’re still full — but they can always take it home in a container. It’s definitely something that’s good for the next day.”
“It gets better as you let it marinate together,” says Nolan.
903 Washington Ave S
OWNER: Ichiro Hoshiyama
Mon-Wed 11:30am-2:30pm, 4:30-10pm
Thu-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 4:30pm-2am
ENTREE RANGE: $8-24