Thursday, June 23rd, Lunch
2879 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107
Warning: snobbery ahead.
Sean and I headed to O’seyo Shabu Shabu after a friend of ours mentioned the place to us. It has the same rating on Yelp as Osawa. As such, we went with high expectations, only to find that we had actually eaten here before, albeit before we started blogging, and it hadn’t struck us as anything special. What the heck, we thought. We’re hungry.
The atmosphere at O’seyo is completely different than the feel of Osawa. From the layout of the restaurant, with shabu counters in neat rows, to the demeanor of the wait staff, everything exudes a business-like feel. We were very efficiently seated at one of the counters and asked if we needed the menu explained to us. After we ordered, pots of spicy miso broth, sauce, pickles and water almost immediately followed.
The two of us were recently in Switzerland, and while the food was nothing to write home about, one thing about the service there did stick with us. In Europe, one is expected to enjoy one’s meals. One of our waiters there even explicitly asked us to “slow down” when we asked for the check. Sit down; enjoy the food, wine, and company. And while we were unused to it after living the fast-paced millennial lifestyle, that’s what hospitality is. It’s being invited into a space where you can relax, take your time, and enjoy yourself.
In comparison, O’seyo feels like the drive-through of hotpot, if such a thing exists. Seeing that Sean had left his udon noodles in the bowl after eating everything else, one of the waiters asked him if he was done and prepared to turn off his burner. In reality, noodles taste best if the broth has had time to soak up all of the other flavors first, and we like to save them for last.
But you didn’t come here to read lectures on hospitality. Let’s talk about the food. At lunchtime, $35 got us 7 oz. of ribeye and 7 oz. of pork, white rice, miso broth, and veggies. The meat was sliced very thinly and was very tender, but as a result didn’t soak up as much broth as a slightly thicker slice would’ve. Each piece is folded with the fold underneath the piece, and since where the overlap occurs the meat is thicker, it was still partially frozen at the join. This meant that we had to do some chopstick gymnastics to unfold each piece properly before cooking (and you do want to unfold it, so that it cooks evenly.) A couple of swishes and it’s cooked, but each slice was barely a mouthful. There’s no feeling of having eaten something hearty, though hot pot is traditionally a winter dish.
The broth was adequately spicy and salty, but felt watery. The meat and veggies felt a little naked without the sesame or ponzu sauces. It was an effective medium for cooking the meal, but to be honest, wasn’t something I wanted to drink afterwards.
On to the vegetables: Japanese pumpkin, green onion, tofu, tong ho (chrysanthemum leaves), bok choy, napa cabbage, carrots, king oyster mushrooms, and udon. There are some unconventional choices here. The pumpkin was a nice addition, I thought, as the texture and sweetness that it provides is usually missing from shabu shabu. However, the replacement of shiitake and enoki mushrooms with king oyster was a mistake, though I usually love king oyster mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms add umami to a broth, and dried shiitake can almost make a broth all on its own. King oyster however, has a great texture, but doesn’t soak up the flavor of the soup at all, nor does it contribute to the flavor. You’re much better off frying them in butter, or if you must add them to soup, slice them crosswise rather than lengthwise, or they have a tendency to be tough.
One last bit of snobbery: when it comes to vegetables for hot pot, there are two types. Some vegetables you want to briefly swish like the meat. Others you want to soak in the soup as long as possible. You want a mix of vegetables from these two groups, so that you can intersperse the flavors of meat with veggies. O’seyo, however, only provides veggies from group two. The unfortunate result is that you eat all of the meat first and then everything else, lest you miss the optimal flavor of everything.
As we left the restaurant, we were full but unsatisfied. There was nothing horrible or off about the food, but we don’t subscribe to the philosophy that food is just fuel. Why not just drink Soylent if that’s the case? Food is also art and culture and a balm to the soul, and to that end, this meal fell short.
Review by Mengsha Gong
Love the blog? Find us on Facebook!