In my brief couple years that I have spent in Los Angeles, I have had the opportunity to explore the city for good places to eat. Anyone who is familiar with LA knows that that can be challenging due to all countless places that are lined up on every street you drive on.
As you might be aware, most of the restaurants that line these streets are not your typical chain spots, so it adds to the difficulty of determining what to try and what not to. For me, it took a little time to gather up the courage to be adventurous and go out on a limb and just try one of the spots that smell so good but look…well, not so nice.
Now, I only hope that the readers for my reviews share the same interest I do in these great finds that I have come across here in LA.
I have developed a liking for Japanese food since I have had many a great dining experience with Takashi Saito and his native cuisine. When one might think of Japanese food, everyone always comes up with sushi. I know I did until I went to a few authentic Japanese places with Takashi and got the chance to experience the true Japanese food.
I was introduced to Shabu Hachi by Takashi a few weeks ago. It sits on Olympic in Santa Monica in one of those oh-so-typical LA corner strip malls. From the outside, you have two Japanese restaurants to choose from – one being the typical sushi place and Shabu Hachi, a place offering up some of the best shabu shabu I have had and I think Takashi would agree.
As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by Taka, the owner. He had a table reserved for me and my party. Meals of this magnitude are best shared with other people because of the amount of food that comes with shabu shabu.
We were seated at a table containing a heating coil for boiling water that would be used to cook our meal. Shabu Hachi is a small place with five tables for four and a bar seating eight. If you are considering having a party larger than four, I would recommend reservations or if you want to be seated immediately, just call ahead.
As we sat down, we discussed what to order, or rather left it up to me because I was the only one somewhat familiar with what was on the menu. All too often at ethnic restaurants, people get embarrassed about what to order for lack of knowing what actually is being offered on the menu. The simple solution is just to ask the server to explain each dish and what they like. And don’t forget to be adventurous, since hey, you’re already here anyway, right?
So we asked Taka, the owner, who was also acting as our waiter (since there is only one waiter anyway) to recommend some starters. Taka recommended the salmon capaccio and albacore tuna sashimi for appetizers. We agreed, since they both sounded great. Then we sat and took in the simple Japanese décor for a few minutes and not long after were presented two great dishes.
The salmon carpaccio we tried first, which was made of thin sliced raw salmon asparagus, white onion with extra virgin olive oil and ponzu sauce. It was excellent — not any overwhelming taste — just a great new twist on an old Italian staple.
Next was the albacore tuna sashimi which was made of raw albacore tuna seaweed salad and garlic ponzu sauce. This was by far my favorite out of the two simply because it was accompanied by the seaweed salad, which is one of the few type of salads I will actually eat.
As we sat back and discussed the appetizers we just ate, our server came back and began to prepare our hot plate and table for the shabu shabu to come. He first brought out the pot of of hot water which would be used to cook our meal.
If you have never eaten shabu shabu before, you need to be ready to cook your own meal. But, it is not that complicated. You simply put the raw food in the boiling water and let it cook to your liking. I like this type of dining because you are allowed to set the pace of your meal and it is always hot.
Before the pork beef and vegetables that we ordered came out, we were each brought individual bowls that contained dipping sauces – one with a sesame peanut sauce and the other a ponzu sauce.
The sauces are great, but I would highly recommend mixing some of the condiments with them to further enhance the flavor. I personally added chopped green onion, ginger, chopped garlic and hot chili oil.
Beware: After eating these types of sauces, you might be waking up the next morning with that same great taste on your pallet.
We each soon finished creating our own unique concoction of sauces mixed with our favorite sides and the meal arrived to the table.
By this time, our pot of water was in a strong boil, waiting for our meal contents to be cooked in it. The vegetables were first brought out. They were all raw and may be eaten as is, but to truly enjoy shabu shabu, you must throw them in the pot. The plate came with carrots, tofu, shittake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and cabbage. You can throw these all in the pot at once and just enjoy throughout the meal…no need to worry if you leave them in too long – they only get more tender and flavorful from the meats they are being cooked with.
As I sat and looked at all these great vegetables being cooked, I was thinking to myself that this alone could be a great meal. (If you didn’t just catch the sarcasm, now you have. I am a true meat eater and crave a heaping helping of it for almost every meal. I pretty much do not consider it a meal unless there is meat involved).
So finally, for me, came my favorite part of shabu shabu — two separate plates containing picture perfect cuts of meat.
The first was the pork plate, containing business card thin slices and I emphasize “business card thin” because paper thin would just not be right. The pork is a great pink color — almost a salmon tint. It is all lean with the exception of one side which contains a small strip of fat for that little extra flavor.
Next was the rib eye plate containing those same business-card thin cuts but this time, the meat was a great red color, almost maroon, with a marbling that any rib eye person would recognize. (For those who might not know what marbling is, it is the lines and swirls of fat that are in the steak).
Everyone at the table began to look at me for some sort of direction to take. It seems complicated when there’s a group of people all sharing one cooking pot for everyone’s food, but it’s simple. I told them to each grab a couple pieces of the meat, throw it in, let cook for a minute or so and then eat!
To enjoy it all, grab some of the vegetables and meat, dip it in the sauces and eat it together. Mind you, for the authentic feel you should be doing all this with chop sticks! NO NOVICES, PLEASE…SERIOUS INJURIES COULD OCCUR! Just joking, but remember, you are grabbing food out of boiling water.
As we began to develop a system for getting food in the pot and distributing equally amongst the table we began to have people tap out over the seemingly unending supply of food.
Still, this is definitely a meal that you will not want to stop eating, as it is so simple but filled with so many great tastes. The blend of vegetables and meat are enough to feel like you’re not eating one more than the other, but you are surely allowed to consume more of whatever you like.
Overall shabu shabu is a great way to dine and relax over a meal at the same time. It is a set-your-own-pace type of meal — you get to eat when you want to eat and do not have a waiter putting a plate in your face when you might not be ready.
I would recommend that you try this type of meal sometime, especially at Shabu Hachi, a restaurant with a friendly wait staff and an owner who will make your visit very pleasing.
In the meantime, enjoy your culinary adventures and I will have another great find for you soon.