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Dec 20, 2003 10:43 PM

Shabu Shabu in Irvine: House of Shabu

  • t

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 rice—not 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.

Happy swishing.

House of Shabu
5394 Walnut Ave, Irvine, CA 92604
Phone: (949) 654-8589

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  1. t
    torta basilica

    Great write-up - makes me wanna go swish! Thanks!

    1. Terrific tutorial, but I think I might get hungry between swishing cycles.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chino Wayne
        The Green Knight

        Yes, shabu shabu can be a bit labor intensive. Luckily, they also serve a few appetizers that can temporarily sate your hunger (I'm not quite sure how good the appetizers are, however). Moreover, if you're really hungry, I'd wander elsewhere, but if you're feeling diet conscious, it's a great meal. My girlfriend enjoys their iced coffee, too. It comes with simple syrup and cream on the side.

      2. Thanks for this. Great reporting, as always.

        I've been to Irvine Shabu Shabu when it first opened and I wasn't impressed. But I'm glad that they've changed ownership. It sounds like they've gotten a lot better. Will need to try it soon. Shabu Shabu will definitely hit the spot this winter.

        1 Reply
        1. re: elmomonster
          The Green Knight

          House of Shabu is clearly better than Irvine Shabu Shabu but not by leaps and bounds. Their sauces tend to be richer and tastier (although the ponzu had an overly strong "orange-y" taste to it last time), and they do a better job with their condiments (no soggy green onions) and vegetables (a shade or two higher in quality).

        2. I've eaten at California Shabu Shabu numerous times...somehow the House of Shabu doesn't really hold up to the original. Their sauces (both ponzu and goma)aren't as good as the FV location. Perhaps different chef?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Liz in OC
            The Green Knight

            The ponzu sauce was a little off in my last visit to House of Shabu (I didn't try the goma). It had too much of an orange-y taste to it. I was going to ask them about the sauce on my next visit. They claim to have a secret recipe for both sauces at California Shabu Shabu, so there should be no reason for a poorer quality sauce here in Irvine (just follow the secret recipe). I'm hopeful that it was only a poor batch.

          2. Just visited House of Shabu last Thursday evening. Overall I was very impressed. Good service, and tasty food. I have tried Chinese hot pot, and Japanese sukiyaki, but never shabu-shabu, so enjoyed the experience. I would definitely return.

            2 Replies
            1. re: FoodieKat

              OKAY, I've eaten at alot of shabu places and in Orange County, I think Little Tokyo Shanu Shabu in the City of Industry is the BEST! The goma and ponzu sauce is excellent there! Plus, they have an option of a miso base broth or sukyaki if you don't like the normal seaweed broth! I highly recommend the miso broth! It is so tasty. You don't even have to put anything in it, like you do with the normal seaweed broth. That place blows Irvine Shabu, California Shabu, and Koji's out of the water! The places in Mission Viejo sucks too. Don't even waste your time. If you want to drive, the places in LA are excellent!

              1. re: cyberdiva

                There is one gem in Mission Viejo. It's called "Shabu" on Los Alisos Blvd. It's seriously good stuff--comparable to the shabu I've had in Japan. Check out my review: