The wait (might be) over. DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya, the immensely popular, wait-a-month for a table shabu-shabu restaurant, has recently expanded its hours – so, getting a table is easier!
In a city the size of Austin with almost every type of restaurant imaginable, it might be surprising to learn that indeed, there are restaurants with reservations so sought after that Austinites will set their alarms 30 days in advance to vie for a table as soon as the next month of seating comes available.
DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya is one such place. Prior to early November, the restaurant only offered dinner on Wednesday through Sunday evenings and finding an open table was about as rare as experiencing a cool, rainy day in an Austin summer.
DipDipDip is a separate concept from the popular Ramen Tatsu-Ya, yet the chef-owner is indeed, one and the same: Tatsu Aikawa. The style of eating known as shabu-shabu means to swish slices of prepared vegetables and meats in broth heated to a slow boil in a pot in front of you. This upscale version of the popular Japanese dining style demonstrates Aikawa’s creativity.
The experience of walking into DipDipDip is not a subtle one. Bartenders and wait staff roar an enthusiastic, “Irasshaimase!”—the Japanese phrase loosely interpreted to mean welcome to the restaurant. And welcome you will be as you are escorted to your table. Immediately, you will notice that this is not a setting for a quiet, intimate conversation and nothing about it says “Texas.”
In typical style of these eateries in Japan, tables are small and positioned very close to one another. Throughout the evening, conversations flowed from diners on both sides of us and, on at least one occasion, we knocked elbows. The chairs are backless stools with small pockets to hold your menu, a purse and your phone. One benefit of this shabu-shabu experience is the requirement to be present. Diners cook their food in the hot broth in front of them – there is no room for a smart phone on the table, you’ll be far too occupied with the flavors and the swishing to think about checking in on Facebook. At no point during our time at DipDipDip did we see anyone on a smartphone. When was the last time that happened while dining out in Austin?
The waitstaff, well-versed in the menu offerings, will patiently describe the variety of selections and make suggestions about how to go about pairing the meats you want with a suitable broth. They’ll start with showing you a map of what’s to come. Literally, a drawing of your tabletop is in the menu and shows what you will soon have positioned on the table in front of you. Each diner chooses a broth. Then, it really gets interesting.
In addition to the four choices of broth, DipDipDip includes an additional platter with rice, a citrus ponzu sauce and a sesame sauce. Your tabletop will quickly be full with a large bowl of vegetables and your selection of meats vertically stacked on one side.
Diners are welcome to order a la carte, although most first-time patrons opt for one of the three Omakase (“I’ll leave it up to you”) offerings. The meatballs scooped out in front of you to cook on your own were one of the first to be served and quickly devoured. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of shabu-shabu and to begin experimenting with the variety of meats and sauces.
As if the multi-page menu isn’t enough, at some point during your meal, the waitstaff roll a cart of additional special chef offerings to your table. Due to the close proximity of tables and diners, the cart was reminiscent of being on an airplane when the flight attendants serve drinks – everyone had to watch their elbows or scoot in as the cart went by. However, the atmosphere is so fun and lively that the close quarters, even in ‘everything’s-bigger-in-Texas,’ added to the experience.
Despite the high demand for tables, diners are not rushed and are encouraged to enjoy meals at their leisure. Every diner was offered the chef’s special sorbet of the evening. The close-knit seating and booming welcomes from the staff each time the door opens set the stage for being in the moment.
Perhaps more so than any other restaurant in Austin, DipDipDip provides the opportunity for diners to put their phones away and quell all distractions to embrace the camaraderie of a lively atmosphere and the goodness that resonates from being present while enjoying a high quality meal.
Reservations, highly recommended due to limited seating, are offered up to 30 days in advance for a maximum of 6 guests.
Cover photo Julia Keim
Haven Lindsey resides in Austin, Texas. She is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience writing on topics including healthcare, addiction, public policy, education, travel, food and human interest stories.