Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review: Shabu Zen

Typically, a nice dinner out does not translate into being served raw meat and cooking it yourself-but at Shabu Zen it's a different story. Shabu-Shabu, the Asian hot pot cuisine, is said to have originated with Genghis Khan to feed his massive army. Today, it translates into good, healthy food served relatively cheap.

Located in Allston, Shabu Zen offers a cool and almost hip atmosphere with its open layout and black sparkled bar. With the exception of the counter side service, the rest of Shabu Zen's seating was comfortable and spacious and allowed for several groups to dine in comfort. Though the restaurant was crowded, the noise level was not at all obtrusive and it was easy to carry a conversation. This could be due in part to the fact that most of the booths are a step up (literally) from the center of the restaurant.

Shabu Zen's staff was initially helpful and attentive. Customers are asked if they were familiar with the Shabu-Shabu cuisine or if they needed clarification on the menu. After that however, service took a plunge. The wait-staff seemed more interested in gossip and flirting with each other than checking on their diners. Water glasses went unfilled, drinks were not replenished and more importantly, the hot pots were not monitored leaving one guest with cold stock instead of the steamy broth we all enjoyed. If Shabu Zen's food wasn't so delicious, this would be a definite deterrent.

Served fresh and thinly sliced, the lamb, beef, chicken and pork were all delicious when swished in the traditional Shabu broth as well as the Spicy Chinese broth that was offered. (Be careful-this spicy broth carries an additional fee!) The pork, in particular, was by far the tastiest of the meats sampled and was declared a table favorite.

No Shabu meal would be complete without a massive plate of raw vegetables. Cabbage, corn, sprouts and mushrooms piled high and mingled with tofu and tofu skins. Vegetarians would be delighted to know that they too, could easily leave with a fully belly.

Though Shabu Zen's staff needs to be enlightened, overall it is a good choice if you are looking for a healthy meal with a small price tag. Rating: 3 out of 5 forks.

Shabu Zen is located at 80 Brighton Ave. in Allston. 617-782-8888

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