Kien Ha isn’t disputing the fact that Seattle has good Japanese food: sushi, izakayas, ramen, and more. What our city lacks, he humbly submits, is shabu shabu. “Here it’s only Chinese hot pot.”
This is why Ha is opening a restaurant, Shabu Chic, in the same building as Viet Wah market in the International District. Taking his cues from dedicated shabu shabu spots in the Bay Area and Southern California, Ha transformed the former Saigon Bistro space into a spare dining room dominated by a gleaming U-shaped counter and an individual induction burner at each seat. While hot pots served in the Chinese tradition are family style affairs, shabu shabu lets diners swish, cook, and dip thin slices of ribeye and assorted vegetables in a personal pot of delicate broth. Diners who do want that family style experience can sit at one of the three four tops along the wall, outfitted for communal pots.
The menu takes the “Chipotle approach,” says Ha (local Asian restaurants certainly seem to be paying attention to Chipotle these days). Select your broth first (spicy miso or traditional seaweed), then opt for beef, dumplings or solely veggies to cook in that boiling broth. Each order comes with plates of udon noodles, tofu, enoki mushrooms, napa cabbage and other accompaniments, as well as dipping sauces. Lunches will run about $10, and dinners about $13.
Ha, a management consultant by day, found the space through a friend who happens to practice law right next door. While Shabu Chic is a little difficult to find from the street, its proximity to ever-bustling Tamarind Tree means a steady stream of foot traffic. Initially Ha and his partner were talking with investors, but when funding didn’t come through, the two decided to rely on their own savings and untapped reservoirs of ingenuity and frugality to open up Shabu Chic on their own.
The restaurant’s owners intend to open April 6, though obviously such plans are subject to myriad unknowns. Initially Shabu Chic will be open for lunch and dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only, expanding if (and hopefully when) customer demand supports it.