Chinatown is becoming a misnomer. Not only does the neighborhood boast Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Taiwanese and Korean eateries but now there’s a shabu-shabu restaurant, Shabu-Zen.
Purportedly named for the swish-swish sound of paper-thin shards of raw beef swirled through simmering stock, shabu-shabu is Japanese fondue. It’s a cook-your-own feast of meats, fish and vegetables that you accessorize with different ingredients, sauces and starches.
“I couldn’t have gone into business if I had to deal with a chef,” confides owner David Yee, with mock seriousness, to a curious customer. “Here, everyone is his own chef.”
Yee, whose parents once owned a Polynesian eatery on Boylston Street, and his wife, Reiko Kuba, opened Shabu-Zen two months ago. It’s similar, she says, to restaurants back in her native Japan, where the couple met.
They couldn’t have done much courting at the local shabu-shabu shack. It’s not an experience that’s conducive to conversation – at least not at Shabu-Zen, where almost everyone is seated at a counter . . . and yakking on a cell phone. Your main focus isn’t your dining companion; it’s a stainless steel basin of hot fish-pork broth, sunk into the laminated countertop in front of you.