About two months ago, our daughter was telling us about this wonderful new place that had opened around the corner from them that was like Asian fondue. When we were visiting today, and arrived just before lunch, she suggested that we try Splendid Shabu.
We entered a restaurant that was about half filled with tables and booths around the perimeter, and a U-shaped table that took up the center of the room. In the center of each pair of seats was an electric burner, where you cooked in your “hot pot”. She told us that on their first visits, every table had a gas burner, sticking up through a hole in a plywood tabletop – and its own fire extinguisher! This looks like a much safer setup.
“Shabu” is a Japanese word which is, according to the owner, the sound the meat makes when you cook it in the pot – basically the same naming principle as Sizzler Steakhouse was, back in the 70s. The menu is user-friendly – you pick your broth (house, spicy or miso), your noodles (udon, glass noodles, rice vermicelli, egg noodles or ramen) and add your proteins and veggies. The pots you cook in are “yin/yang” pots – divided so that you (and the person across the table from you) can each have the broth of your choice to cook in.
I chose udon in spicy broth with chicken (the “bottom” half in the photo above). Before we received our food, we went to the “sauce bar”, to make our own sauces. Above the bar was a sign telling how to mix the most common sauce types.
I appreciated the guidance (as my intellectual taste adventurousness often exceeds that of my palate) and went for a “spicy” sauce made with house sauce, soy sauce and chili sauce, held together with sesame oil. A short while later, the pan arrived with my spicy broth (filled with peppers) in my half. The vegetables and noodles arrived first. The noodles are actually frozen in blocks and, as a result, easy to pick up and drop in the bubbling broth. The vegetables were bok choy, several kinds of mushrooms, cabbage, corn, broccoli and zucchini.
So I threw my udon into the pot and watched it bubble (I also ordered a second order of noodles). Silverware was sparse – a soup spoon and metal chopsticks. But the saving utensil was the strainer ladle – you could “fish” in your hot pots for what you were trying to dig out, rather than working the two-handed chopsticks trying to force noodles onto a spoon.
The meat arrived next, deli thin sliced frozen, as well. It took each piece of meat less than two minutes to cook, so you always had hot and fresh food.
One of the owners came by as we finished our meal and he told us a couple of interesting things. He said that, “Shabu shabu is like watching a confusing movie for the first time.” Basically, the more you do it, the more familiar you become with the process and the more you learn what you like. He also said that this goes back to a very communal way of eating in Japan, as everyone gathers around a common pot. And that he and his brothers were infamous for stealing each other’s shabu from the hot pot when the other wasn’t looking. And his final words of wisdom?
“At any restaurant, you can complain that the food sucks. Here, if it does, it’s your own fault.”
It didn’t suck, by any means – it was truly splendid.