Shabu Shabu Bar - Santa Ana
If you have already made up your mind about shabu shabu, i.e. you don't buy into it because of one (or all) of the reasons below:
a) You're boiling meat in water.
b) You're paying through the nose for the privilege.
...read no further. I agree with you: shabu shabu is, for the most part, expensive for what it is. I am not going to change your mind with this post. So stop reading now. You have been warned.
Are the rest of you still with me? Good.
Yes, even though I know I could accomplish the same thing at home (I even have access to an induction shabu shabu pot), I still occasionally find the need to go out to get it. Why? Well, making shabu shabu yourself inevitably results in an unwanted excess of raw food that lasts for days. There is only a finite number of dishes you can make with shabu shabu ingredients.
So when the itch to water-boil meat hits (which, fortunately, only happens once a year for me), it's usually laziness that brings me to restaurants like Shabu Shabu Bar.
This one, however, I'd been hearing about for months. It actually ups the ante on shabu shabu's DIY nature in that they provide a mortar and pestle for you to grind your own goma (sesame seed sauce). Call it silly, call it stupid, call it counter intuitive. It's the same reason why people do 1000 piece puzzles or climb Everest: just so they can say they did.
Anyway, the grind-your-own-goma bit is just for show. No matter how much elbow grease you put into it, the seeds will never turn into a paste. Instead, the waitress (who will pity your efforts) will pour in the real sauce from a bottle and then amp it up with garlic, scallions and a dash of chili oil. She'll do the same for the ponzu if you let her.
And that's another thing about Shabu Shabu Bar that endears it to its fans: for a DIY joint, you get more service than you would at a normal sit-down. It's like they're compensating. She'll skim the scum off from your pot, mix your sauces, serve rice, make conversation, and even prepare your noodle soup with the now flavorful water once you've finished cooking your meat.
For our meal, in the guise of being smart and savvy shoppers, we shunned the smaller plates (which go upwards to $20 for around eight to ten slices of meat) and decided to go whole hog, er, whole cow, on the meant-to-be-shared $50 Yokozuna Platter, which the menu said consists of about 40 or more slices of rib eye.
Only when it arrived did I realize what we had we gotten ourselves into! Sure, most of it was air, but this was sliced beef formidably stacked into a literal meat mountain, looking much like those giant paper-mâché volcanos kids make for their grade school science projects.
The Man v. Food enormity of the task ahead made me queasy. I'm not the kind of guy who relishes overstuffing myself. When I looked over at my lovely dining companion, and remembered how small her appetite was, I thought to myself: we're screwed. We're never going to finish this, even if I had fasted the whole day (and I hadn't).
At my first swish, the lightness and wispiness of it gave me confidence. The ponzu sauce really takes the edge off the richness of the meat, which, by the way, is planed to the sheerness of tissue paper, sliced against the grain to disintegrate on contact with your tongue--probably one of the best shabu shabu meats I've had.
Around the fifteenth slice, I started getting the meat sweats. I abandoned my rice, using it more as a resting platform to put my cooked beef before I can summon the strength to pop it in my mouth.
By the final two pieces I felt lethargic, drunk of beef and excess. I took the udon noodle soup our server thoughtfully made for us and took a few sips. I couldn't even make myself eat a single strand of noodle.
Later at home, I was doubled over on the couch, groaning and feeling guilty at how much I ate, and actually, so was she. Yeah, maybe leftover shabu shabu ingredients in our fridge wouldn't have been so bad.
Shabu Shabu Bar
1945 East 17th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92705-8603
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