If you’ve ever craved shabu shabu in San Diego, you know that there aren’t very many options, the ones available can be expensive, and they usually aren’t that great (i.e., craving not really satisfied). [ed. note – if I’m wrong and you
know of an awesome shabu shabu spot, please tell me!!]
After the Great Restaurant Week Snafu of 2011, we still needed to get dinner and there was no point in just turning around and going home. There had been twittering earlier about shabu shabu (or maybe hot pot? Or both?) and Darlene mentioned she was going to try the shabu shabu at Tajima, an option I was not aware of. So, being close the area and also on the early end of dinner time, we thought we’d check it out as well. There are two Tajimas: the Noodle House is located on Convoy and Izakaya is on Mercury. Shabu shabu is on the menu at Izakaya, but not the Noodle House (as far as I can tell).
Izakaya Tajima doesn’t open until 5:30 pm (which is, incidentally, when we were supposed to be eating our preview meal) and we waited a bit on a bench until the “Open” sign lit up. We were quickly seated and then perused the menu. Usually, when we go out for shabu shabu, there is a two order minimum (and, at $20+ an order, this can add up!) This wasn’t stated on the menu, but I assumed it would be the same kind of deal (spoiler: I was totally wrong.) I told our server we would have the shabu shabu deal and she asked if we would like rice. Rice is extra, which I hadn’t expected, and I mentally weighed the cost of the rice ($1.50) against the tastiness of Japanese rice (pretty tasty) balanced against the notion that by skipping the rice we would save ourselves from eating empty carb filler. I also figured that if I missed having rice (I kind of did), I could always order it later.
A portable butane range was delivered, along with a plate of noodles, cabbage, carrots, tofu, mushrooms, fishcake, and rice noodles. We had the obligatory ponzu sauce and sesame dipping sauce. Then came the bowl of hot water with kombu, and our plate of prime beef, thinly shaved. Pretty standard stuff.
We dipped, swished, retrieved, and ate. I kind of wish the cabbage hadn’t been chopped into such small pieces, as it made it harder to pick out later. And the tofu was softer than I’m used to, but still good. I love sesame dipping sauces, and this one wasn’t bad. Not the best I’ve had, but I’ve certainly had worse. I’m also a fan of udon noodles, instead of the glassy rice noodles, but whatever. As we were munching away, I wondered if we were looking at one order of shabu shabu or two. They brought out two sets of sauces, but it kind of looked like only one portion of veggies+meat. Or maybe two very skimpy portions.
Because we got started so early (as soon as they opened!) it was still happy hour as we were finishing up the shabu shabu. So we ordered the kobe beef tonkatsu patty and an order of karaage. The chicken was lightly battered, so it was light and crispy, but the dark meat was very, very moist. I’m not saying I like my chicken dry and hard, but I think these pieces could have used a couple more minutes in the fryer. The beef tonkatsu patty was made of ground beef, breaded in panko, and then fried. Moist and well-flavored, but you really lose the nuance of kobe (or even American wagyu) beef when it’s prepared this way.
When we got the bill, it turns out we were only served one order of shabu shabu. At $18, this ended up being a really good deal. Add on a couple of bowls of rice, and I think two people could split this one order quite nicely. Much more affordable than the $40+ we end up paying most of the time. And then, you’re just nicely full, not overstuffed from eating way too much food! Plus, if you’re still hungry, just throw in a couple of happy hour items and you’ll be fine. Oh, and we weren’t charged for my hot green tea, either.
I still haven’t had shabu shabu at Suzuya, so maybe that will be next on the list as I build my shabu shabu list.