Saturday, May 19, 2007
Not Too Shabby
A Bay Area trip, no matter how short or hectic, always leads me to one place -- Shabu Sen in Japantown. It's nothing less than the most comforting comfort food around. Sure, it may not be wagyu beef (synonymous to kobe beef that seems to be finding its way to many fancy restaurants these days) you're dipping into pipping hot water and then sesame sauce, but I live in LA, where good and affordable (shabu)2 can be as stubbornly elusive as, well, public transportation.
For $10.99 at Shabu Sen, you get ten paper-thin slices of beef and a bunch of vegetables, two types of noodles and two dipping sauces. Not a bad deal compared to Kagaya in Little Tokyo that charges an arm and a leg for a similar plate. Granted, Kagaya serves better quality meat, but Shabu Sen is the best quality I've had for its price range.
The most important things for me are the thinness and freshness of the meat as well as the flavor of the sesame seed sauce, which must taste slightly nutty with just the right consistency -- not too thick or watery. Ponzu sauce is the other sauce offered, but I prefer to dip just about anything in the sesame sauce. I add chopped green onions into both sauces and the ground pickled radish into the ponzu sauce that I use to dip the tofu cubes.
The sliced ribeye steak comes with an array of other goodies to flash boil in the hot pot, including cubed tofu, shiitake mushroom halves, green onion strips, carrot slices, vermicelli and udon noodles, capping it off with voluminous chunks of napa cabbage. I like to have my meat with the vegetables and a bowl of rice that is also included, but others like to finish off all the meat first and then move on to the vegetables and finally, udon noodles.
What I like about Shabu Sen is that its shabu shabu looks so effortless that it makes you appreciate it so much more when you have such a hard time finding decent, affordable shabu joints in LA. I haven't been to Shaab in Pasadena, which I hear is ok. Boiling Pot in Pasadena is only an alternative under desperate circumstances. They gave me a bright orange Boiling Pot T-shirt one time my bill exceeded a certain amount. I think they'd be better off investing in fresh vegetables -- my cabbage is always a bit old and brown on the edges like it's been sitting there for a while. Not good. Shabu Shabu House in Little Tokyo may as well be non-existent as the absurdly long lines are enough to deter any meatlover in a rush. I tried making shabu shabu at home from meat slices bought at Nijiya but alas, the slices weren't thin enough. Home-made sukiyaki is another matter. The Nijiya meat worked very nicely for that purpose. Both are ideal for a cold, cloudy day.
Important: Don't forget to use the ladle-like tool from time to time to remove the nasty brown-colored blood curdles from the broth. It definitely takes away from tasting the meat in all its glory.
Who knew Genghis Khan would leave such a legacy? True to the OG, Koreans call this dish Genghis Khan after the original namesake. I'm glad he was in a hurry.
Anyway, I was a happy camper savoring my tender slices of beef tinged with the sumptuous sesame sauce. I saw that a Food Network episode where shabu shabu was cooked was entitled, "Do you fondue?" Talk about butchering my favorite foods. Still, since I shouldn't assume everyone knows what it is and how to eat it, simply dip the meat in the hotpot for 2 seconds first and then the sauce. Proceed likewise with the vegetables and pick the sauce you like best.
Shabu Sen proudly displays this by its door. Good to know that the term, shabu shabu, comes from the "rhythmic sound of immersing the meat in the water twice."
If anyone knows of a good shabu shabu eat in LA that's not going to bankrupt me, kindly share.
1726 Buchanan St.
San Francisco, CA 94115