Swishing Away Time at Shabu Shabu

Posted April 3, 2008 in Eats

About the only thing this pregnant woman gets to eat these days are bland diets of meat, meat, and more meat. Not that this is necessarily an evil in itself, but considering how life once presented a veritable pantheon of hole-in-the-wall dives offering carb-laced treasures fit for a king, this is a gigantic step back for mankind. Blame it on gestational diabetes. Blame it on the state of being pregnant. As if a desperately seeking carb fanatic couldn’t ferret out a good thing in such debilitating times!

Devoid of months of treacly-sweet Asian delicacies, I arrived at the one type of restaurant that could be at least mildly taste and fun at the same time, the Shabu Shabu Station—a newly opened joint right on the peripheries of Diamond Bar. To the untrained eye, shabu shabu is a bore, the enterprising restaurateur’s opportunity to provide a sparsely decorated plate of uncooked foods in order to fetch a nice profit, a misunderstanding of west versus east on the constitutional definition of “fine dining.” To those in the know, however, shabu shabu is the hipster’s very idea of trend-setting world-class dining. And shabu shabu makes a starving diabetic’s life much less painful.

Shabu shabu, cleverly known as “swish swish” in Japanese (right, how sophisticated can we be!) for the sound cooking meat makes as you dunk it in a dashi broth and move it purposely around with wooden chopsticks, migrated over here from our raw fish-loving Pacific Coast neighbors in the other time zone. In reality, shabu arrived on the Japanese coast via Mongolia, where the mass-market cooking style made popular by Genghis Khan for his hungry minions caught on like hotcakes on the island. And now, people here in the States can’t get enough of this phenomenon, yours truly included.

The family-owned Shabu Shabu Station doesn’t feel any different from other shabu places, and they certainly try to deviate from the standard, offering up the same experiences of cooking your own food in relaxed and laid back obscurity (of course, two in the afternoon wasn’t exactly screaming rush hour traffic—but then again, two o’clock is closing time at most shabu houses, so this is an obvious plus). Outfitted in creamy zen-like sparseness, not many decorative delights abound except for the booming of dance music from the loudspeakers and the wait staff hovering patiently at arm’s length with restrained politeness as they watch the barbarians eat like madmen.  

Lunch combinations start at $12.99 for a regular sized portion of 10 thinly sliced pieces of Kobe beef, a slew of vegetables—my feng shui-like plate included dandelion greens, napa cabbage, two cubes of tofu, carrots, a smattering of udon and glass noodles and enoki mushrooms—which isn’t bad considering I’ve paid upwards of $15 at niftier locations for lesser proportions. At least here, the veggies retain a fresh-picked crispness; the beef has the texture, beet red color and firmness that don’t spark memories of the recent beef recall. If anything, the dipping sauces could afford to excite with a bit more pizzazz. The sandstone-colored sesame-peanut sauce rings in on the bland, pasty side (not much of a nutty taste here), and the traditionally citrus-flavored ponzu, a mild improvement over the former, needs more citrus tang. I found that adding a lot of red pepper, green onions and garlic makes for good compensation to fill in the lack of flavor.  That said, most pleasures of the shabu experience indeed arise from the flavorings of the sauce. Shabu Shabu Station would do well to pay more attention to this area of its business.

Aside from my quibbles about sauce, I found Shabu Shabu Station to be a clean and tasty treat for those with more restrained, carb-less diet regimes who yearn for the comforts of mass consumption without the skyrocketing glucose highs. There aren’t many shabu places in the Inland Empire, but Shabu Shabu Station may very well succeed in helping buck this dismal trend.

Shabu Shabu Station, 2803 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar, (909) 839-2560. Lunch for two, $30. Open daily, Mon.–Fri., 11AM–2:30PM; Sat.–Sun., 11:30AM–10PM. MC, V



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