Light my fire, baby
Ok, I'll be honest. The only reason I went to Mizu 212 is because there was already a line at Asahi (at 5:00 on Saturday), there was already an even worse line at Hide Sushi (have I mentioned that I've tried to go to both of these places about 5 times each, and always I am thwarted by the line?), and Orris wasn't open yet. Also, one of my anonymous readers was curious about my opinion of the place, and I was in the mood to eat at a place I hadn't reviewed yet. So Mizu 212 it was.
We easily got a spot at the counter--the restaurant was only about 1/3 full when we arrived. Our psychic host seated me exactly where I wanted to sit--at the empty end of the counter. We hung our coats on the coat rack--all the seats are stools (the two tables I saw had post-its that said they were unavailable due to remodeling), and you can't hang your coat on a stool--you'd have to sit on it or throw it on the floor. Including a coat rack was good thinking.
Good thinking reigns at Mizu 212, it seems. The layout is aesthetically pleasing. There is a decent amount of space between stools (which are bolted to the floor--my friend didn't like this, but I didn't mind). A server gets your pot of water boiling as soon as you sit down, and refills it halfway through your meal to account for the water that has been lost to steam. The jazz music is neither too soft nor too loud, too cheesy nor too trendy. The only issue I had was that the pots of boiling water seemed a bit out of reach. I guess that's probably for safety purposes, but if long-limbed me is straining, they're too far away.
Veggies, tofu, and udon to go with my meat
Menu choices are limited--this is strictly a shabu shabu joint, and nothing more. You can get chicken, beef, veggies, or assorted seafood (shrimp, crab, salmon, and scallops). All of the meat/seafood plates come with a side of veggies (pictured above), while the veggie plate is essentially the sides. I would not be happy eating here if I were a vegetarian, since a large portion of that plate consists of bok choy and cabbage. Mmm, boiled cabbage. All meals also come with your choice of white or brown rice, at no extra charge. You can get a regular or an extra large plate, but if you want to share either, there is a $4 charge for your own portion of rice and dipping sauces (not sure if this charge is optional). I found one regular plate to be enough to fill me up (without consuming much rice).
You get two dipping sauces: ponzu and sesame. I really didn't like the sesane sauce, as it tasted like sawdust with a hint of peanut. The ponzu sauce was good though. I wished there had been more dipping sauces, but I'm not sure that would be consistent with traditional shabu shabu. I base this statement on my experience at the now defunct Shige, which also had two dipping sauces similar to the ones at Mizu 212. I guess if I were a real food critic, I'd research that. Ah, the joys of working for myself and not getting paid.
So how does this shabu shabu thing work? For those of you who don't know, you get a plate of thinly sliced raw meat, which you then boil very briefly in a pot of water at your table. You also get veggies. Any flavor your dish will have comes from two dipping sauces and a few condiments--chopped scallions, grated daikon, red pepper seasoning. The meat cooks incredibly quickly--within seconds. You have to watch it carefully to avoid overcooking it. Then you use a spoon or your chopsticks to pull the meat out of the water. Since wood can't be sterilized, I would recommend using one pair of chopsticks to toss the raw meat in the water, and another pair (or a spoon) to pull it out. Neither of the restaurants I've had shabu shabu at have seemed concerned about food poisoning from raw meat though, so maybe I'm wrong about something here. Feel free to enlighten me.
Much more appetizing than it looked in Lost in Translation
We ordered one plate of chicken and one of beef. The chicken wasn't too exciting, but then, is that really a surprise? Boiled chicken. Yum. The beef was quite good however, as the high fat content gave it a lot of flavor. The accompanying veggie plate was disappointing, as the only things on the plate that were capable of adding flavor to my meal were the 4 bites of shiitake mushroom. The veggies take longer to cook than the meat, so toss those in the water first if you want to eat the two together.
I also ordered a side of kim chee. I had a feeling my taste buds would need some perking up. I liked it, but I'm not Korean, and not well-versed in what makes kim chee authentic/good.
Overall, Mizu 212 is a good place to eat a healthy, creative meal. The service is good and the atmosphere is perfect. However, flavor-wise, shabu shabu seems pretty dull to me. (The lemonade didn't taste like much, either.)
Relevant trivia: shabu shabu means swish swish, which is a reference to the sound of cooking your food in boiling water. 212 is the temperature at which water boils.
2000 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025