EVERYTHING'S cooler in Pooler. I'm sure you've heard this one before, and now I have the proof: Splendid Shabu!
Just when my yearly hunger for Beijing hot pot was at its winter height, I heard about a new place from a couple of gustatory-wise Peruvian friends in Pooler. Before Fire Wok opened in Savannah in November, father and daughter team Timmy & Christine Tsoi (pronounced “soy”) from Hong Kong, decided the time was ripe to introduce the local populace to the wonders of hot pot dining this past June.
Owners, with mom Mei Tsoi of Pooler Seafood, they already had an inkling of how Southerners adored a pot of fresh seafood. Enterprising entrepreneurs at heart, they brought into being the idea that had been simmering in the family for a while.
If you’ve read my column before you’ll know that hot pot originated as a 13th century way of cooking that Genghis Khan used to feed his Golden Hoard: fresh, thinly sliced meats and vegetables simmering in a delicate broth, cooked fast and using as little fuel as possible.
Japan, located just across the East China Sea from the People’s Republic of China, trades recipes, styles and music back and forth on a regular basis. For every Chinese fan of Japanese sushi, there is now an answering call of Japanese lovers of Mongolian-Chinese hot pot.
Shabu-shabu (the Japanese sound for the thin meats swish-swishing around in bubbling broth) was introduced in Japan in the mid-20th century with the opening of the first shabu-shabu restaurant in Osaka. Splendid Shabu in Pooler embodies this Asian fusion feel at its finest.
Tucked away behind the new Byrd’s Cookie Company just off the Pooler Parkway, it’s a tad difficult to find at first, but well worth the effort. Small, elegant, themed in crisp black and white with delicate, snowy, flower-like lanterns over the tables, and nary a hint of golden dragons or wispy maidens on calligraphic scrolls, the effect is clean, modern, comfortable and low-key.
Timmy has upgraded the original idea of flame-under-the-pot cooking with modern induction heaters—flat, black, clean and efficient, each with its own dedicated breaker on a 400 amp system.
Each pot is brought out to the polished stone table filled with one of three broths: miso, pork and chicken, or hot and spicy. It’s then laid on an induction burner that leaves the entire area, except just under the pot, completely cool.
The menu card is handed over and you check what you want under each heading: Soup Base, Noodle, Combo or a la carte items, Appetizers and Drinks. Each dish of noodles comes with a beautiful variety of fresh veggies and is included in the price of the combo.
If you want more broccoli, mushrooms, meat, tofu, seafood, etc., add on a la carte dishes as you desire. Seafood is gorgeously fresh here and includes local shrimp, fish, scallops, clams and more, as well as exotic items like Fuzhou fish balls, cuttlefish balls, and baby octopus.
Your server will bring you everything you need: bowl, tongs, fork, spoons, strainer, to cook up and handle your food, and everything is prepared fresh.
Quail eggs come already boiled and peeled—just add them to the soup for warming up—or order a couple of fresh eggs to drop into your soup.
Lamb, beef, chicken and pork are frozen then cut in paper thin pieces which come to you neatly rolled and stacked and ready for quick-cooking. Mini-pork sausage, beef tripe and wonton are also available and tofu or tofu skins for vegetarians.
Splendid Shabu is a dedicated hot pot restaurant, so the menu concentrates on a wide variety of delicious additions to the soup, with a small appetizer list. The spring green shrimp-chive dumplings are steamed, then quickly fried on the bottom which leaves them delicately crisp.
The grilled babyoctopus, marinated in a house teriyaki, is delicious, with the perfect blend of chewy and tender. Gyoza (steamed, then fried pork dumplings) and edamame are a nod to the Japanese theme.
A Chinese family sat near us, and the grandmother kept calling out “Hao chi! Hen hao chi!” (“Delicious!”), indicating her happy approval of the meal. My accompanying friends, both Southern to-the-bone, though new to hot pot, were delighted and already vowing to come back soon, halfway through the meal.
The truth is, hot pot is just plain fun! Whether you’re tucked in a booth with hot pot newbies or partyin’ it up at the big U-shaped table in the middle, there’s plenty of space for loads of dishes to try, sauces to mix, and menu items to experiment with.
A variety of bubble teas, smoothies, beer and sake make the meal festive, and if you’re in a rush, ask for the Express Pot specials. I recommend though, that you take your time and savor your creation—and don’t forget to ask for your flavorful broth to take home (eggs and noodles added the next day make a perfect lunch)!