When it comes to great Asian-influenced cuisine, Sawtelle Boulevard in West L.A. has Santa Monica beat by a long shot. Our city lacks the goodness of Vietnamese pho, ramen noodle bars, and Korean BBQ. Of course there is plenty of sushi to choose from, but nowadays sushi is so Westernized it’s just about as authentic as a sizzling fajita platter is Mexican.
Shabu-shabu, which is a Japanese hot pot, is certainly a welcome addition to help add some diversity and Japanese flavor to the Santa Monica food scene.
The best way to describe shabu-shabu is a cross between Korean BBQ and fondue — kind of. The essentials of shabu-shabu are raw vegetables, slices of raw meat (often times beef), a selection of sauces, and a hot pot of water under some sort of burner. Shabu-shabu in Japanese means “swish swish,” which is literally what you do. Take the ingredients, swish them around in bubbling water (thinly sliced meats only take a few seconds to cook), remove from the pot, dip in the variety of sauces and eat with rice. Afterwards, you are offered a bowl with udon noodles and tofu. Add the rendered broth from the hot pot for a deliciously excessive second course or tomorrow’s lunch.
Shabu-shabu is a very kinetic dining experience. All of the transferring, swishing and dipping also requires a certain level of chopstick savvy too. While it can be intimidating, any upstanding shabu-shabu restaurant will have a competent server to brief you on the ins and outs of this Japanese hot pot.
As a shabu-shabu enthusiast, I have tried my fair share of places around town and beyond. I’ve been fortunate to never have any complete disasters, like any unidentified objects floating in my hot pot. Meals have run the gamut from outstanding to so-so. Many times if a place is on the cheap side in price there is a subsequent drop off in quality, atmosphere and service.
While California Shabu-Shabu, which just opened a location on Broadway just east of Lincoln Boulevard, is a tad higher in price than your run of the mill hot pot, what you get in return seems more than fair. Their prime beef offers a high degree of marbling which translates into mouthwatering succulence with a quick swish in the hot pot. It is a cut above their more lean choice beef offering, and not nearly as expensive as the luxurious Kobe option. All that marbling does wonders to the broth, concocting one of the better soups I have had in my shabu-shabu adventures. My bill with tip was close to $30. Add some sake and dessert and you’re looking closer to $50. (There is a more inexpensive lunch menu.) Quality indeed comes at a price, but it is some of the other aspects that makes California Shabu-Shabu unique from the rest.
The interior is very sleek, modern, with a dash of hipster from a fixed-gear bike leaning against one of the walls, and an original Shepard Fairey above the counter. Large groups beware, there are no tables, but bar style seating is ample and runs seamlessly through the length of the restaurant. The wall art and murals are worth a walk around the place to check it all out.
Service is friendly and attentive. Tiffanie was very knowledgeable of all the sauces, drinks, and was more than happy to pose with my platter of blossoming prime beef. As trendy as the restaurant appears, the service is unpretentious and very helpful.
Take that Sawtelle Boulevard! California Shabu-Shabu comes to Broadway right here in Santa Monica. With Bay Cities Deli around the corner, and Swingers down the street, this area has become a bit of a hot spot for some great places old and new.
If you go
Santa Monica, Calif.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, "Tour de Feast." To reach him visit his website at tourdefeast.net or follow him on Twitter @TourDeFeastSM.