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Tokyo Pot

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Tokyo Pot in Stillwater serves shabu-shabu style.
Tokyo Pot in Stillwater serves shabu-shabu style.

Dean Chen and David Tjie, owners of Tokyo Pot in Stillwater, might not have great location or serve expertly cooked food, but there’s practically nowhere in the state that I’d rather eat. You could go the Melting Pot in Bricktown for a similar experience but you’ll pay three times the price, have half the fun and pay for parking. That’s no knock on the Melting Pot, it’s just an example of what a terrific time I had at Tokyo Pot.

Dean Chen, left, and David Tjie are co-owners of Tokyo Pot in Stillwater. The two Indonesian friends met in California.
Dean Chen, left, and David Tjie are co-owners of Tokyo Pot in Stillwater. The two Indonesian friends met in California.

The state’s only shabu-shabu restaurant is in Stillwater, and not even in the fashionable part. South of State Highway 51 in an area with potential but little current street traffic, they serve food that isn’t even cooked. Some say it’s a smart restaurateur who charges you to cook you own food, but David and Dean do plenty to earn your business.

They’re serving culture, history, and a little piece of themselves — dunked and swished in choice of two broths, 1. sweet like sukiyaki, the other with a little more heat. As dedicated as they are to what they do, it would be no surprise to find a pound of their own flesh among the wafer-thin meat slices that eventually arrive at the table. This is the food of their youth, and they not only serve it with pride but share it with a panache that I haven’t seen in the Oklahoma foodscape.

Shabu-shabu isn’t about precision, it’s about fun. This style has been around for 1,000 years because it’s easy and does what food does best — it brings people together. It’s impossible to sit through a meal at Tokyo Pot in silence. If you’re looking for a quiet meal in a dark corner, by all means go elsewhere. If you want to learn something about a different culture, share laughs with friends and loved ones and make at least two new friends, this is your place.

Rib-eye fresh out of the pot, dunked in ponzu sauce, what Dean calls quality control, and into the rice pot. More please.
Rib-eye fresh out of the pot, dunked in ponzu sauce, what Dean calls quality control, and into the rice pot. More please.

Chef Kurt Fleischfresser, the Big Kahuna of fine dining in Oklahoma, knows a thing or two about eating out. He told me this is one of a handful of places that he doesn’t even open the menu.

“I just say, ‘Dean, take care of me.”

Take care of you he will. Dean has charisma, energy and enthusiasm for sharing a taste of his culture. Meanwhile, David directs traffic in the kitchen. He makes sure the broths come out as advertised, the meats sufficiently thin and the vegetables and mushrooms good and fresh.

Rib-eye, pork, chicken and lamb are all available, wafer thin, for some shabu-shabu treatment.
Rib-eye, pork, chicken and lamb are all available, wafer thin, for some shabu-shabu treatment.

Prices range from $9.95 for vegetarian platter to $18.95 for the seafood combo, including shrimp and scallops. The rib-eye is $15.95.

David told me he almost opened Tokyo Pot in Edmond two years ago, but decided to play it safe and stay in Stillwater, where he’d been working for a number of years. The good news is, he is looking to expand. He’d like to open in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa. While that is potentially good news, I can’t imagine any new locations capturing the magic that Dean and David conjure together. Dean is fire, David is ice and shabu-shabu is the stage. But beware, this show demands audience participation whether it be donning a Samurai outfit or cooking your own food. But after a couple sake bombs, you’ll not be competing with Dean for the lead in this six-nights-a-week act. After you eat, you’ll be checking your calendar to figure out when you can get an encore.

Have you been to Tokyo Pot? Let me know what you thought.

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