In Japanese, shabu shabu means swish swish, referring to the method of quickly sweeping thin slices of beef or other meats through a pot of boiling water and vegetables. For years my visits to my favorite shabu shabu restaurant were anything but brisk. Many chowhounds know about California Shabu Shabu in Fountain Valley, a small, brightly decorated restaurant set in an unassuming strip mall; on weekends the hordes of hungry patrons spill out from the small restaurant and stare longingly at the mist-enshrouded windows as they await their turn at the counter.
Yet for those living farther to the south of Orange County, the long, slow wait is over. About two months ago, Irvine Shabu Shabu quietly changed its name to House of Shabu and more importantly changed its ownership to the founders of California Shabu Shabu.
House of Shabu has a swankier, more upscale décor compared to California Shabu Shabu, and it has two U-shaped counters (rather than one), where patrons can sit in front of their own, individual hot pots. If you have never had shabu shabu before, it is a tasty, healthy, and entertaining experience.
I usually order the regular or large beef dinner, which comes with a plate of thinly sliced, raw beef; a plate of raw vegetables, including spinach, leafy cabbage, enoki mushrooms, tofu, and udon noodles; and a bowl of slightly sticky rice.
First, if you are not a shabu shabu initiate, you have to understand how to prepare your sauces before you begin swishing your food. Your server will bring you two bowls of sauce, a dark brown liquid called ponzu sauce, which has the salty depth of soy sauce and a wonderful citrus tang, and a second bowl of goma sauce, which has a lighter brown color with a thicker consistency and the flavor of sesame seeds. I always ask for two bowls of ponzu sauce and forgo the goma. Then I add two or three heaping spoonfuls of chopped green onions and finely minced daikon radish from the provided condiments to each bowl of ponzu sauce. I also add a healthy dollop of the finely minced garlic and a dash or two of the hot spice powder to each bowl. The goal is to garnish the ponzu sauce with enough of the condiments that it begins to have a thicker consistency, so the rich mix of flavors can stick to the meats and vegetables as they are dipped into the sauce.
Finally, the cooking begins. Add a few vegetables into your pot, pick up a slice of raw beef with your chopsticks, and swish the meat briskly through the boiling water. Make sure you swish your chopsticks through the boiling water after every time you pick up a piece of raw beef. When the beef has only a glimmer of pinkness left to it, pick it up out of the pot, along with a piece of cabbage or spinach if you like, and gently shake it dry above the pot or above your ricenot above the sauce or you risk diluting it into a watery mess. Then dip the food in the sauce, transfer it to your bowl of rice, and enjoy. Over time the pot begins to turn into a rich, flavorful stew, and your rice becomes flavored by the excess sauce dripping from your cooked meat or vegetables (you may have to scoop off some of the meat scum that rises to the surface of the boiling water from time to time).
Leave your udon noodles for the very end. You can ask your server to help create a wonderful bowl of noodle soup by adding a soup base, which tastes a little like miso soup, to a fresh bowl, along with some of the flavorful broth and the cooked noodles.
Shabu shabu is remarkably healthy, with vegetables in plenty and meats denuded of their fat by the boiling water. It is also a highly interactive meal, which pairs well with sake, beer, and a date.
House of Shabu
5394 Walnut Ave, Irvine, CA 92604
Phone: (949) 654-8589