Heat Shabu Baru - Some Instruction Required

Heat Shabu Baru on Urbanspoon

It was still technically winter last month when we visited Heat Shabu Baru off Broadway. Apropos for eating a shabu-shabu dinner, apparently, as it is considered a winter dish in Japan.

Shabu-shabu is not a traditional Japanese dish as it was only introduced to Japan in the last century. Yes, the Japanese had a similar hot pot dish known as sukiyaki. Both sukiyaki and shabu-shabu have hot broths in pots where you cook thin slices of meats and vegetables. The difference is in the broths and in that with sukiyaki you take the cooked meat and then dip it into raw egg, which instantly cooks a thin coating on the meat. 

Heat Shabu Baru is the second shabu-shabu restaurant in Sacramento. It took over an easily missed spot vacated by a Burmese restaurant. The layout of the space is basically the same, although the furnishing are more contemporary and less Asian. Tables have electric burners in the center to heat the required hot pots.

I was here with a group of people as we gave Grubwithus.com another try. Grubwithus arranges family style meals with the restaurants and so we already knew what was in store for us. Almost all of my companions were new to shabu-shabu and looking forward to a new experience.

First out were some crab filled fried wontons. I doubt that they were housemade as they tasted and looked just like the kind you buy frozen and then fry up. Nothing special here as I couldn't even tell that there was any crab in them. They probably would be better called cream cheese wontons.

We did enjoy the salad course - seared ahi topped salad with a simple miso dressing. There was a generous amount of the ahi, enough for everyone, and it was lightly seared so that you could enjoy the freshness of the fish.

The servers then came out with big bowls of what appeared to be soup. It was actually a bowl of karubatu pork ramen. There was no shortage of contents as the bowls were filled with vegetables, noodles, and pork. Atop each bowl was a fried egg. Although tasty and not overly salty, we did not finish the bowls as we knew the main course was still to come.

The servers started to prep our table for the shabu course. The burners were turned on and the pots set on top to simmer. You could have a single broth or a pot split for two different broths. We had some people that were observing Lent, and so they needed to have the miso broths near them and they were just cooking vegetables and tofu. The rest of us enjoyed tonkatsu, a pork based broth, and then spicy miso broth. I would not worry about the word spicy in the name as they were rather mild and not what I would consider spicy.

Large platters heaping with vegetables were set down, There were a couple of kinds of mushrooms, cabbage, eggplant, onions, spinach, and more. The meat slices we had were lamb and American kobe beef.

Now the biggest complaint - everything was set down and then we were left on our own. I had only been to shabu-shabu once before and for most of the table, this was all new to them. We needed instruction! Were we supposed to dump it all in at once? Or were we supposed to do it more fondue-style, an item at a time? Was there proper etiquette? After all, in fondue you don't let the fondue fork touch your mouth because it keeps going into the fondue pot. Did we use chopsticks in the same manner? We had to call back the server and ask what we were supposed to do. 

Once the simple instructions were given we were able to proceed with the meal. We each had bowls and plates, but I wished that I had a separate bowl for the two broth styles so that I could experience the broth flavors individually. I preferred the pork broth more as I liked the richer depth of flavor. The final course was green tea ice cream.

This time everyone left feeling really satiated and there were even some leftovers for those that wanted them. The newbies had enjoyed the novelty of the meal and were happy they got to try something new.