Austin Japanese Food: DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya Perfects DIY Shabu-Shabu Dining
The boil-and-dip style of shabu-shabu dining is more than a century old
“I’m finally getting the hang of it!” boasted the guy at an adjacent table. He was nearing the end of his meal at DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya, a cook-it-yourself Japanese restaurant that has a bit of a learning curve. For the uninitiated, which included most of us dining that evening, the restaurant features shabu-shabu, a hot pot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables. The interactive meal requires boiling your own raw ingredients in broth and dipping them in various sauces. Sounds simple, but the multitude of options can be daunting for novices, hence our neighbor’s pride in unlocking its delicious secrets.
In Austin’s white-hot dining scene, DipDipDip is one of the hottest. It’s the latest offspring of the local mini-empire that includes soup legends Ramen Tatsu-Ya, curry and cocktail darling Domo Alley-Gato and, my personal favorite, the Tex-Asian smokehouse Kemuri Tatsu-Ya. There’s also a Japanese-Hawaiian cocktail bar, Tiki Tatsu-Ya, in the works. Like all the Tatsu-Ya restaurants, DipDipDip puts a playful, modern spin on Japanese traditions, incorporating hip-hop vibes with stylish décor and Texas ingredients.
Shabu-shabu was introduced over a century ago in Osaka and named after the “swish-swish” sound of ingredients stirring in hot broth. Although DipDipDip honors its roots, it also incorporates some unique, updated twists. Diners begin their experience by selecting one of four flavored cooking broths for their individual pots. Unlike traditional shabu-shabu where guests share cooking vessels, DipDipDip provides each guest with his or her own personal, temperature-controlled cast-iron pot. I chose the pork bone broth, as did my husband, who added the spicy supplements of chili oil, coriander, green peppercorns and black cardamom. Other flavors include a spicy, smoky chipotle-and-miso broth; a rich, creamy soy milk broth; and a classic soy-and-seaweed broth. They all start out somewhat bland but build in flavor as you add each new element.
Next, diners select from a wide array of ingredients for cooking. Thinly sliced beef is traditional, which DipDipDip offers, as well as much, much more. There are several beef choices from Texas producers like Niman Ranch and Strube Ranch. But the pièce de résistance is the imported A5 Japanese Miyazaki wagyu, a meat so prized that it’s delivered to your table with its own certificate of authenticity. A5 is the top grade of wagyu, and the Miyazaki brand is considered one of the best. You pay a premium for it, but the rich, buttery texture melts in your mouth.
Besides beef, there are several pork options, including heritage-breed kurobuta loin and belly, plus savory meatballs studded with ginger and pink peppercorns. Seafood options include shrimp-and-cod meatballs, gyoza wontons stuffed with crab or shrimp, and daily specials like Gulf fish and giant scallops. Vegetable lovers will rejoice at all of DipDipDip’s gorgeous farm-fresh options. A complimentary box of vegetables starts each meal, piled high with seasonal treats like bok choy, asparagus, leeks and mushrooms. Also, be sure to check out the daily specials from the rolling cart before finalizing your order.
Now for the really fun part: the dipping sauces. Each meal comes with traditional citrusy ponzu and creamy sesame goma dare, as well as a side of koshihikari rice. Diners are encouraged to supplement their meals with some of the restaurant’s creative, unconventional dips, like the riff on ranch dressing called the Spicy Funk, a creamy blend of kimchi, garlic-chive oil and fresh herbs. Since it wouldn’t be an Austin restaurant without queso, there’s one called Keep Austin Dipping, a thick shiso-kosho sauce served with eggplant relish and a steamed bun.
Like all the Tatsu-Ya restaurants, drinks are front and center. I kicked off my meal with the Perfect Highball, a tall, refreshing glass of Suntory Toki whisky, yuzu juice and sparkling water served over ice. A classic Kirin Ichiban lager cut through my meal’s kaleidoscope of flavors and refreshed my palate for another bite, as did my husband’s glass of crisp, sparkling Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco. We were too stuffed for dessert but will return to sample something from the whimsical DipDipDip Ice Cream kiosk adjacent to the restaurant.
At DipDipDip, you can create your own meal from the à la carte menu, or if the choices seem overwhelming, order one of the chef-selected omakase dinners. The helpful staff offer advice on cooking times and sauce selections. As we dug into our meal, my husband and I initially fell silent, concentrating on the task at hand. But as dinner progressed, we, too, started to get the hang of it as we dunked and dipped.
This immersive, interactive experience isn’t for everyone, but for those who like to roll up their sleeves and play with their food, DipDipDip is for you. Austin diners are eating it up.