86 Peterborough St., Boston
11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m.
Shabu-shabu, the Japanese style of hot pot, actually translates to swish-swish, echoing the sounds that the ingredients make as you stir them in the soup at your table. It makes sense that Swish Shabu has evoked this auditory experience with their name, as they provide a dining experience that is a treat for all of the senses. Not only are the cook-it-yourself meats and vegetables delicious, the presentation is excellent and the pleasant service adds to an overwhelmingly positive meal.
Swish Shabu is located on a side street near Fenway, and their small dining room is clean, modern, and filled with a young crowd chatting happily over their soups. An attentive waiter came over to my table many times to refill drinks and clear empty plates, but she never felt pushy or out of place. She was also happy to answer questions, though she did not explain the hot pot concept, which would have been welcome for a newcomer to shabu-shabu.
After salivating over the impressively large menu, I decided to start with the tentacles-only fried calamari. This starter made up for a small portion size with peppery flavor and light crispy batter that allowed exactly the right amount of the squid taste through. With its small size and high quality, the calamari left me looking forward to the main part of my meal.
A large part of the appeal of Swish Shabu is the adaptability of your meal. You can pick from more than a dozen different soup broths, almost twenty different meat combos and seven different types of noodles or rice. There are also a variety of condiments, displayed expertly on tiny plates set out by the waiter, which allow you to further customize every bite. Fresh vegetables that you can cook to your exact specifications fill out the combination plates. The menu is even diverse enough to include ostrich meat. The only challenge to ordering an excellent meal is making up your mind.
I had to try the cilantro and duck egg (for a $3 surcharge), in addition to the standard pork soup, for the base. When the broths arrived and I saw the sea of green cilantro floating on one side of the split bowl, I worried that it would be overpowering. However, the broth managed to infuse the ingredients with a delightful cilantro flavor and the slices of preserved duck egg were like little sunken treasures, floating just out of sight and delighting me every time I would grab one.
When the produce platter came out, it was piled high with fresh greens and accented with root vegetables like taro, radish and carrot. Ultimately, though the leafy vegetables were an excellent offset to the meat that would soon arrive, it would have been nice to have a greater variety of vegetables, both for flavor and color.
For the meat, the true star of this show, I stuck with classics and ordered sirloin, pork, and lamb. Each generous portion was sliced paper thin and rolled on a plate in a display that was practically an architectural accomplishment. Though tongs were not provided to handle the raw meat, one of the best parts of the whole experience was watching the delicate pieces of flesh cooked to the exact level that I wanted in a matter of seconds. While all of the meats were high quality and extremely savory, the slightly pricier sirloin stood out due to its perfectly marbled texture. As I ended my meal, the soup tasted more and more flavorful as it absorbed the juices from the meat. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide a deep ladle to get to the last bits of broth.
A glance at the entirely ice cream based dessert menu, which provided a nice contrast to the hot soup, helped me decide I should finish my feast the same way I had started it — with some deep fried comfort. Despite coming with a side of disappointing Hershey’s Syrup, the fried vanilla ice cream was a nice juxtaposition of creamy vanilla and a wonderfully light and crunchy funnel cake type batter.
As you leave Swish Shabu, you will definitely feel happy and full. There were a few minor issues keeping this meal from being sublime, but the staff was helpful enough to provide immediate response for any request in meal accommodation. The hot pot combos are reasonably priced between $13 and $20 for most options, which makes this dinner a bargain. With an emphasis on quality ingredients and beautiful presentation, Swish Shabu is a restaurant that certainly understands that a meal can be more than just an excuse to eat.