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UDU CafÉ: Play with your food in Flushing

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Just when we think we’ve dived into every obscure culinary offering our diverse borough could dish up, something new seems to come along. Maybe not so much new as recombinant, fusing cuisines like fusing genes. In this case its Japanese shabu shabu filtered through a Taiwanese sensibility. The Japanese have long been an influence in Taiwan, and the Taiwanese, themselves a polyglot society, like to have Japanese food their way. UDU CafÉ, a new and stylish spot in downtown Flushing has dedicated itself to the Taiwanese take on Japanese food. If that’s not enough diversity for you, UDU CafÉ is also an outpost of Sister Su’s Hot Pot, a Chong Quing establishment famous for its incendiary Sichuanese style of this dish.

It is said that Mongolian hot pot, from which shabu shabu descended, originated in the 13th century as a way for Genghis Khan to efficiently feed his soldiers. The soldiers cooked thin slices of meat communally in a pot of boiling broth affording them a quickly cooked meal using minimal fuel. In the twentieth century, this cooking style became popular in Japan, where the name shabu shabu was invented.

Udu CafÉ invites you to play with your food. The dÉcor is all at once stylish, high−tech and fanciful. Changing colored lights play upon a two−story waterfall. Every table is equipped with its own computer terminal upon which diners can watch DirecTV, Chinese movies or Hollywood movies with Chinese subtitles or surf the Web, and an embedded smooth top cooking surface.

The advantage of ordering sushi here is that, unlike the shabu shabu, it leaves your attention relatively free for perusing the computer screen. The sushi chef here was trained at Haru, a well known and highly regarded sushi chain. With the exception of beef short ribs with roasted sushi rice and California roll with sirloin beef and jumbo shrimp, the sushi menu is pretty typical, offering the sushi, sashimi and maki individually and in various combinations. But the shabu shabu is what drew us here.

Getting down to the shabu shabu, the first decision to be made is the type of broth. The primary options are seaweed (similar to the typically Japanese dashi broth), mushroom, chicken with herbs, or duck. Alternatively, you can opt for Sister Su’s fiery broth, and fill it with special meats from Chong Qing like Sister Su’s hot spicy beef. Indecision is not a problem here, as you can even select a hot pot that is split so that it contains two half moons of different broths.

The next choice after the broth is the contents. As a novice, you can simply choose, as we did, a beef or a seafood combo which comes with the featured ingredient along with an assortment of vegetables, mushrooms, a couple of little fish cakes and bean thread noodles. The beef short rib is a good beginner’s choice, as is the mixed seafood, providing you’re willing to do a fair amount of work shelling and peeling seafood. There is also a prodigious list of a la carte ingredients you can add, such as wontons, dumplings and specific types of seafood. We were especially taken with hello kitty, a fish cake cut in that familiar silhouette. For hardcore Taiwanese there is a selection of offal including pig kidney, pig intestine, and ox tripe.

While your broth is reaching a rolling boil, its time to sidle up to the condiment station to choose a selection of sauces and condiments, and some white rice. There are soy, sa cha, oyster, plum, sesame, chili,and other sauces, and other condiments for dipping your retrieved cooked morsels. We gathered up an assortment and mixed and matched.

Both the seaweed and mushroom broth are tasty, but more robust than their Japanese counterparts. The overall presentation of the hot pot ingredients is a visual delight. Marbled beef is arranged in artful patterns, seafood and vegetables in architectural tableaus. The buttery slices of short rib melt in your mouth. The seafood is fresh, and high quality, so long as shrimp with heads and eyes don’t put you off. The basic combination of vegetables that come with all set hot pots is varied and satisfying.

The Bottom Line

UDU CafÉ combines adventure and entertainment with sustenance. It can be very affordable or pricey, depending how lavishly you choose your components, but the nice part is that you are in control. For a delight to all your senses, even perhaps your sense of humor, we enthusiastically recommend UDU CafÉ.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e−mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

UDU CafÉ Shabu Shabu

37−04 Prince Street

Flushing, NY 11354

718 353−9537

www.uducafe.com

Price Range: Combo hot pots (includes main ingredients and assorted vegetables) $12.95−$89.95?

Cuisine: Taiwan influenced Japanese and Sichuan style hot pot.

Setting: High tech, high style

Service: Friendly, helpful, English fluent

Hours: 11:00 − 2:00 a.m. everyday

Reservations: No

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Free 2 hr. parking with $50 check at Prince Tower Garage, 37th Ave. & Prince St.

Dress: Casual

Children: Will enjoy computers, but very little ones will need to be closely watched because of hot pot at table.

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

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