Antique Japanese kites adorn the walls of Sean Kaywood’s cheerful, informal Asian eatery, one of four new restaurants to open recently in Lower Queen Anne’s Expo Building.
The concept amounts to an intro to Asian street food with a menu focused on three items: kushiyaki, robata-grilled skewered meats and fish; gamjatang, Korean pork-bone soup; and shabu-shabu, a DIY Japanese eating experience involving pots of bubbling broth.
Shabu-shabu is the signature dish at Roaring Bowl. Much like fondue or Chinese hot pot, customers select from a menu of meats, seafood and dumplings that are cooked in a pot of steaming broth at the table.
A meat slicer occupies a prominent place at a counter that zigzags along one wall of the compact space. (One night it was operated with graceful precision by a young man whose neck tattoos — a treble clef under one ear, a bass clef under the other — suggested his proficiency with other instruments as well.)
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The machine’s almost constant whine as it shaves raw, slightly frozen slabs of white-streaked kurobuta pork belly, dry-aged wagyu short rib, ruby-red Painted Hills beef and lamb from Anderson Ranch attests to the popularity of meat for shabu-shabu. But the house-made dumplings stuffed with spicy pork or shrimp are very good, too, and the seafood platter’s salmon, squid, clams and shrimp tasted as fresh as you’d find in the fussiest sushi bar.
Eating vegetarian? Just have the vegetable plate that comes with each entree. Artfully arranged and ready for its Instagram moment, a recent array included baby bok choy and broccolini, carrot, eggplant and zucchini slices, enoki, oyster and brown mushrooms, cabbage, cubed tofu and udon noodles.
Pots of broth are kept at a rolling boil on induction burners embedded in the tabletops and counter top. Each pot has two compartments, so you can experiment with a couple of broths. I preferred the traditional lightly briny seaweed broth for the seafood. I liked the aromatic complexity and bold flavor of the Szechuan peppercorn broth best with the meat. You can tweak any of the six broths with chopped daikon, scallion, garlic or togarashi seasoning from a condiment caddie.
Servers are adept at talking newbies through the logistics of cooking and conveying each morsel from pot to rice bowl to mouth with the help of a soup spoon, a small mesh strainer and chopsticks — plus a fork if you want. A dip in one of your two sauce bowls (brisk ponzu or creamy sesame) and then a stop atop your rice bowl allows each bite to cool slightly.
Both meat and seafood cook pretty quickly. You’ll want to pull the meat out just as soon as it loses its pink color, before it can toughen. Shrimp and scored slices of squid were done in a minute. Buttery soft salmon took even less time. Toss in the clams then pluck them out as they open.
Dumplings should cook for five minutes. Vegetables can simmer even longer, and they flavor the broth as they do. Periodically the server replenishes the pot with a pitcher of hot water, which surprisingly does not dilute the flavor. I saved the noodles for last and slurped them from the bowl of sesame sauce dregs.
If shabu-shabu sounds too labor intensive, opt for gamjatang. Served in a deep caldron, this soup is fully cooked when it comes to the table. It continues to simmer as you pluck incredibly tender meat from gnarly bones, in the process scattering mizuna leaves that add their pungency to the porky, peppery red broth. The soup, which also includes potatoes, mushrooms and scallions, is served with rice and crunchy, gingery, house-made kimchi that is only moderately fiery and not the least bitter.
Assorted kushiyaki might be a shareable prelude to one of the soup bowls or a meal by themselves. Vegetable slaw escorted charred, juicy kalbi-marinated short ribs, mirroring the meat’s sweet heat. Crispy pickled daikon and carrot sticks accompanied salmon grilled with paper-thin lemon slices and dabbed with a vibrant shiso sauce.
Good food, the convivial clamor of people conversing over shared pots of soup, a lively techno soundtrack, and even the meat slicer’s falsetto wail, all add up to roaring fun at Roaring Bowl.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.