Balcony Grill & Bar - Irvine
When Balcony Grill & Bar first opened at Diamond Jamboree, it was eviscerated online. For one reason or another, no one seemed to like it much. But as the years passed, it somehow got in good with the cool kids. Before long it became a kind of a sleeper hit, winning loyalist and gaining a cult following. I’ve actually eaten there more than I have at Tokyo Table, more than Capital Seafood, and yes even more than 85°C.
And it’s not because I was necessarily rooting for the underdog. Their Happy Hour was decent with alcohol-appropriate bites they called “Drunk Munchies”, and their snow ice was unique to the area; but most of all, I went for their shabu shabu, which exists in at least a dozen different permutations, with flavored broths from ranging from a basic miso to a kimchi-inflected soup to something that I recall used either milk or cheese.
The meat was frozen into hair-curler tubes, stacked like logs and stored that way until someone ordered it. And almost everybody that came to Balcony did. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t sliced to order the way a proper shabu shabu restaurant would. The rib-eye reacted in the same way in the boiling liquid: it melted into tenderness. The veggies were basic. Cabbage. Baby bok choy. Carrots. And the cooking vessel was nothing more than a campfire pot heated by Sterno gel that sputtered blue flame. But I loved it.
It was priced right (somewhere in the ballpark of $13) and it satisfied me more than meals I’ve had at some shabu shabus, places where I’m liable to pay almost twice the price. And then, there’s the element of danger. Here, you’re really playing with fire, not an induction heater.
I heard from fellow forker Brekkie Fan that Balcony Grill & Bar was recently taken over by new ownership, and I hope they read this and resist changing their shabu shabu offering. There’s increased competition now with SWSH, an actual shabu shabu restaurant that opened right next door; but I hope they’re wise enough to leave well enough alone. Let Netflix be the cautionary tale. Stick with your pricing model and do not alienate your cult!
Balcony Grill & Bar
2710 Alton Pkwy. Ste. 215
Irvine, CA 92606
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