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Cook up your own ideas at Shabu-Zen

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.

Cook meal

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.

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