Are you ready to go to battle, soldier? What? I can't hear you! Because where I am about to take you is loud, sweaty, and chaotic--there will be pots of boiling water, sake bombs going off left and right, drunk and unpredictable civilians, and hot shrapnel of unruly udon noodles that will burn your tender G.I. skin. It's trench-dining warfare, soldier!
Who knew that ~MUMS HOME OF SHABU-SHABU~ is the belly of the beast? Colonel Kurtz would have a field day with this place. Because every night one of San Francisco's most outrageous deals designed for over-consumption is on offer: all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu and drinks, for $35 (or just $22.95 for the shabu-shabu, and $12.05 for all-you-can-drink sake, beer, and soda). Unlimited beef and beer. I know, if that isn't a recipe for disaster, what is? There is a limit (two hours), but as any drinker knows, a lot of damage can be done in two hours. All it takes is one look at the neighboring tables, and it's quite apparent.
This place explodes like a Molotov cocktail with young, rowdy, energetic drinkers and diners. If you're not afraid to count yourself within that camp, this might be the outfit for you. It's best to come with a squad of at least four folks (you have to have a minimum of two to do the shabu-shabu). Come hungry. (Although don't come hangry--you might hurt someone if there's a long wait. Make reservations, especially Thursday-Saturday.)
Time to lock and load. Your group will swish swish (which is what shabu-shabu means) pieces of thinly sliced and marbled raw rib-eye beef in your table's very own pot of boiling water for a few seconds with your chopsticks. You then dip the beef in one of the two sauces (ponzu or peanut/goma--although the second sauce is much better with the veggies) and then eat it up. Sounds like a simple maneuver, right?
Well, you also get a big plate of vegetables, a diorama of sorts, which includes spinach, tofu, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, and both glass and udon noodles. You cook these extra items in the hot water, scooping them out with the utensils provided, and then dipping them in your sauces. I also like adding some of the daikon provided to my bites, and scallions, and the shichimi Japanese pepper.
This is where the chaos ensues: udon noodles flop out of the hot pot, you lose your beef in the hot water (excellent fodder for a drinking game), someone steals your tofuâ¦ mix all this with the endless flow of sake (hot or cold) and beer (Sapporo, Asahi, or Kirin draft) and things start getting wacky. Who let the dogs out?
Now, let's add in the atmospheric element of everyone YELLING REALLY LOUD and laughing and cheering and egging each other on. It's loud, like air raid loud. Gatling gun loud. The mums name must have something to do with the flower, because mum is definitely not the word here.
Oh wait, and did I mention the swamp-like conditions? Seriously, it's like being back in Nam. So wear a short-sleeved shirt, even if it's 45 degrees outside that night. And ladies, leave the Tammy Faye Bakker war paint/makeup at home, because you're gonna look like you've been crying over your lost puppy or something in four minutes flat. Go natural.
Considering the coup d'état chaos of this place, I am beyond impressed with the kindness of the servers, who are stuck dealing with cross-eyed-drunk clientele all night. The staff will continue bringing you plate after plate of meat and veggies without raising a single "you aren't done yet?" eyebrow, and keep filling your hot pot with water until you wave the flag, or your time is up, or you simply pass out.
Is it the best quality of rib-eye beef? No, but it's not scary mess hall style either. On my two visits here, the veggies have been fresh, and while I'd actually prefer some broth instead of hot water, all in all it's one heck of an entertaining dining experience. But remember the noise, the chaos, the steam bathâ¦ I wouldn't recommend this restaurant to many on just one of those factors alone--some just aren't ready for combat yet.
The place is super cute--it was recently redone with a groovy 70s aesthetic, featuring bright orange tables and space age panels on the ceiling, modern bent wood chairs, and it has a cool bar (yes, there is a full bar)--it's almost like TWO's adopted Japanese sister. Mums is a family-run business that has been around since 1979, back when it was Café Mums--be sure to check out the cool portraits on the walls.
Mums also serves a diner-style breakfast, and lunch means a mixture of burgers and combination lunch sets with tonkatsu or rice dishes--there is shabu-shabu lunch too, but no dice on the all-you-can eat and drink.
When you need to venture to the bathroom downstairs (after all that beer and sake, it's inevitable), you'll be able to take a peek at the quirky lobby of the new Hotel Tomo. At the end of your military exercise, you are rewarded with either vanilla or green tea ice cream, a refreshing finish marking the end of your battle in the retro sauna. Lights out, soldier.
Mums Home of Shabu-Shabu
1800 Sutter St.
Cross: Buchanan St.
San Francisco, CA 94115