Shabu House is an offshoot of the beloved restaurant of the same name on Clement in the Richmond District, as well as a couple of other locations. Very well-known to the young and/or Asian cognoscenti, Shabu House is well on its way to becoming extremely popular in our neighborhood too. Taking over the space that was once Spork, then something else, then something else, then something else, Shabu House appears to already be filling a niche we didn’t know we were lacking: Shabu shabu, an onomatopoeia for the noise made when gently stirring meat and vegetables through bubbling liquid to cook them: “Swish, swish!”
Shabu House is modern and angular, with unadorned concrete pillars plunging through the space, T.V. screens playing non-stop sports (pet peeve), and a loud and modern Japanese ocean wave print on an earth-toned wall. “Loud” pretty much describes the experience; the crowds get lively in here, dipping their precious treasures into the steaming cauldrons. The place doesn’t take reservations for parties of two, we learned, and there was a line on our first visit.
Being complete neophytes, we weren’t sure how much to order: All you can eat (always a good option, no?), regular, or large. And then, which meat? You can order all one kind, or a combo of two: American style kobe beef, lamb, or kurobuta pork. There’s also a vegetarian option, and all the shabu shabu comes with a platterful of veggies, udon noodles, and tofu.
The BF and I ordered two large combinations, beef and lamb for me, beef and pork for him.
Holy hell. SO. MUCH. MEAT. Beautiful, thinly sliced, vermillion sheets of meat. You also get your choice of broths: traditional water, spicy miso, or ginger chicken, or you can do the yin/yang thing and select two, in which case you’ll get a boiling cauldron split down the middle (we got the spicy miso and ginger chicken). (But be warned: The broths are incendiary. I burned the shit out of my tongue. Thrice.)
Rice also comes with this spread, as well as bowls of an addictive sesame paste, ponzu sauce, minced garlic, grated radish, and scallions. And to further customize your dinner, there are little bottles of togarashi and chili oil on the table.
The BF didn’t love this. He found the meal bland, and felt that the flavors of the broths did not permeate the meat and veggies. I countered that the opposite was actually the goal of shabu shabu: to have your meat and veggies flavor your broth. And that was certainly the case here, but after eating eight ounces of meat, rice, and a hectare of vegetables, noodles and tofu, we barely made a dent in the broth. Funnily enough, other tables were actually getting refills on broth, from a server that walked around carrying two pitchers of the golden elixir. Newbies, we are. What can I say?
As for me, the beef was by far my favorite — it almost melted in the soup. I also loved the lamb, which reminded me of eating Mongolian barbecue — a not-so-distant cousin, I learned. Hot pot is another relative, although, from my limited understanding, Chinese hot pot broths are more heavily seasoned. But I liked the veggies too, the spindly little enoki mushrooms, the bok choy, the cabbage and carrots. It’s altogether quite a wholesome, healthy-tasting hodgepodge, perfect on a cold, rainy night.
On our second visit. we opted for their rice bowls, reasoning that we’d already tried shabu shabu. SURPRISE — rice bowls come with veggie shabu too!
But first, we split some karaage and gyoza:
… which, I have to say, were pretty unremarkable. They tasted like any frozen commercial product that you’d get at your grocery store, deep fried. Neither was very flavorful nor interesting, texturally.
But we enjoyed the rest of the meal. The spicy miso broth with just the veggies was tastier this visit (even for us rabid carnivores). And the rice bowls were plain old homey goodness. The BF ordered a yakiniku beef bowl…
Thinly sliced, tender beef and onions in a teriyaki-like marinade. A particularly cozy choice on another cold night.
As for my eel, I adore this particular form of danger noodle:
It was a huge serving. And it had good flavor, but it was rather odd having SO MUCH eel at once, as I’m used to the compact slices that top unagi nigiri, or come wrapped around a maki roll. This was like, you know, AN EEL. I found it a bit mushy, whereas at sushi bars it has a little crispness to it from time spent under the broiler. But, it was particularly pleasant that the eel kind of melted into the rice. Another homey dish.
We once again couldn’t finish the broth but ate one heaping plateful of veggies and brought the other one home. Couldn’t finish our rice, either. However, each and every meal comes with little bowls of green tea and red bean ice cream, and the BF managed to eat almost all of both (with a little assist by moi).
Shabu House serves sake, beer, and wine. Their sake list is quite extensive, although for us, not being knowledgeable enough about that brew, the prices seemed a tad high. The Jenmai sake we split, however, was quite reasonable.
Shabu House seems poised to become an institution on its little corner of Valencia. Get in there before the lines get too long.
1050 Valencia Street