By Justin Ticzon, ECC Contributor
Authentic Japanese Shabu-Shabu
To most Washingtonians, a drive to the city’s outlining burbs of Fairfax, Virginia may seem like a trek. But thanks to the recent addition of the DMV’s hottest Japanese shabu-shabu joint, California Shabu Shabu, Fairfax is back on the map.
From downtown DC, it’s a 30-minute drive without traffic, and from the Vienna metro station it’s a very short 7-minute drive via Uber. It may seem less than ideal for those who refuse to cross the border (guilty!), but it’s worth it and here’s why:
What’s Shabu-Shabu and how is it different from hot pot?
Shabu-shabu loosely means swish-swish in Japanese. While most other styles of hot pot have very flavorful broths, the traditional Kombu broth is very light, subtle, and lets the ingredients shine. More importantly, because they use high quality meats and seafood, avoid dumping all of the ingredients in the broth. The best way to enjoy shabu-shabu is to take the ingredients such as a thin slice of beef—kobe beef if you’re feeling fancy—one piece at a time, swish-swishing it around for a few seconds, and then eating it.
Shaba-Shabu Step by step: Everyone gets their own pot!
- Add vegetables to your broth, especially things that take longer to cook like carrots and corn. Don’t put the noodles in just yet. We’ll get to that later.
- Swish swish your protein in the broth, one at a time, until it’s cooked. There are multiple broth options. We strongly recommend the traditional Kombu broth, made with specially filtered Pi water. As for the protein, everything they have is top grade—scallops, salmon, beef— simply delicious. That’s also why cooking them one at a time is best. It prevents you from turning, for example, the quality beef into overcooked well done meat. Ask your server for recommended cooking times.
- Once cooked, dip it in either sauce, which will be in front of you. Both the goma sesame peanut sauce and the ponzu citrus soy sauce are favorites. By a very small margin, we prefer the ponzu sauce, but still always use the two. Want to spice things up? Ask about hot drops!
- Eat and repeat. The rice flows freely!
Don’t let the cooking process stress you out – you’ll get used to it pretty quickly. The staff at Cali Shabu Shabu is incredibly nice, knowledgeable, and ready to help patrons — especially first-timers. They will constantly help monitor your pot, refill the broth as it evaporates, and adjust the cooking temperature for you as needed. You won’t be rushed and you’ll even be encouraged to take your time to really savor everything. Some patrons even read a book while eating!
What about the noodles? Glad you asked. Shabu-shabu gets even better. When you’re ready, the broth you’ve been cooking everything in will become the soup for your noodles. How great is that?! It’s a different experience from hot pot as it’s so much food it’s almost another meal. Be prepared for leftovers – had to take this soup home because we couldn’t get enough of the proteins and had no more space for noodles.
Finish off the meal by satisfying your sweet tooth. They have a variety of flavors of ice cream, sherbet and mochi. The black sesame and the red bean are the fan favorites.
Sake for beginners and for aficionados
No meal is complete without a hefty dose of booze. Cali Shabu’s selection of Japanese rice wines is extensive and well thought out. The menu even includes a color coded guide, placing your options on a scale from sweet to dry. The “White Crane” was delicious, light, and served in a fun dispenser that keeps it cool. Not in the mood for Sake? They’ve got great signature cocktails as well.
A visit to California Shabu-Shabu Fairfax will make you realize why it’s such a great discovery, and it makes a dining experience all the more unforgettable when the staff are a fun, happy, and close-knit team. (The ECC team may have already made multiple trips back since writing this post).
Plan Your Visit to California Shabu Shabu
If you live in Virginia and are already within driving distance or use of public transportation, Cali Shabu Shabu needs to be on your list of places to try immediately. If you’re a foodie who is always in search of something fresh, delicious, and healthy, this is the spot. A quick glance at Yelp and Google will show any potential diner that everyone who has already experienced Cali Shabu highly recommends it.
As the only authentic shabu-shabu in the DMV area, what are you waiting for? Plan your next group or solo outing during any of the restaurants hours Monday through Friday from 12-
2:30pm and 5-10pm, and from 12-10pm on Saturday’s and Sunday’s.
***This article was created in sponsorship with California Shabu-Shabu.