I entered Y Shabu Shabu a hot pot novice. For starters, my handling of chopsticks is rudimentary at best and I puzzled over the small glowing dial at my seat when the friendly host sat me and a group of friends at a table of four. Surrounding the individual hot plates were neat table settings that included a small plate, bowl, and cup flanked by wooden chopsticks, a ladle with holes, and soup spoon.
A longtime fan of Y Noodle & Bar just across the street, I had been wanting to venture over to its cousin for some time. Though opened by the same owners, this newer extension of the Y brand is a totally different concept. Our server, upon learning we were newbies, knelt down at the end of the table to walk us through it.
First step: choose a broth. Tonkatsu, a pork-based option, is the most traditional. There’s also spicy Szechuan, Japanese Curry, Tomato, and Sukiyaki (soy sauce-based). Opting for a vegetarian choice, I went with the tofu-based Creamy Vege. Step two: bring your broth selection to a nice rolling boil right there at the table (pro-tip: start on a high setting and work your way down), and let the communal fun begin.
Rather than entrees, the menu at Y Shabu Shabu is ingredients. A handful of small-serving appetizers like Crab Rangoon and Nagoya Chicken Wings come with the all-you-can-eat charge, but the rest is meat, noodles, and veggies. Our first round was a mix of server recommendations and some tried-and-true choices.
The next step was my favorite: build your own sauce. Brushed gold bowls containing everything from chive flower and Thai basil to szechuan peppercorns form a glorified sauce bar and offered an opportunity to flex our creativity. I didn’t even notice the helpful sign with suggested combinations for different flavor profiles my first trip (yes, I made more than one visit), but was surprisingly pleased with my creation of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, chili oil, scallions, fermented bean curd, and miso paste.
We returned with our sauces to a table full of raw rolled meat cuts, seafood balls, udon and glass noodles, tofu, wild mushrooms, and veggies galore. My omnivore friends went for marbled American Kobe Top Round steak, angus beef, and premium sliced lamb first, ladling the slices in their boiling pots until done – cut very thin, this takes less than a minute, and the fat from the meat adds richness to the broth with each piece added. Fish and lobster balls, which puff up when ready, take a little longer.
Overzealous to start, I added thick udon noodles, bok choy, mushrooms, and bean curd sticks all at once. A word to the wise: hot pot is not a race. It’s also not soup – don’t be afraid to slow down and enjoy each bite. Dunked in the DIY sauce after simmering in the creamy broth, each morsel was a fresh delight, my favorite veggie staples reimagined in the pot. The new-to-me bean curd stick, a thin textured, slightly chewy sheet of soy skin, cooked quickly and absorbed flavors wonderfully, but the game changer was the corn on the cob. The kernels offered steaming bursts of sweet and spicy.
A second round – our pots refreshed with broth – included more daring picks like squid (tread a fine line between cooked through and rubbery), shrimp (simmer until pink), and chicken and pork feet (give these at least five minutes). Each drew praise from my hot pot companions. These new ingredients reiterated the now legend-status stories of spice and richness written by past fatty meats – and I’m told the crispy pork feet paired well with Korean barbecue sauce.
As for my veggie pot, next time I’ll know not to hesitate when ordering cuts of denser sweet potato and lotus root (an aesthetically pleasing holey tuber), which take a little longer in the broth. By the end of the evening, my pot settled into a satisfying umami essence.
Don’t skip on the scoop of matcha ice cream for dessert and a carafe of junmai or nigori sake – for the dry or sweeter palate, respectively. But friends, I’m here to tell you after one visit, I’m still just a pupil of hot pot – and that’s the best part. There are endless combinations yet to experiment with, and visions of the taro, watercress, and bean vermicelli I have yet to try keep me up at night. If hot pot were a lesson, I would gladly be a lifelong learner.
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