STILLWATER — Tailgating at football games is only partly about food. It's mostly a social experience that's enhanced by food hot off the grill and ice-cold beer.
So what do you do if you don't have a truck, don't own a portable grill and don't want to be at the weather's mercy? If you're looking for a tailgate alternative in Orange Country, there's no better choice for hot pot cuisine than Tokyo Pot.
Tokyo Pot isn't just a great tailgate alternative for Oklahoma State University fans, it's one of the state's best-kept secrets.
The food is served "shabu-shabu" style. That means as you're seated, two burners embedded in the center of your table will be lit and two bowls of broth will begin to bubble. One broth is sukiyaki sweet, the other kicked up. After a sake bomb or two and a cold Sapporo, platters of wafer-thin raw meats arrive.
Shabu-shabu translated means "swish swish." It's the sound the thin-sliced rib eye, lamb, chicken, or pork will make as you stir it in hot broth. Other choices include red snapper, scallops and shrimp. Setups also come with enoki mushrooms, carrots, Napa cabbage and a bowl of rice.
Think fondue meets teppanyaki.
The foods are simple but tasty, but the food is elevated by the exuberance and passion of its Indonesian owners, Dean Chen and David Tjie.
They opened Tokyo Pot about two years ago. Tjie, who studied finance at Oklahoma State University, became a chef to follow in the family trade: restaurants.
"I love my father's food, and I love my grandfather's food," he said. "I thought, 'who will keep the tradition going?' So, I became a chef."
After learning the art of sushi and teppanyaki, Tjie used his OSU education to set up his own business. But he needed help, so he called his buddy Chen who was living in Temecula, Calif.
"We became friends living in California," Tjie said. "Dean didn't like the really crowded cities there, and I told him Stillwater was a good place and to come try it."
When Chen enters the room, he owns it. While Tjie keeps things in order in the kitchen, Chen is the floor show. He glides from table to table spreading the good word of shabu-shabu. He's your guide, instructor, and life of the party.
This style of eating might be new to Oklahoma, but it's far from new in the Far East.
Hot pot cuisine dates to ancient China and is thought to be 1,000 years old.
Called shabu-shabu in Japan, Chen says the style of dining is as present in Japan as chop houses are in the U.S.
"We're kind of a fusion of both styles," Chen said.
Whether the restaurant is an authentic representation of the cultures it's derived from is irrelevant. This gem just south of State Highway 51 in the middle of Stillwater is a living dream. That dream came from the imagination of its owners. The dream was to build a business on a foundation of their fondest cultural, social and culinary experiences. This place is their life — yesterday and today.
The custom tables were built by Tjie.
"I still have the moldings at home," he said.
Poems about the seasons are painted in Japanese on the tabletops. A private dining area is tucked inside a hut they also built.
When Chen cajoles you into a samurai costume and demands another sake bomb be dropped, stressing over whether the football team's defense can hold up will likely drift away.
Times will be too good to place the fate of your good mood into the hands of a lot of teens and post-teens who don't know your name and never will. Chen will remember your name, Tjie will have the kitchen ready for your return.
You'll leave Tokyo Pot fully satiated, smiling and with a new Facebook friend whether the Cowboys win or lose.
5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday
5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday