Growing up in Korea, I had multiple encounters with traditional Japanese hot pot menu called shabu shabu where people get to cook meats and vegetables in a boiling broth, followed by dipping them for eating in a variety of sauces. The fun in shabu shabu lies in the DIY concept where you get to control how long you want to dip the food in the broth. The meats are thinly sliced and therefore become ready to eat after a very short period of time; if you put them in the broth too long, you get overcooked ones at your peril. Vegetables, on the other hand, require a bit more time. Therefore, when I heard of a small counter that opened up in Lower East Side where a young Japanese female chef serves the food for you, I was both puzzled and intrigued. Clearly, this woman, chef Mako Okano, has a ton of confidence in her craft; the restaurant also has not been shy to say on its website that it is the only tasting menu restaurant in the world focusing exclusively on shabu shabu. On a recent Sunday, I decided to check out the space with my wife Jun. It was definitely a unique experience but fell a little short on the value department.
Once you get seated on the table, chef Okano starts preparing and serving a couple of starter dishes, some of which were quite delicious, such as the dashimaki (a type of Japanese omelette) in bonito broth that had excellent texture and yuba (tofu skin) shabu with sea urchin that was so delicious in its clean flavor that I wish I had another spoonful of this wonderful combination. On the other hand, both the abalone prepared in uni and seaweed broth and tofu with avocado oil and smoked salt on top could’ve toned down slightly with salty flavor. Once these starter dishes come and go, chef Okano finally starts dipping the plates of meats (consisting of two different grades of beef, one type of premium pork and homemade tsukune (chicken meatball)) and vegetables into the boiling broth. Once we takes out each piece of cooked ingredient herself and lays it on top of the serving bowl, she suggests which sauce to add. Sometimes, she lays the food directly on one of the sauce dishes. Sauces themselves are quite an interesting bunch, with such flavors as spinach, tomato, olive oil and even gravy in addition to the traditional soy sauce. For premium pork, she also has a small dish of sesame and sesame sauce just for that meat.
Each piece of meat we sampled was quite a delicacy, with juicy and tender texture that tells us chef Okano sourced these very carefully. Vegetables were also generally satisfactory. The only puzzling ingredient from the assortment was the mochi dumplings, which were just empty doughs without any fillings. Jun was wondering whether chef Okano forgot to put any fillings inside. After what felt like a very short period of time (perhaps because we were too focused on putting whatever the chef serves on our table to our mouths while they still retain the ideal temperature having been just dipped from the broth), we were served cold soba made with Hokkaido buckwheat that was better than the average soba noodles we’ve had elsewhere. The single dessert of cardamom ice cream and lemon jam concluded our meal.
Getting a reservation at Macoron could be a challenge because it consists of a single counter with only eight chairs at a time. Make sure to book in advance online through Yelp. There is a concise selection of sake, beer and wine that you can order to complement your meal. Jun and I went back and forth on what score we would assign to Macoron. There is no question that the restaurant offers a dining experience you don’t see in New York City. On the other hand, was the whole experience worth $128 per person (before tips and taxes)? I understand that the ingredients were very well sourced and the modest operation of the space needs to be sustained with pricing at the level commensurate with sushi omakase restaurants in the city, but think a figure slightly below $100 would’ve been just about right in terms of value proposition. And despite feeling pampered from chef Okano’s meticulous service, Jun also wished there were some opportunities for her to dip the ingredients into the broth herself just to experiment with different levels of temperature. In conclusion, I do recommend checking out Macoron if you want to see how a chef turns shabu shabu experience on its head into a satisfying dinner. I wonder if the menu offerings will evolve over time seasonally to offer opportunities to try other ingredients that we had not tried.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 7.0/10
Address: 61 Delancey Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 925-5220