Simmering broth sets scene for hot-pot dining
For years, nabe has been the wallflower on Japanese menus, always present, dependable and amicable, but overlooked in light of her showy, popular sisters, and perhaps in need of a makeover just to win a second glance. I mean, you're talking boiled meat and a stack of veggies -- not exactly anyone's idea of food that's sexy.
Well, her time has come. Just about every Japanese restaurant offers an obligatory nabe or shabu shabu hot pot, but the cook-it-yourself one-pot dish has quickly become the star attraction at a trio of new restaurants. Neo Nabe, the subject of a review here about a month ago opened eyes to shabu shabu reimagined with full-flavored broth and late-night chic.
Two other new entries take different, but no less companionable, approaches to nabe. I found lots of things to like about both menus, and ultimately the one you choose comes down to whether you like your restaurants local-style casual or with a touch of luxury:
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ichiriki owners Issei Kazama and Riki Kobayashi offer the makings of a kami, or paper, nabe. The broth is served in washi designed to absorb oil and fat.
Issei Kazama and Riki Kobayashi were working at a popular Japanese-import restaurant when they decided to open their own place.
Kobayashi, who had grown up in Japan and left at age 18, was particularly inspired by a trip to Osaka, and was determined to bring elements of contemporary Japan aesthetics and culture here. The result is Ichiriki, an elegant and unlikely oasis on Piikoi. How prescient is this site in light of how the area is turning upscale residential? Buyers of million-dollar condos nearby will feel right at home here at cozy tables with short curtains subtly offering an element of privacy for two. Larger groups can remove their shoes to enter the stylized hori-gotatsu
, semi-private dining areas with floor seating and a pit or sunken floor to accommodate legs and feet.
A selection of simple appetizers such as ita wasa (a firm fishcake, $3.45), yamakake (ahi topped with mountain potato, $4.95) and ahi poke ($5.45) opens the menu. But considering how much food awaits in a typical shabu shabu or nabe selection, you won't need anything else.
Here, you'll want to pay attention to the specialty nabes that you're as likely to choose for the broth as for the various ingredients that go into it. Those who love miso will be drawn to the miso chanko nabe ($19.95) that comes with 17 ingredients, from greens -- leeks are a nice touch and chives add a lot of flavor -- to the centerpiece Berkshire pork and tsukune presented in raw form. Meatball-size portions of the chicken-and-pork mixture slide off a bamboo server to cook in the boiling broth in front of you.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Ichiriki, divided pots allow diners with different tastes to sample different broths. In the foreground is the spicy nabe, and in the back is the rich, deep colored miso chanko nabe.
Although the camaraderie of eating out of one pot is key to the enjoyment of nabe, Kobayashi acknowledges that diners in the West are often accustomed to having their own portions, so he has Ichiriki's hot pots specially made with a divider to accommodate two broths. That way, two people with yin-yang tastes can have their own orders, but can also reach over for a sample of a different broth.
A spicy nabe ($17.95) is flavored with slices of raw garlic and not particularly spicy, except for the little slices of Thai chilies that bond to pieces of tsukune or bok choy.
Other flavors include kim chee nabe ($18.95) and if you're a fan of the meatballs, the tsukune nabe ($17.95). If the orders don't have enough meat for you, order sides of pork ($5.45) or USDA prime beef ($9.95) to U.S. Kobe beef ($15.95).
And flip to the back page of the menu for a list of kami, or paper, nabes for two. For $33.95 to $41.95, health-conscious individuals can get any one of the specialty nabes served in paper that serves to absorb fat and oil.
Finish with ujikintoki ($4.95), shaved ice topped with a couple of mochi balls and bitter green tea mellowed by sweet azuki beans.
Shabu Shabu Time
A love of shabu shabu led Tori Itamoto and Christie Cachola to open Shabu Shabu Time, where they could satisfy their own cravings, and hopefully, those of a few others.
Here, it's very casual and the pots of water are already on the table when you arrive. Two can share one pot, or you can scoot over one seat and nab one of your own.
With only a piece of konbu giving the water its essence, the flavor is added after cooking, through a trio of sauces and other condiments, each a winner. A ginger-soy sauce is the popular choice, but don't stop at that. Sesame with a touch of sake is great on pork, and if you can't take the heat of a garlic-chili sauce, tone it down with grated radish.
Premium sets comprise prime rib ($20.95) or pork loin ($16.95) alone, together ($20.95), or paired with shrimp, fish or clams ($20.95). Just as with ribs, I prefer pork to beef, but that's just me. You'll do well with either choice.
One set can be enough for two with a few side orders, and there are a lot of choices here, from homemade won tons ($2.95) to slices of Okinawan sweet potato ($2.95), freezer shumai ($2.95) and the sort of meatballs you'd find in Vietnamese soups.
You'll leave feeling warm, full and happy, and that may be just what you need at the end of a work day.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Shabu Shabu Time, a combination set of darker colored prime rib, left, and paler pork loin is $20.95 with a plate of vegetables.