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The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, July 29, 1999


A matter of fast pace
over taste

ONE of the most leisurely forms of dining has got to be shabu shabu. The Japanese hot pot meal requires that the diner do the cooking at the table. The broth or stock is heated to a boil, then the temperature is brought to a medium for cooking an assortment of meat, seafood and vegetables.

This can either be a languid, sensual exercise, or the ultimate family experience recreated in a public dining room. Shabu Express in the Market City Shopping Center changes this perception by adding the element of speed.

Choose Shabu Express' largest combo, the $13.99 seafood platter, and there's no waiting around for them to assemble the fillets of sole, shrimp, two clams, scallops, octopus, squid, noodles and won bok. It's all there, pre-arranged, wrapped, refrigerated and delivered to you less than a minute after you've asked for it.


SHABU EXPRESS

Food STARSTAR
Atmosphere STARSTARSTAR1/2
Service STARSTARSTAR
Value STARSTAR1/2

Bullet Address: Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapiolani Boulevard
Bullet Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Bullet Prices: $6 minimum per person
Bullet Call: 735-3998


You'll probably take longer deciding whether you want this cooked in chicken or satay stock. My advice is go with the satay. Express employees say it's spicy, but it's really not. In fact, both stocks are so bland, I ended up spiking them with the three dipping sauces that came with the meal. One is a spicy hoisin-style sauce, one is soy-sauce based and another combines bean curd and garlic.

Used directly on the cooked foods, the sauces were too overpowering for some of the more delicate items, such as scallop and squid. But in the pot, a third of the hoisin sauce, all of the bean curd and garlic sauce and half the soy sauce worked out fairly well.

You may have your own solution. That's fine. Everyone sits at his or her own pot for this mad experimentation. That's the beauty of shabu shabu. The idea is to cook the food to your liking, and if you have any complaints, well, you have only yourself to blame.

CUSTOMERS here tend to be couples and young single men who ask a lot of questions along the lines of "How do I use this?" in referring to the sauce, and "How do I know when it's done?" regarding cooking times.

With staffers forgetting most of the time to lower the heat from a rolling boil, the foods cook instantly. Experiment with the indestructible stuff, like processed fish cake, first, then work your way up to the squid. It should still be a little slippery after it's cooked. If it turns into a tough little knot, enroll in a cooking class.

The platters -- including the $10.99 rib-eye combo with sliced beef, beef meat balls, beef tripe and pork dumplings and $11.99 Shabu Express Combo with rib eye steak, sole fillets, chicken, pork fillets, fish balls, pork dumplings, imitation crab meat and tofu -- are tempting for those who don't like to make decisions, but I find the shrimp balls and fish balls spongy throwaways.

I'm more likely to go a la carte and get the things I really want. Some of the best items were the Shrimp and Scallops ($4.59), rib eye ($2.59), pork fillet ($2.19) and pork dumplings (five for $2.29).

Overall, I'd sacrifice speed for more flavor.



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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to features@starbulletin.com



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