SOMERVILLE — The sign for Yuki Shabu — Chinese Gourmet had been hanging for so many months above a locked door in the heart of Union Square that neighbors began to speculate it might never open. In mid-March, it did so quietly. According to manager Joe Lam, the many convection hot-pot tables required a serious electrical upgrade.
Now that the restaurant is in business, it’s time to bring in customers. During a weekday lunch, we are the only patrons. During dinner, we are at one of just a few occupied tables dotting the large dining room. Lam appears confident that this will change, and his approach seems to be to offer something for everyone.
Though shabu shabu — simmering pots of broth that come with various cook-your-own platters of meat and veggies — is the main attraction, the menu is massive. Dishes span the regions of China and beyond, with Sichuan specialties like ma po tofu, Hong Kong-style fried dumplings, and Americanized favorites like General Gau’s. When we inquire about the vast range, Lam tells us the chef has more than 40 years of experience working in many hotels. The website says Cantonese cuisine is a specialty.
Slightly overwhelmed, we start with Lam’s appetizer suggestions: lemongrass chicken wings ($7.95 for 6) and fried dumplings ($7.50 for 10). The chef’s experience shows; the wings are crisp on the outside but very juicy. The dumplings are handmade and deep-fried, filled with a mixture of pork and shrimp. Both could use a little more oomph — more pungent marinade for the wings, some extra ginger and garlic in the dumplings — but they still satisfy.
We choose two broths for the hot pot, spicy Sichuan and Korean kimchi. Again, these are cooked to please the masses — tasty enough, but not brimming with chiles and peppercorns, nor funky with fermented cabbage. The cook is playing it safe, with just a whiff of the advertised flavors.
We order the deluxe meat combo ($30), a large platter of thin-sliced prime rib-eye and short rib. The dish would comfortably serve two with the accompanying bowl of baby bok choy, napa cabbage, carrots, enoki mushroom, and other vegetables. The pot comes with a choice of udon or springy house-made wheat noodles, all ready to be cooked by you in the simmering broth. Lam attentively instructs us on cooking the meat, sanitizing chopsticks in the broth, and mixing the perfect blend of dipping sauce with fresh chopped scallions. On a chilly night this is the perfect warming food that won’t weigh you down.
We venture into the rest of the menu. Our favorite “sauteed snow pea tip with garlic” is as addictive as a spring green can get. One diner asks for the sesame chicken ($11.95), another one rolls her eyes, but everyone agrees it is delicious — crisp, perfectly cooked white meat lacquered with a slightly sweet glaze.
Though there are several Sichuan dishes on the menu, a kung pao shrimp lunch special ($8.50) doesn’t have the numbing heat we’d expect, with nary an electrically charged peppercorn in sight. The dish is tasty, however, with springy little shrimp and bright bits of sweet pepper. It comes with a somewhat gloppy veggie fried rice and two crisp crab rangoons.
According to online reviews, Yuki is making a lot of customers happy. It’s no wonder. It has great service, an expansive new dining room, and a vast menu of dishes, cooked and seasoned by someone who clearly knows what he’s doing. But let’s just imagine for a minute that the menu were edited to a more manageable size, and that super-experienced chef allowed to stretch his legs and really dive into some authentic Cantonese cooking. That would be a different approach to pleasing the people, one that would really get the neighborhood talking. And eating.
Yuki Shabu — Chinese Gourmet
16 Bow St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-764-5182, www.yukishabu.com
All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices: Appetizers $3.95-$8.50. Entrees $7.50-$30 (most under $15).
Hours: Sun noon-9:30 p.m., Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
What to order: Deluxe meat combo shabu, sesame chicken, peapod stems, lemongrass chicken wings.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.