One area that most Asian cuisines excel in is having certain meals that are interactive. This creates a lot of fun for people, whether it is their first time or they are seasoned pros. Sometimes, it is just two people enjoying themselves and at other times, larger groups out for an enjoyable evening together. There is lots of talking, toasts, sharing food and laughter that accompany these interactive meals. The Japanese shabu shabu is one such meal, full of fun and good tastes. One of the most fun places is the Shabu Shabu Bar in Santa Ana. As soon as you walk in, you can tell the place is lively. The bars are full and everyone at the waiting area seats and cocktail tables has a container of their special sake shooters. This has to be one of the most lively shabu shabu bars around. The pineapple and grapefruit, raspberry and tangerine flavored sakes are unique and delicious. Regular hot and cold sakes are also available for those who prefer them.
Appetizers are basic and a good way to start the meal. Gyoza dumplings, edamame, fried tofu and tempura are tasty and of course fun to share. The edamame are served in the traditional bamboo steamer and are hot and delicious. One unusual type of gyoza is the spicy cheese gyoza. Not a traditional type, but unique with a melted spicy jack cheese inside the dumpling wrapper.
Meat choices include four types of beef, pork, chicken and a seafood platter. Depending on your taste and budget, the beef comes in regular ribeye, prime, Kobe and Wagyu beef. The Wagyu is flown in from Japan and is the best beef available, highly marbled and so tender it melts in your mouth. With the Wagyu comes a special platter of seasonal Japanese vegetables. The pork is the famous Kurobuta Berkshire Pork, well marbled and extremely tender. This pork melts in your mouth and is extremely flavorful. There is a large list of add on items for the platters also. Scallops, mushrooms, white shrimp and mussels are just a few of the items that can be added to the platters for an extra price. An excellent way to try a few items are the combination platters, available in 2 or 3 item combos. It is a great way to compare the ribeye and pork, or add shrimp to a nice beef platter. Besides giving the broth an extra kick of flavor, it allows you to compare several delicious meats. All the platters come in regular and large sizes. The large size is by far the best value.
For the person who does not want the shabu shabu there is a sukiyaki platter, with a sweet soy sauce based sauce for it. For vegetarians, there is a vegetarian platter. They take the vegetable platter that comes with each meal and add a side of fresh snow peas, Japanese pumpkin and vegetable gyoza.
The first items to be brought are the two dipping sauces. One is a ponzu sauce which is a combination of soy and citrus juice. To this can be added scallions, daikon, garlic and red pepper flakes to flavor it to your taste. The other sauce is the goma sauce. When you first sit down, there is a bowl of sesame seeds in a dish with a pestle to crush them. To this the chef adds a sesame based sauce for dipping the meat in. The combinations of sauces with the items that are cooked gives many different tastes. Part of the fun is discovering which items and which sauces go the best to your taste.
The vegetable platter arrives next, allowing you to add longer cooking items like carrots, seaweed and nappa cabbage ribs to the shabu shabu bowl in front of you, filled with boiling water. As each item is put into the water, it adds flavor to the broth. The protein platter is brought next and the fun continues. The meats and seafood can be cooked only slightly or well done, depending what your tastes are. In between the pieces of meat, tofu, a shiitake mushroom and the cabbage leaves can be added. This is where the name comes from, as you shabu shabu (swish swish) each item in the broth to your taste. For those who like spicy items, the shabu shabu chef will add a few drops of a hot sauce to the bubbling broth. The one thing not to be added from the platter is the fresh noodles which are for the shabu shabu chef to use.
Finally, the platters are empty of everything except the noodles. This is when the shabu shabu chef comes to you, adds the noodles and a bit of the ponzu and goma sauces and creates a delicious soup to finish the meal. The soup is served in a bowl and is an interesting way to finish the meal. It has all the flavors of what you have dipped, creating a rich broth for the base of the soup. Of course, if you have a sweet tooth, there is always mochi ice cream or regular ice cream for dessert. The Japanese mochi is delicious, a small amount of ice cream wrapped in a sweet rice flour dough. It is unique and available in several different flavors.
Part of the fun at the bar is the interaction, not only with the shabu shabu chef but with other members of your party and even the people next to you. The chefs are friendly and attentive, as is the beverage waitstaff. Shabu Shabu Bar helps to add to the fun with hip, lively music, an exciting atmosphere and a sleek, modern design. It is a great place to go if you want something fun, different and most of all, delicious.
Shabu Shabu Bar
1945 East 17th Street, #108
Santa Ana, CA 92705