I’ve been watching the rebirth of The Gateway over the past year or so with cautious optimism. It looked like it was about to receive last rights not very long ago. But, with the addition of excellent eateries such as MidiCi and, more recently, places like Chedda Burger, Seabird, and Punch Bowl Social, The Gateway is drawing hungry and thirsty crowds again. A brand new restaurant – Mr. Shabu – is certain to pump up the volume at The Gateway.Mr. Shabu is the creation of owner Jaehan Park. He’s worked in the meat supply business for 18 years, exporting meat from the U.S. to Asia. Mr. Shabu is his first restaurant, but you certainly wouldn’t know that to look at the place. The interior is gorgeous: sleek and modern with contemporary style and lighting. It is brain-bending to even imagine that this classy eatery was formerly an Applebee’s. It’s a very inviting spot to dine, and much more upscale than I expected from an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
Yes, Mr. Shabu is all-you-can-eat. But, get any thoughts of Chuck-a-Rama or Golden Corral out of your head immediately. This ain’t that. Dining at Mr. Shabu can be a very relaxed and leisurely experience, but one that is decidedly of higher quality than any other all-you-can-eat restaurant I can think of. For starters, although it’s a mostly “self-serve” dining adventure, the service staff at Mr. Shabu is outstanding. That’s not something I ever expect during all-you-can-eat dining.
While you peruse the Mr. Shabu menu and its step-by-step ordering & cooking instructions, I suggest indulging in an appetizer or two – which, surprising to me, is included in the all-you-can-eat price. Appetizers range from edamame and truffle fries to gyoza, cream cheese wontons, and karaage chicken. You can make it easy on yourself by simply ordering the appetizer sampler. I especially found the karaage (meaning “tang fry) chicken to be excellent: super tender, lightly-breaded and deep-fried chicken morsels with dipping sauce alongside.
However, I also managed to munch down many more gyoza than I should have. They are Asian-style potstickers with a very tasty and tender minced pork filling. I recommend grabbing some hot chili oil from among the sauce selections to add a little fire to those great gyoza.
The restaurant is named for shabu-shabu. Reported to have originated when Genghis Khan was wreaking havoc in Northeast Asia, shabu-shabu is, more recently, a mostly Japanese hot pot dish wherein thin slices of beef and other ingredients are added to a pot of boiling broth, and cooked right at the guests’ tables in restaurants. That is the idea behind Mr. Shabu. And, as I understand it, shabu-shabu translates as “sizzle sizzle” or “swish swish” in Japanese. I just think of it as “fun fun” and “tasty tasty.”
Here’s how it works: Diners at Mr. Shabu begin by ordering shabu-shabu broth from their server (Step 1). The broth choices are: Mr. Shabu’s (dried shrimp, green onion, kelp, anchovy & katsuobushi), Tonkotsu (pork bone-based), Sukiyaki (soy, sugar & katsuobushi), Miso, Spicy Hotpot, or Veggie.
Then, Step 2 is to order meat (if you want meat) from your server. The choices here include thin-sliced rib eye, USDA Prime chuck eye, Karubi eye, pork rib belly, boneless short rib, lamb shoulder, and others. Just FYI: There are more meat options on the dinner menu than at lunch. But then, lunch is priced lower than dinner.
Once you’ve ordered your broth and meat(s), you head over to the large “salad” bar (there’s much more than salad there) and gather up the ingredients you’d like to add to your pot of broth. There’s a lot to choose from, including oodles of noodles: rice cakes, ramen, udon, glass noodles, konjac noodles, and more. Near the noodles there’s even a spring roll station where customers can construct their own rice paper spring rolls.
Along with noodles, you can fill up your plate with all sorts of veggies, including red cabbage, jalapeño slices, julienned carrots, lettuce, red onion, green peppers, Napa cabbage, bok choy, corn, bean sprouts, daikon, bamboo shoots, mushrooms (an assortment of types) and much, much more.
And then there is seafood. The seafood selection includes raw head-on/shell-on shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster balls, octopus, fresh crab, imitation crab, and a lot of other stuff I don’t quite recall.
Finally, don’t forget (or if you do, you can always go back) to score some sauces and other accouterments to enliven your shabu-shabu. That includes things like hot chili oil, minced scallions, sa cha sauce, kimchi, fish sauce, and a bunch of other dipping sauces and such.
So, now you are back at your table and you’ve got all your edible goodies lined up and ready to go. Your server will first bring the broth you ordered to your table. She or he will pour the broth into a metal bowl that is recessed into the table and turn on the heating element. Within a couple of minutes, the broth is bubbling away and ready for action. Guests control the heat of their broth with a dial that goes from 1 (lowest) to 5 (hottest). And, one great thing about Mr. Shabu is that EVERY diner gets his/her own broth, hot pot, and heating element. So if I want vegetarian broth and my wife wants tonkatsu with pork, we’re both accommodated and happy. And that goes for all the other ingredients: each guest gets to totally customize his/her own shabu-shabu. Not too shabby!
Once the broth is bubbling away, you’ll start to add ingredients to the pot to cook. You want to first add firmer, thicker foods such as carrots or potatoes – things that take longer to tenderize. I’d add clams and mussels during the early-going, as well. Stuff like cabbage, tofu, and the thin-sliced meats can go in last, since they take, sometimes, only seconds to cook. You’ll also add noodles (if you’re having them) at some point, depending on the type of noodles you prefer and how long they take to cook. I found that the rice cakes took quite some time to cook, while udon – although it was frozen – just took a few minutes.
Remember though, that since this is an all-you-can-eat experience, if something goes wrong with your shabu-shabu, you can always start over. And, you’re invited to order more meat, more broth, etc. should you need more of anything. Each table is equipped with an electronic pad with buttons that you can tap to summon “Service” or to request your “Bill.”
Now, I have to confess that I generally loathe the idea of “all-you-can-eat.” It seems so grotesquely gluttonous to me. But the idea here isn’t to stuff yourself until you can’t walk. The idea is to indulge in a wide array of high-quality foods, many of which are quite healthy. I’ve been to very few all-you-can-eat affairs that were anywhere near as tempting and refined as this one, and those were much more expensive.
The cost to dine at Mr. Shabu is as follows: Lunch: $16.97/adults; $14.97/vegetarian; $9.97/children 5-10 years old; 4 & under/free. Dinner: $24.97/adults; $19.97/vegetarian; $12.97/children 5-10 years old; 4 & under/free. That, frankly, is a damned good bang for the buck. The only extra charges are for beverages, which include Coca-Cola products, Osulloc imported tea, bottled Acqua Panna water and San Pellegrino sparkling water. Alcoholic drinks include Mr. Shabu specialty drinks ($4 each), bottled & canned beer ($6 each), Korean Soju ($12), and a selection of Sake ($10). Since they don’t seem to offer wine, we’ll be finding out about corkage fees (if there are any) during our next visit.
Oh, one more nifty thing about Mr. Shabu. Mr. Park mentioned that some people will come to his restaurant dressed up for dates, or perhaps in suits and business clothes. So he offers protective bibs to anyone who wants them, since shabu-shabu dining can get a bit messy. But even beyond that, the restroom is also stocked with mouthwash and disposable toothpaste and toothbrushes for guests to avail themselves of. After all, you don’t want to go to a show at Wiseguys after dinner with a piece of beef round eye stuck in your teeth, right? The toothbrush and toothpaste courtesy is something I’ve never seen in any restaurant anywhere, regardless of how upscale.
I’ll be honest. I was predisposed not to like this place. I’ve already mentioned my aversion to all-you-can-eat dining. But I walked away from Mr. Shabu with a very positive impression. In fact, I went from skeptical to “sold!” And frankly, I’ll be surprised if there aren’t Mr. Shabu eateries all over the country in a few years. It’s a winning concept and a winner of a restaurant. It is also another feather in The Gateway’s rebound hat and another welcome new addition to its rapidly growing Restaurant Row.
Culinary quote of the week:
Leave the table while you still feel you could eat a little more. — Helena Rubinstein
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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