Dip Into an ‘Umami’-filled MealCover Story
September 3, 2017
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
Shabu, shabu. Swish, swish. It’s an onomatopoeic Korean phrase that represents the sound made by meat when it is swirled in a pot of broth. On a recent trip to Umami-ya Shabu Shabu, Honolulu’s chic new hot-pot spot, Dining Out‘s aromatic broth in a big aluminum pot bubbles on its little gas hot plate. Happily anticipating our party’s dinner, we toss in items from a beautifully presented bowl, allowing fishcake, aburaage tofu, cremini and enoki mushrooms, green onions, kabocha, corn, won bok, glass noodles and Korean rice cakes to swish, swish.
It’s all part of the dining experience island patrons are coming to love at the new restaurant, which opened in March and keeps hot pots sizzling with a mix of Korean, Japanese and local culinary influences.
The Grand Opening Special Shabu Shabu Dinner Set (still just $19.95) continues to draw customers into the eatery, offering a feast fit for royalty. One of the best parts of shabu shabu dining is the savory meat options, and the dinner set offers a choice of USDA Choice ribeye, Kurobuta pork belly or beef short ribs.
Dining Out plucks wafer-thin strips of USDA Choice ribeye beef from the platter, plunging them into the broth and swirling them around as they cook before our eyes.
“Actually, you’re not even supposed to let go of the meat,” explains Angela Choi, director of marketing for the restaurant. “You’re supposed to just swish it, swish it, to your liking, rare or well-done, and eat it with the vegetables as you go. But everybody has their own different way of enjoying it!”
At Umami-ya, customers who are sharing may request a split pot with a partition in the middle to accommodate more than one broth, such as house, miso, spicy miso or paitan soup bases, the latter being a delicately rich pork broth ($2 extra).
Guests are invited to enhance their meals with an array of sauces, from dipping cooked beef into a nutty goma sauce to dunking vegetables into the ponzu, smoky with a bit of spicy daikon.
When diners have eaten their fill from the pots, all that’s left is the rich broth, flavorful with the things they’ve cooked in it. For those who choose zosui over udon to complete the meal, the friendly staff then returns to the table with a bowl of sticky mochi rice, a small carafe of sesame oil and a raw egg. Flavored with green onion and nori, the rice porridge is known to be divine.
To supplement one’s hot-pot selections, Pork Beef Tofu Kimchi ($11.95 regular, $5.95 happy hour) is based on a classic Korean dish, with kimchi, pork, beef and onions stir-fried in sesame oil, and served atop a brick of hot tofu. Also popular are Seafood Pancakes ($9.95 regular, $4.95 happy hour), two generous, crispy rounds with squid, bay shrimp, egg and green onions.
After the meal, a crisp Yuzu-licious cocktail ($9.95 regular, $7.50 happy hour) made with yuzu sake, Iichiko shochu and a few secret ingredients does the trick. “It’s our most popular cocktail, very refreshing after a hot pot,” says Choi. Yuzu Sorbet ($4.95) is another ideal ending to any satisfying meal at Umami-ya.
SAY ‘HELLO’ TO CITRUS
The Yuzu-licious cocktail and Yuzu Sorbet featured at Umami-ya highlight humble yuzu, a tart, cold-hardy citrus fruit that originated in China before finding its way to Japan and Korea. Known in Korea as yuja, the aromatic fruit’s flavor is reminiscent of lime, grapefruit and mandarin oranges. It’s also an important ingredient in the ponzu sauce served with Umami-ya’s shabu-shabu sets.
Elegant and understated, Umami-ya Shabu Shabu offers dining capacity for 150 guests and can host private events, with the ability to split its space into six private rooms that accommodate anywhere from 8 to 45 people. Happy Hour menus with half-price appetizers are available from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and specially priced cocktails, sakes, beers and shochus are available from 4:30 to 7. Parking, shared with Liliha Bakery, is ample.