Going for a Dip at Shabu Shabu House

Columns Order of the Day

March 20, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

In the 13th century, the armies of Genghis Khan gathered around huge soup cauldrons and cooked their rations of thinly sliced meat, a few hungry Mongols at a time, in an effort to conserve wood.

  • Seafood Shabu Shabu ($21.75)
  • Kobe Set A ($34.95)
  • Assorted vegetables come with the meal/set menu.
  • Vegetarian ($11.95)
  • Server Nicky Wong with the Rib-eye Beef Set A ($24.95)
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Thus, through military efficiency, the hot pot was born.

Since 2004, ShabuShabu House in Honolulu has served authentic Japanese shabu-shabu in a setting that includes a personal hotplate at each of the restaurant’s 35 place settings. “These are convection cookers from Japan,” says Kenny Ikeguchi, general manager of the restaurant. “People don’t have to share a pot; they can cook for themselves.”

Ikeguchi, who says ShabuShabu House is the first Japanese hot pot restaurant in Hawaii, is from Osaka, home of Suehiro, the first hot pot restaurant in Japan. Suehiro himself called the culinary style “shabushabu” — in English, “swish-swish” — after the sound made when meat is held with chopsticks and swirled through boiling broth.

Though he was trained classically, and worked as a chef in a French restaurant in Manhattan for 10 years, Ikeguchi is an unabashed fan of Japanese hot pot cooking. “It’s healthy,” he explains. “We don’t use any broth; just simple seaweed and water. The fat is cooked out so you eat only the plain lean meat.”

Located between Pensacola and Piikoi on the makai side of Kapiolani Boulevard, ShabuShabu House is a long, high-ceilinged room painted in cheerful shades of yellow and orange, decorated with images of various hot pot sets. The wall at the entrance is hung with photos — one of actor Josh Holloway, a couple of 2004 Miss Hawaii Jennifer Fairbank, and one of active-duty soldiers in combat gear holding a handwritten sign that says “I’d Rather Be At ShabuShabu House!”

Each custom-built place setting includes a cooker and a stainless-steel shabu-shabu pot, plus a basket holding three tall bottles — the restaurant’s famed house-made ginger, sesame seed and ponzu sauces. “I actually created them,” says Ikeguchi with quiet pride.

Meals are ordered by the set at ShabuShabu House, and a dozen are offered. The most popular is the House Special Beef and Pork ($11.95 at lunch; $15.95 at dinner); a Seafood Set ($21.75) includes shrimp, scallops, squid, clams and filleted fish. Four sets with various combinations of Black Angus Rib-eye Beef, Prime Pork Loin and Black Tiger prawn shrimp are available, all at $24.95. But the tastiest hot pots at ShabuShabu House might be the two that feature premium Kobe-style Washugyu beef.

“We have the best deal in town: $34.95 for Kobe-style beef!” says Ikeguchi. “A lot of people come in only for this. The taste of Kobe … it’s tender and tasty, and very special. You cannot compare it to regular beef.”

All sets come with rice and a plate of fresh choy sum, Chinese cabbage, zucchini, udon noodles, tofu (from Mrs. Cheng’s in Waipahu, according to Ikeguchi) and housemade gyoza. There’s also a piece of kombu (seaweed) to flavor the water in the shabu-shabu pot; non-traditionalists may order a shoyu soup base or chicken broth for $2 extra, if they prefer.

Side dishes and plates include Lamb Leg or Beef Tongue ($7.95 each); Arabiki Sausage ($3.95); Mixed Mushrooms ($6.95) with a half-dozen varieties, including shiitake, enoki, bunashimeji,and oyster; and the charmingly named Mrs. Choy plate ($3.95), with choy sum, a-choy and baby bok choy. Plates of vegetables, including watercress, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and zucchini, may be ordered separately for $3.95 each, or $7.50 for an assortment.

Guests are welcome to bring their own wines; the corkage fee is $10 per party. Sho-chiku-bai Sake ($5.75) may be served hot or cold, and a variety of beers, including Budweiser, Coors, Kirin, Asahi and Orion from Okinawa, are also available from $3.95 to $6.95 per bottle.

It’s now been almost seven years since Ikeguchi opened ShabuShabu House with owner Maki Matsuzaki. “It was a bit scary, because shabu-shabu is a hot pot, and Hawaii is very … hot!” he says with a smile. By Ikeguchi’s count, at least eight or nine hot-pot restaurants have opened in Honolulu since 2004. “Some are still open; some have closed,” he says. “But I believe we are the best shabu-shabu in town. We are Japanese-style and proud of it.”

ShabuShabu House is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., for lunch, and 5-10 p.m. for dinner; open Sundays for dinner only, 5-10 p.m.

Shabu Shabu House

  • Where
    • 1221 Kapiolani Boulevard
    • Honolulu, HI 96814
  • Call
    • (808) 597-1655
  • Hours
    • 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
    • Monday – Saturday (Lunch)
    • 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
    • Monday – Sunday (Dinner)

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