Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Little Tokyo – Shabu Shabu - Jackson

It’s rare when there’s a chill in the air during a Mississippi October, but Monday was one of those days. As the temperature hovered around freezing, I knew the night would be ideal for shabu shabu. For those unfamiliar, shabu shabu is a Japanese version of hot pot where sliced meats and vegetables are boiled in a broth and then dipped in an assortment of sauces.

There’s only one place to enjoy this winter dish, Little Tokyo on Avery Boulevard.

To begin your journey into shabu shabu, you must make a reservation a day in advance. As much as the people at Little Tokyo would like, they can’t whip up the ingredients for shabu shabu on a moment’s notice.

When you sit down, you are promptly greeted with a hot plate and pot of water (or two of each in our case)

It’s a little anticlimactic isn’t it? All this buildup to see a simple pot of water with a little seaweed, but believe me, it gets much more interesting.

Like on the teppanyaki side of the restaurant, you are given a choice of two dipping sauces.

On the left is your standard ponzu sauce and on your right is goma or sesame sauce.

Now comes the fun part. A heaping platter of vegetables was brought out.

The Napa cabbage, carrots, spinach, tofu, onions, green onions and mushrooms may seem overwhelming, but you’ll enjoy the variety of tastes, textures and how they’re complimented with the sauces.

In addition to the platter of vegetables, we were brought a platter of thinly sliced beef, ribeye if I had to guess.

While waiting for our pots to come to a boil, we satiated our hunger with a few appetizers. First was the fried pork gyoza.

Since I grew up eating this gyoza, these are my standard by which all other gyoza are judged. Combined with the soy and vinegar dipping sauce on the tray, these gyoza truly are hard to beat.

The second appetizer, grilled spicy shrimp, is unique to the Ridgeland Little Tokyo location.

Grilled with the shells on, these shrimp live up to their hot name, and they are one of my favorites. Their only real downside is that they are a little messy, unless you eat them, shells and all, like my friend Alvin.

The evening wouldn’t be complete without a refreshing beverage, and Little Tokyo has that covered as well. Todd, the evening bartender, is a man who knows his craft. Since my dad always orders a glass of sparkling wine with dinner, Todd has been trying to add more sparkling beverages to the menu. This time he told us he was introducing the French 75. Being a favorite of mine, I knew I had to try it.

Todd holds true to the original recipe of gin, champagne, lemon, and a little sugar/ simple syrup. All those ingredients tasty yet potent cocktail.

During this time, our water had come to a boil making it time to start adding the ingredients.

Here is Sam and I’s bowl at full boil.

Once the vegetables and beef are cooked, you start picking them out with your chopsticks and dipping to your heart’s desire.

More often than not, our eyes are bigger than our stomach, and there’s too much left in the pot. That’s when the next phase of shabu shabu comes into play.

When we were done fishing for tofu and beef, the proprietor came and began adding miso paste to our bowl.

You have an option for the next step, whether or not to add an egg. Sam and I opted to do so.

The eggs are stirred and then added to the pot.

Once that’s cooked, you stir in the rice and ladle it into your bowl.

The finished product is truly delicious as all the vegetables and beef have made a wonderful broth, and the eggs and rice have turned it all into a fantastic porridge. You would think that all this food would make a meal complete, but our dining experience had yet to come to an end.

The good people at Little Tokyo know how to treat their regulars well, and we were given a delightful tiramisu for dessert. I know tiramisu seems like an odd desert for a Japanese restaurant, but this was a delightful example of the classic dish. My favorite touch was the espresso flavored chocolate on top.

In the end, shabu shabu is more than just a meal, it’s an interactive dining experience. I might have had shabu shabu with more exotic ingredients, but I have never had better service and better quality than at Little Tokyo, and that is why I will always be a devotee.

For my review of the sushi side of Little Tokyo, please click here

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