Almost a year after Jill, Kathryn and I had decided that we would dine at Sabu Sushi Bar together, we finally made it to the restaurant.
Last Wednesday, the three of us met at the Korean-Japanese restaurant Sabu to sample shabu-shabu. Although my family indulges in Chinese-style hot pot every now and then, this was my first dalliance with the Japanese version of hot pot. Jill and Kathryn, on the other hand, having both visited Japan and Korea years ago, were familiar with shabu-shabu.
The interior of Sabu is warm and comfortable, in spite of the low ceilings. The wood paneling and furniture were simple and unfussy, though the panelled booths at the front of the restaurant were eye-catching.
It was a quiet evening inside the restaurant, with only three other parties that dined alongside us that night. This translated into attentive service though, and later, when it looked like we needed some assistance with our approach to shabu-shabu, we received some motherly guidance.
To whet our appetite, we shared an appetizer of agedashi tofu ($5.95). Lightly fried and served in a slightly tart sauce, they were a tasty way to start our meal.
We were directed by our server to start with two servings of food to share between the three of us ($19.95/serving), indicating that we could easily add more meat, vegetables, or udon if we still felt hungry afterwards. So along with a tabletop gas burner and a pot filled with coffee-coloured seaweed-based stock, two platters arrived: one laden with frozen rolls of thinly-sliced beef and a brick of udon, and another with soft tofu and an assortment of vegetables, including enoki mushrooms, baby bok choy, suey choy, onions and carrots. We were also given two dipping sauces, a creamy sesame sauce and ponzu, as well as a ladle and some tongs.
Meat and udon
Our server was apparently mistaken when he directed us to start with the udon first (after the soup had come to a boil). Not a moment later, the matron of the restaurant swung by our table and told us that the noodles are typically the last to go into the pot, as they would benefit from being simmered in a broth that by that point would have been flavoured by everything else that had come before it. No matter, she said, and before we could blink an eye, had spooned some of the cooked noodles and soup into our bowls, and showed us how to prepare the meat – swished around in the broth just until its hue changed, then dipped into the ponzu. In rolled form, the meat was easy to handle, and cooked and eaten as directed, was moist and tender, with a briny kick from the ponzu.
Jill said it best – she enjoys meals most when they are “experiences”, and shabu-shabu is a great example of a fun and interactive way to dine. Eating a little bit of this, a little bit of that, one fills up surprisingly quickly though!
I loved how the soup gradually thickened, enhanced by the items that simmered away. Unlike the Chinese-style hot pot I am used to, where the base (usually water and some chili paste) is not consumed, this actually made more sense to me – enriched by vegetables and meat, the intensely-flavoured soup should be a part of the meal! Kathryn remarked, as we approached the end of our second batch of soup, that the broth tasted very similar to the rich, beefy stock used in French onion soup, salty and concentrated with flavour. And as we let the mixture continue to reduce down, it ended up creating a luxurious syrup that I thought twice about packing up to bring home – it would have greatly enhanced any homemade soup.
Glorious shabu-shabu residue
Sabu provided a great introduction to shabu-shabu; I can’t stop thinking about that broth! It was really reasonably priced too – each of us paid just over $20 each (including tip!). Think about making Sabu your destination on a cold winter’s night – you won’t regret it!
Sabu Sushi Bar
7450 82 Avenue
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday: 11am-3pm, 5-9pm; Friday: 11am-3pm, 5-10pm; Saturday 11am-3pm, 5-10pm; Sunday: noon-8pm; closed Tuesdays