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May 2, 2007 01:04 AM

Zabu Zabu in Berkeley. How is it?

There's a new shabu place in Berkeley called Zabu Zabu that took over the old location of Le Theatre. The place also bills itself as a lounge and is open until 1am on weekends. Has anyone tried the food there? And how's the atmosphere? Thanks!

Zabu Zabu
1919 Addison St.
Berkeley, CA 94704

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  1. I went there for lunch today. I thought it was very good. The atmosphere was very nice and the staff were extremely friendly. They are running a different special every day and today the special was a free (half) appetizer with my lunch purchase. My waitress was very helpful and well-informed and so I took her recs and ordered the Chicken Katsu ($8) and the Ribeye Yaki as my free appetizer. This was a lot of food!

    The lunches come with miso soup, salad, and two large scoops of perfectly steamed rice. The miso soup was very good, not as salty as it is at most Japanese places. The chicken katsu was two lightly breaded, pounded chicken breasts that were flash-fried and served with a rich sauce and stir fried veggies (broccoli and carrots). The ribeye yaki was delicious! It consisted of a skewer of cubes of ribeye with onions and mushrooms, grilled and served with a very good teriyaki sauce. I ordered iced tea with my lunch and was served iced genmaicha which was a surprise, but really good.

    Altogether, my lunch was $11 with tax and a generous tip and I had more food than I could eat. I will definitely be back. I wanted to try the shabu shabu, but it seemed like something that was better ordered with more people (I was dining solo). The lunches run $7-$16 and dinner $13-$23. They have rice bowls, udon, ramen, and salads in addition to the shabu shabu, as well as a nice selection of "small plates" (appetizers). Since I don't eat Japanese food often and I rarely drink, I am probably not the best to comment on the authenticity of the cuisine or the bar. I can only say that I thought the food was very well-prepared and tasty and a good value. The atmosphere is nice, with a loungey feel to it (two large flat screen tv's above the bar). Seems like it has the potential to do well. I can't wait to hear what others think.

    I will definitely be back!

    8 Replies
    1. re: chemchef

      Chemchef, thanks so much for your detailed report! Now I feel confident about inviting my friends over there for a meal. Glad to hear that they give a lot of food, too. That's always a plus for my appetite!

      1. re: Sophia C.

        My pleasure. I hope this place does well. So many of the more reasonably priced places come and go in Berkeley.... its a shame.

        1. re: Sophia C.

          Sophia, did you get to go? how was your experience with a group? I'm thinking of inviting a few friends to go there myself.

          1. re: nicedragonboy

            I had lunch there with my mum a few weeks ago and we thought it was okay. The lunch special was also a free appetizer with a lunch purchase, but since we weren't particularly interested in the appetizers that were offered, we had the veggie yaki ($4) and the sake clams ($6) instead. The veggie yaki was skewers of eggplants, squash, onions and button mushrooms with a slightly tangy teriyaki sauce, and the veggies were well-cooked. The sake clams were just so-so (maybe they weren't in season?) and the clams were tiny and not very tender. The sake broth was good though; it was clear and not overly salted.

            I was interested in the shabu shabu but it wasn't on the lunch menu, and so I ordered the veggie donburi ($8) instead. It came with a miso soup and a salad that was really fresh. The donburi consisted of assorted veggies stir-fried in a teriyaki sauce over rice, topped with a egg mixture like the kind you get in oyako don. The veggies included napa cabbage, enoki, shitake and button mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, onions, tofu, and pickled radish. I really enjoyed the egg mixture even though I am not too keen on eggs; it was flavorful and almost custard-like.

            My mum ordered the nabeyaki udon ($8) which came with fried gyoza, which she didn't seem to like. There was a tempura prawn, some chicken, spinach, nori, and fish cakes in the udon. She said the prawn was good, though the tempura batter could have been a bit lighter. The udon noodles were well-cooked and retained some chew.

            Our total bill came to slightly over $30, which was reasonable seeing that we ordered 2 appetizers in addition to our entrees. I liked the atmosphere of Zabu Zabu as well, which chemchef described succinctly. Service was attentive and the presentation of the food was good although not exactly authentic. I think the place is run by Chinese as we heard the male staff conversing in Cantonese with some customers and also with the chef. There weren't too many patrons when we ate there, so it was quiet and would be an ideal place for couples or for a business lunch. It also seems like a nice place for dinner and a few drinks.

            I know it doesn't look too appetizing, but here's a photo of the veggie donburi and the veggie yaki (and also the fried gyoza in the back.)

            1. re: dreamsicle

              That's a hidden location, not visible from the street, and that adds to the quiet atmosphere I suspect. I used to work directly across the street and we often used it for business lunches in the incarnation before Le Theatre (can't even remember the name of that one now; places have come and gone there) was the service? Was it reasonably paced?

              the vegies on the vege yaki look good. Thanks for the reports.

              1. re: susancinsf

                Wasn't it Gertie's Chesapeake something or other?

              2. re: dreamsicle

                Your experience seems quite a bit different from mine, although it may just be from our different tastes. I have to admit, I wouldn't know if it was authentic, I just thought that everything I ordered was tasty.

                I didn't understand why you didn't get your apps for free? Was the special limited to certain ones only?

                Also, why wasn't the shabu shabu on the menu? It was when I was there, and it is on the menu that I took home with me (on both the lunch and dinner portions).

                My last question, and perhaps the most important one is, would you go back?

                Thanks for your input!

                1. re: chemchef

                  Hi susancinsf, service at Zabu Zabu was great and the girl who served us was friendly, polite, and helpful. Even though we went in for a late lunch, we didn't feel rushed at all. And yes, the restaurant is hidden in some kind of office-like complex, and I probably wouldn't have found it unless I saw those signs outside.

                  To chemchef, I'm glad that you enjoyed your experience there. Maybe it was just that we ordered their best dishes, but I really loved the egg mixture on my veggie don. I had one at Kirala a while ago and I must say I much preferred Zabu Zabu's version: there was a greater variety of veggies and they were more flavorful. As for the appetizers part, the only free appetizers available on the day were the yakitori (chicken skewers), ribeye yaki (ribeye steak skewers) and something else (I think it was gyoza?) And since my mum and I aren't really into meaty items, we opted for other appetizers.

                  I found it strange too that the shabu shabu wasn't on the lunch menu the waitress gave us (that was part of the reason I wanted to go there), but yes, it was on the take-home menu. They serve 4 kinds of shabu shabu: prime ribeye beef, chicken breast, seafood, and veggie.

                  Umm, would I be back? I might go back to try the shabu shabu or when I crave the custardy egg mixture on the donburi again, and it's a good, cozy place to eat and hang out with a bunch of friends.

        2. So has anyone tried the shabu shabu here?

          1 Reply
          1. re: nicedragonboy

            Not yet, but I'm planning on going SOON!

          2. I finally tried Zabu Zabu with a friend a few weeks back for dinner. We ordered one rib-eye shabu shabu, the chicken yakitori, and a hot sake to share.

            The chicken yakitori came as two skewers of marinated chicken thighs skewered with mushrooms, onions, green pepper, and zucchini basted with a tangy teriyaki sauce. It was good enough--I ended up saving the leftover teriyaki sauce to flavor my rice (blasphemous I know)

            The beef ribeye shabu shabu was decent in size. It fed two people quite well. If you've ever been to Cafe Mum's in SF, the beef was arranged on a platter as such, very thinly sliced and fanned out in layers on a large platter. It was accompanied by a generous and very well presented platter of assorted vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, and katakuriko clear noodles. The shabu came with two dipping sauces: one tahini-like sesame sauce, and a very tart and interesting tasting ponzu sauce. We were also given grated daikon and chopped scallions on the side to flavor our sauces.

            Everything was very fresh and very clean tasting. My friend and I ate ourselves to the brim but because the food was so clean and lean, we left Zabu Zabu with still enough room to catch a gelato up on Shattuck.

            Oh, and for those who love to drink the shabu broth after all the meats and vegetables have cooked in it, Zabu Zabu's post-shabu broth is delicately flavorful and feels really great going down. It was actually the highlight of my meal.

            1. We went for dinner on a Friday night recently and the service was disgraceful. Our table never got tea, had to remind the wait staff that rice was included with the shabu shabu order, received the wrong small plates, never got our water glasses refilled, and on top of that we couldn't even get the check to pay so we just did the math ourselves. The food was fine, though the anemic plate of veggies that come with the shabu shabu just seems cheap considering you are paying over $20/person. If you go make sure to have a reservation. Our meal was pushed to well over 90 min b/c of the slow service and upon leaving we saw almost the same people still waiting to be seated that we saw on our way in.

              1. I love this place, it might be my favorite place in Berkeley! I highly recommend you order the Shabu Shabu (which is available for lunch or dinner), the have all vege versions or seafood but the rib-eye beef is my fav. They have other food too but you can get that stuff anywhere, Shabu Shabu however is very hard to find. THe meat is high quality and the assorted vegies are fresh and plentiful (they include some mushrooms too). By the way Go google Shabu Shabu if you don't know what it is.

                The service is usually good (the servers are very attractive too :) but sometimes they get very busy and forget little things like rice which comes with the Shabu Shabu, bfd it's the Shabu that makes my day :)

                1 Reply
                1. re: codell23

                  The all-you-can-eat Shabu Shabu is quite a good deal, considering this place is open on Thanksgiving, New Years and probably every holiday when everything else is closed. I believe it's about $24 for dinner, but they have early diner's special for $19 (I'm not 100% sure about the prices though). The atmosphere is indeed very lounge-like, reds and blacks throughout the space. I didn't find the portions of the vegetables anemic at all! Every time I've been there (which is about 5 times or so), when I asked for more spinach or other veggies (I think there are three kinds of mushrooms), they gave me a huge plate. Anyhow, I'd recommend it.

                  Haven't tried any of their other dishes because the Shabu Shabu is too irresistable =P