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An All-Women Staff Serves Japanese-Hotpot Omakase at Shabu Shabu Macoron

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On a recent evening, the chef Mako Okano stood behind the counter at Shabu Shabu Macoron, on the Lower East Side, looking a little like Rosie the Riveter: bandanna knotted around her head, the sleeves of her denim kimono rolled up to her elbows. After two years cooking at the soba restaurant Cocoron and its outpost, Goemon Curry, she opened this eight-seat place across the street last fall, with a small staff made up only of women. And that’s not even the most unusual thing about it: according to Okano, it’s the world’s only restaurant to serve an omakase, or tasting menu, that centers on shabu-shabu, or Japanese hotpot.

The chef Mako Okano cooked at the soba restaurant Cocoron and its outpost, Goemon Curry, before opening this place on her own.

Photograph by Zachary Zavislak for The New Yorker

The concept might at first sound antithetical; isn’t the whole point of hotpot to cook the food yourself? But maybe, Okano seems to be gently suggesting, you could use the help of a professional. The other night, a heady flight of appetizers more than proved her authority. A spoonful of cured salmon and roe mixed with starchy, sour fermented rice was dressed with a single minuscule purple flower and served with a thimble of warm, cloudy sake nigori. In a cast-iron pan, Okano gently cooked eggs she had frothed with long chopsticks, then rolled the resulting omelette in a bamboo mat and sliced it into segments, each placed in a cup of bonito broth with a jagged-edged shiso leaf. A springy tangle of yuba, the skin that forms on the surface of soy milk as it’s boiled to make tofu, came in a pool of the milk, warm and sweet, topped with lobes of briny uni from Hokkaido and a shaving of real wasabi. It was an overture for the tofu itself, a jiggling slab as soft and creamy as butter, seasoned with just a few drops of ponzu, a bit of grated garlic, and grassy green onion.

An appetizer of yuba, the springy skin that forms on top of soy milk as it’s boiled to make tofu, is served in a pool of the warm, sweet milk and topped with a couple of lobes of uni from


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