While we lived in London, the husband and I had a regularly scheduled date night every Saturday. I'm finding that this is even more of a requirement here in Tokyo as I don't see him at all during the week. We eat dinner together a max of 2x per week (including weekends) - the hours that he is keeping right now are looooonngg but I think that is to be expected when undertaking a new role. So last Saturday night we booked the sitter (at an equivalent of over $20/hour - ouch!) and set out for Roppongi - an area of the city mostly known for touristy hotspots, bars and clubs. I had read a review of a shabu shabu restaurant and was dying to try it out.
After walking up and down Roppongi dori (Roppongi street) a number of times, we finally located the restaurant. Whereas we are trained to look for locations on street level, Tokyo uses a multi story system. Your intended location could be sub street level or up 3 or 4 flights of stairs. Upon entrance to the restaurant we were greeted by two tuxedoed men with the customary "Irrashaimase" which means "welcome". In some restaurants, you seriously want to run for cover when the entire waitstaff shouts it at you when you walk in the door, it's a bit startling. We were shown to our table by our hostess dressed in full kimono, immaculate of course.
After settling on a white wine for me and a Sapporo for the husband, the fun really began. Shabu shabu consists of a meal of thin slices of beef (or pork or seafood) along with vegetables - shiitake mushrooms, leeks, rice noodles, tofu, spinach, cabbage, that you cook yourself in boiling dashi (soup stock)at your table. Similar to fondue but a bit healthier than oil, cheese or chocolate! We were given 3 dipping sauces - sesame, garlic chili and ponzu (yuzu + mirin+soy sauce) and large bowl of the veggies and tofu and a platter each of beef. Chopsticks completed the place setting. The meal was delicious and so fun too. We had a bit of challenge retrieving slippery glass noodles and tofu out of the boiling dashi with chopsticks but persevered and were rewarded at the end of the meal with a soup made from the stock plus spring onions and additional noodles brought to us and prepared by our waitress.
The dessert of gelatinous cubes of lemon curd? floating in more jello was not something to write home about. Note to self: go elsewhere (like to TGIF next door to the restaurant) for a real dessert experience. We opted instead to hit up a notorious hotspot - Motown bar. Hiiillllarious. Small, dive bar, 3 floors up from street level, smoke filled and frequented byJapanese women looking for gaijin, couples on awkward dates, business men...and us. Strangely androgynous look to the waitstaff and the husband and I started placing bets on who was male and who was not. fyi - all were male, but so very pretty. Odd. Motown was packed to the rafters and with no identifiable dance floor, everyone was getting down with their bad selves in the middle of the floor, between tables, en route to the toilets, you name it. All dancing to Billie Jean and then trying to Bring Sexy Back....amazing people watching as you can imagine. Headed home reeking of cigarette smoke - so nasty. Am waiting for Tokyo to go smoke free at least in the restaurants and coffee shops.
fyi - shabu shabu is so named as it is allegedly the sound the meat makes as you swish it around in the boiling dashi or it's from the sound that the dashi makes as it boils.
And that's your Japanese cuisine lesson of the day.