Eating is not always just about eating.
Think about the best meals of your life and I’ll bet the circumstances surrounding them played a big part in making them so memorable.
Maybe you were on a date. Maybe you were with friends you hadn’t seen in years. Maybe you tried something new and different and wanted to tell everybody about it.
Don’t be mistaken about Muu Shabu. It’s a restaurant. You sit. You eat. It tastes great. But it’s as much an experience as it is a meal, and those are the meals I look back on most fondly.
Shabu shabu is the onomatopoeic sound of ingredients moving through bubbling broth, like “swish swish.” And that’s what dining at Muu Shabu is all about.
Each seat at the long, U-shaped bar has an induction heater underneath that quickly brings a bowl of thin broth up to a boil in front of diners. Everyone gets their own, so it’s perfect for dining solo or with a group that has varied tastes. It’s also interactive, because what you’re served is a platter of extremely thinly sliced meats alongside veggies, noodles and other fixings.
In a group, it can be a fun learning experience. On your own, there’s a meditative quality to it. I’ve been in a few times and found plenty of people talking to each other and sometimes single diners enjoying a book with their meals. It is what you make it, in more ways than one, since you’re also in charge of the cooking.
The set up starts off simply with a bowl of bubbling broth. It’s clear and clean tasting. It’s up to you to flavor it. Little canisters of diced jalapenos and garlic are dropped at your station along with shakers of dashi and other seasonings. You mix to taste. You’re in charge.
Looking over the menu, it can seem like a lot, but it’s actually pretty simple. On the left side are all the meats (as well as a vegetarian option) and combos you can choose from and the different sizes.
Beef offerings range from eye round steak to the traditional ribeye and all the way up to Texas Kobe Platinum, which one has to guess is domestically raised wagyu. There’s also three kinds of pork, chicken, shrimp and scallops to choose from.
As someone whose career choice means never having to choose just one, I opted for an XL combo of eye round and shrimp ($17.99) and a regular side of Kurobuta pork ($12.99).
Once your food starts to arrive, you’ll notice it’s not just meat but a big bowl of veggies — carrots, mushrooms, cabbage — some udon noodles and a bowl of white or brown rice.
Had I been paying more attention, I would have also ordered a side of egg for $1, because of a trick I picked up at Tokyo Pot in Stillwater: Get a spoonful of rice, dip it in the egg wash and then quickly dip it in the boiling broth. Voila! Instant “fried” rice.
Dump in all the veggies at the start. Stupid veggies, always taking forever to cook. Well, forever is a couple of minutes, but it seems long compared to the steak, which needs just 10-15 seconds in the broth to cook to a nice medium.
If you’re worried about eating raw meat, don’t. The quality of meat here is high. You can cook it all day in that broth if you want, but it really just needs enough time to “swish swish” and then it’s ready for you to eat. Dip it in the ponzu sauce or sesame seed sauce for an added boost of flavor.
Shrimp take more time. I probably let them hang out in the broth for a minute and 15 seconds or so before I fished them out. They were plump, steaming hot and perfectly juicy with a nice snap.
But the next time I go, I’m definitely getting the Kurobuta pork again. And probably more of it.
Kurobuta comes from a heritage breed of black hogs common in the U.S. You might have heard of Berkshire pigs before. This is them. The meat is gorgeously laced with fat, which adds a lot of flavor and tenderness to each bite. Dip it in the sauce if you must, but I thought this was worth eating without too much added flavor.
By the time you’re about halfway through your meats (or all the way, if you eat like me), the veggies should be ready. Pull them out with the spider strainer and get to eating.
Finally, when all the other ingredients have been eaten, take the remaining rice and the seasoned broth and put them together for a finishing soup.
Each time I leave Muu Shabu, it is sated, not stuffed. The food is as straightforward or complex as you want it to be. And maybe it’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely for me.