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Friday, October 9, 2009

Hot Meal: Prime Rib Shabu

Posted By on Fri, Oct 9, 2009 at 11:46 AM

click to enlarge Swish swish. - M. BRODY
  • M. Brody
  • Swish swish.
Shabu shabu is the Japanese equivalent of fondue. It's a participatory meal you cook at table, dipping meats, seafood, and vegetables into a simmering broth that picks up flavor as the meal wears on. The name, legend has it, is onomatopoetic, from the sound a piece of food makes as you swish it through the soup. Shabu shabu = swish swish.

Bill Murray asks in Lost in Translation, "What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?" One answer: a restaurant that's both fun and delicious, as in Prime Rib Shabu, which opened 10 days ago in the Inner Richmond. The compact storefront is nicely decorated with gleaming wood, pierced-metal light fixtures, and Asian art, but the real focus is the hot plate at the center of every table.

click to enlarge Owner Luke Sung knows the value of good ingredients. - M. BRODY
  • M. Brody
  • Owner Luke Sung knows the value of good ingredients.
There are five different shabu meals, or sets: thin-cut rib eye ($16.95), hand-cut extra-marbled rib eye ($18.95), thin-cut lamb shoulder ($17.95), seafood ($17.95), and vegetarian ($9.95). All the dinners come with chicken broth, two kinds of tofu (fresh cubes and dried yuba tubes), two kinds of noodles (fat udon and glassy vermicelli), enoki, organic ton ho (aka tong hao, spiky-leaved chrysanthemum greens), watercress, nappa cabbage, and lettuce, each of which you add to the broth as you like. The table is set with jars of chili oil, satay sauce, and chopped green onions, and Prime Rib Shabu's special fresh sauce (soy-based, with cilantro and jalapeño) arrives with the meats.

click to enlarge Overcooked shrimp? It's all on you. - M. BRODY
  • M. Brody
  • Overcooked shrimp? It's all on you.
The way to go is to have enough people so that you can order at least one of each set -- or show up Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, when there's an all-you-can-eat special for $25.95. We chose the latter. It was diverting to pick and choose which morsels to swirl through the bubbling broth, and the quality of all the ingredients, notably the meats, fresh spot prawns, and littleneck clams, was top-notch. Owner Luke Sung (of French-small-plates Isa and sushi spot Domo) knows the importance of excellent ingredients.

click to enlarge Prime Rib Shabu's Francisco, slicing marbled rib eye by hand. - M. BRODY
  • M. Brody
  • Prime Rib Shabu's Francisco, slicing marbled rib eye by hand.
The meats cook so quickly that we preferred to place them in a slotted spoon and dunk them once or twice like a teabag, rather than swishing them with chopsticks. To our surprise, we preferred the flavor of the less-marbled rib eye over the fattier one, though we enjoyed its plusher mouth feel. Spicy watercress, we discovered, is terrific, fished limp out of the hot soup. The seafood plate includes red-rimmed fish cake, fish balls, squid balls, and imitation crab -- all rather similar in rubbery texture -- and wonderful fresh shrimp and clams. And if the shrimp is overcooked, there's nobody to blame but yourself.

We were brought much more than we could eat to start, and when we asked for a couple more shrimp, four were brought to us immediately. We were so content that we looked on with benevolence rather than annoyance when a lively party of 18 was seated near us at three adjoining tables. They were in for a good communal time, as well as a swell supper.

Prime Rib Shabu 308 Fifth Ave. (at Clement), 379-4678. Open for dinner only, Tue-Sun.; closed Mon. No Web site.

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Meredith Brody

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