Shabu Ya

>>  Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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Sometimes I just feel like eating something light and simple.

An aromatic broth, thinly sliced meat, and an abundance of vegetables.

When I'm in that mood, I often seek out shabu shabu (Japanese), or hot pot (Chinese). Although shabu is much cheaper to make at home, sometimes it's just a lot less hassle to pay the $10-$20 and have someone else take care of all that slicing, chopping, and washing of ingredients (not to mention doing all the dishes afterwards!).

The other day while we were in Harvard Square, I was craving just that - something simple, hearty, healthy, and warm. Our favorite shabu place felt just a bit too far away that day, so we decided to check out this local one within walking distance of our home.
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The interior is bright and colorful, with trendy lamps, modern furniture, and tons of light. There's a sushi bar to one side, a huge "shabu" bar in the middle, and tons of other seating. The place seems to be filled with Asians, not a surprise considering the cuisine.
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Things look promising in the beginning. Tiny bits of condiments such as fresh horseradish, habanero peppers, scallions, and Chinese "Satsa" sauce (BBQ sauce) come on this cute, modern plate.
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The tables are equipped with induction stoves on top, which you can control by touching the nifty flat buttons. We order a spicy hot broth (check out that color!).
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Most of the shabu plates come with meat of your choice, assorted vegetables, tofu, and noodles. The prices range from $12.95 (vegetables) to $20.95 (surf and turf). Although the presentation of everything was nice, I was not particularly impressed with the quality of the produce. The carrots and the broccoli reminded me of pre-chopped refrigerated vegetables that come from a bag. The other vegetables were average - sort of like vegetables you'd get in Chinatown, not ones from your local organic farmers market.
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If you really want to splurge, they even have Wagyu beef from Australia ($29.99) and Oregon ($39.99). Our server wasn't very knowledgeable, and had to go back several times to ask about the difference between the two types.

After one round of questions, we learned that the Oregon beef was "better".

Bryan said, "can you tell us why it's better?"

She looked a bit confused, and then said, "hold on a minute."

She came back a few minutes later and declared that the Oregon beef was "more marbled."

Although it wasn't much information to go by, Bryan decided to spring for it. He's predictable in that way.

After having tried it, we both agreed that it's worth skipping. The Oregon wagyu beef, although tasty, wasn't that earth-shattering and probably not worth the significant extra premium price. It's nothing like the incredible kobe beef shabu that I had in Japan, which I would argue, is well worth the money (even if it was over $100 a person).
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Because I had ordered a Korean dish, I was thrilled to get all the "freebies" that always come at the beginning of a meal in a Korean restaurant. These were solid, and I enjoyed them quite a bit.
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My simple tofu stew ("suntofu") was delicious. It had tons of seafood inside, making the soup super flavorful, rich, and very, very comforting. It was exactly what I was craving. I was even content to ignore the bits of dirt (probably from the clams?) at the bottom of my bowl.
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At $12.95, it wasn't a bad price at all.
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The sushi, on the other hand, was below average, especially considering the price. Almost all of the fish (with the exception of salmon) had virtually no flavor and were reasonably bland. At $8.95 for 5 pieces, you can definitely do better elsewhere.

It seems like their sushi bar focuses more on the fun, creative rolls that rely more on spicy mayonnaise, tobiko, and various sauces for flavor than the actual fish. If I ever had to order sushi here again, I would choose to order rolls instead of straight up nigiri, which really needs quality fish to taste good.

Concluding Thought
I guess we had mixed thoughts about Shabu Ya. I really enjoyed simple yet flavorful tofu stew, which perfectly hit the spot. For simple Korean food, I may considering coming back.

However, I really was not impressed with the sushi, and definitely would not order it again.

The shabu is average. It's serviceable, for sure, but overall we just were not super impressed with the quality of the ingredients. I definitely would not recommend springing for the Wagyu. I think you can get a lot better meals in Boston if you're willing to spend close to $50 for your entree!

If you're in the area and you're hankering for shabu, the place will deliver. The broths are OK, the condiments are authentic, and the produce is acceptable. It's not terribly expensive (as long as you don't get Wagyu), and it's reasonably authentic. You can get your hot pot fix.

However, if you're willing to travel just a bit (we're talking maybe 1-2 miles), there are definitely much better places in Boston for shabu.
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Shabu Ya
57 JFK Street
Cambridge MA
Shabu-Ya on Urbanspoon

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