I begin this review at the end, when our waiter, a chummy chap named Phil, dropped off the check and with it plastic cups of a sweet slushed-ice dessert called sikhye. I didn’t expect the icy treat, nor did I know it was part of Miss Shabu’s all-you-can-eat shabu shabu price, but after nearly two hours of punishing my oral cavity with scalding-hot morsels plucked straight from the pot, the soothing slush was exactly what I needed. What a perfect conclusion to a meal that was already perfect!
A lot of the credit goes to Phil. Earlier, he’d informed us that Miss Shabu’s owners were also responsible for Mr. BBQ, the wildly popular all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue in Fullerton. He’d asked us if we had been there (we hadn’t) or tried any other all-you-can-eat shabu places.
As AYCE shabu has been the rage lately, we told him we’d eaten at quite a few. There was Mo-Mo-Paradise in Rowland Heights that boasted a self-serve boba drink station and curry rice. Broth in Cerritos featured induction plates invisibly incorporated into the tables. But the most memorable was Shabuya in La Mirada, which had individual shabu pot set-ups per diner.
Phil was most interested in what we thought of Shabuya, located just a few blocks away, as it’s Miss Shabu’s main competition.
“We liked it a lot,” I said, “but the meat is better here.”
“And so is the service!” my companion exclaimed, causing him to blush.
She meant it: Phil was a doting host. There was never a point at which we were wanting of anything, especially refills of meat. And when he saw that our ponzu and goma sauce bowls had become diluted from all the dipping, he brought out fresh ones.
But the highlight of the meal was when Phil cooked jook in front of us. It happened after we finished the shabu shabu. He scooped out all but half a cup of the reduced cooking liquid and started the porridge by boiling rice in the pot. We watched as he stirred and stirred, slowly coaxing the grains until everything attained the consistency of silk. He then cracked a raw egg into the mix, drizzled in a stream of sesame oil and sprinkled on a garnish of dried seaweed.
When the jook was finished, he invited us to dig in. I took a spoonful and realized it was a revelation in an evening full of revelations. It wasn’t unlike risotto—creamy, starchy, a slow-moving sludge—but it was better than that. It was rich without being overbearing and had an excess of umami without help from even a molecule of cheese.
A lot of the flavor probably came from the large quantities of meat I’d swirled in the roiling broth in the hour before Phil made the jook. All but one of the six cuts of beef Miss Shabu offered were USDA Prime. This meant each paper-thin slice had a marbling pattern that resembled fine lace. And as with all shabu shabus, be it the all-you-can-eat kind or à la carte, the denser the marbling, the better the experience. That night at Miss Shabu, nearly everything I ate—whether it was the USDA Prime chuck eye, the brisket, the rib-eye, the top blade or even the USDA Choice short rib—was sublimely soft and disintegrated with little effort or chewing.
The only exception was the beef belly, which was striped with thick bands of fat and thus cooked down to a rubbery texture. If you must try it, ask for a half portion. In fact, I recommend asking for half portions on everything. This way you leave room for the other proteins, such as the scallops, the salmon, the whole shrimp and the Kurobota pork tenderloin—all of which were just as good as the beef.
If I have one regret, it’s that I became too full to try the chicken breast, the pork belly, the lamb, the white fish, the baby octopus, the squid and the mussels. And on the meticulously arranged platter of vegetables that came with the meal—tofu, mushrooms, fish cakes, etc.—I only managed to make a small dent.
I did, however, extract all the meat from the half-crab that hid in the depths of the spicy seafood broth, which I think was the reason Phil recommended it for one of our two shabu shabu soup bases. Choosing the soups was the second thing we did that night. The first was learning Phil’s name. It was on his shirt on a blinking, red LED nametag, which, by the way, didn’t just say, “Phil.” It said, “Phil :)”
Miss Shabu, 5450 Beach Blvd., Ste. 102, Buena Park, (714) 464-3222. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9:45 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10:45 p.m. Dinner, $30.99 per person. Full bar.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.