It was thanks to my sweet friend, Mike, that I got turned on to Shabu Shabu House in Los Angeles in the first place. I was deeply skeptical, but he promised that if I gave it a couple of tries I would soon become an addict.
Well, that was an -- understatement.
But here's the deal. I don't know if I like it anywhere else.
I've tried it in San Francisco, and just across 2nd Street in Little Tokyo. I did not like them Sam I Am!
I speculated previously about whether it was the amazing sauces at Shabu Shabu House that had me hooked. The secret-recipe sesame sauce (it does have a little peanut in there, too) and the house-made ponzu are fantastic. I've been guilty of asking for thirds of the sesame sauce on more than one occasion.
Certainly, the quality of the beef plays a role here. It is well-marbled (you can ask for lean if you prefer, but why would you?) and it possesses a lot of good beefy flavor. These are not thin slices of generic meat.
You can in fact pre-order aged rib-eyes from Shabu Shabu House for the Fourth of July.
The vegetables, tofu, and udon noodles deserve a mention. I'm especially fond of the Chrysanthemum leaves. They have a satisfyingly bright bite.
Please be careful when cooking the udon! They are almost as hot as molten sugar and for me, rather unwieldy, flying through the air. Once a noodle flung back at my hand and I suffered a huge blister on my index finger.
This is dangerous food!
Someone once told me that the vegetables were more suited to the ponzu sauce and the beef to the sesame. Is this true?
I'll openly confess my lack of concrete knowledge regarding shabu shabu. I assume there is a refined technique out there -- the ultimate way to shabu shabu. I, however, am flying by the seat of my pants.
The dilemmas begin as soon as you sit down. What do you do with that pot of boiling water? Am I a fool for adding soy and chile oil? Do only the awkward novices add the sliced green onions to the water? Do the purists leave the water alone?
I am constantly checking out the action around me, searching for some insight. Ridiculously, I have never just asked the proprietor for his advice. And he is a pretty nice guy in the end.
So this is what I do. Please feel free to chime in and point out the many errors of my ways. I want help!
I add soy sauce, chile oil, shichimi togarashi, garlic, and sliced green onions to the pot. I do realize that those green onions are well suited to the ponzu, but my belly just can't handle raw onions the way it used to when I was a kid.
I throw in only some of the cabbage (I want it to last!), the carrots, the larger pieces of green onion, and some of the Chrysanthemum (another lasting issue). I hold off on the udon and the tofu. In go a few slices of beef.
It's embarrassing the way I dunk the beef in the sesame sauce. I know I'm over-doing it. I know people are looking askance. I can't help it. There is no polite dip with me. I completely submerge the meat, swirl it around, and then drop it on the mound of rice, hoping that enough sauce falls off the meat to drench the rice, but that enough still remains on the meat, for the perfect bite. Shake over a little more shichimi and/or drizzle a little chile oil, and place in mouth.
I continue on in this manner, swirling, swishing, dipping, dunking.
At one point in my life, I thought it was absurd to go to a restaurant to cook your own food. Silly girl, this is way too much fun!
In the end, after I have cooked the tofu, and hopefully avoided scalding myself with wet noodles, finished the meat and nearly all of the rice, I ask for a spoon.
The one time that A. came with me to Shabu Shabu House he asked me if I knew what I was doing.
Certainly not, but I don't care. I cannot just turn my head as the broth that I have brewed is carted away. For that is what has happened. After all that cooking the boiling water has become a wondrous, garlicky, beef broth. I spoon a little over the remaining grains of rice and happily slurp it up, my face glistening with perspiration.
Posted with pictures here:
Shabu Shabu House Restaurant
127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012