Name of restaurant: Shabu Hyang. Shabu shabu is a Japanese onomatopoetic word for "swish swish," the sound the food makes in the hot pot; hyang in Korean means the "aroma of."
Ownership: A Korean franchise imported from Seoul into a large space at Wilshire and Western.
Concept: A shabu shabu restaurant with Vietnamese springs rolls run by Koreans? Yes, only in Los Angeles. There's some half-hearted healthy diet/well-being branding, but mostly, it's a place where you cook meat and vegetables in broth, then wrap it all up in rice paper.
What dish represents the restaurant, and why: The prime beef + seafood spring roll & shabu combination (horrible punctuation theirs). Really, though, you can get any combination of shabu and spring roll you want, and it'll be a good representation of what the restaurant's all about. You pick your meal, and the number of people dining, and the food comes portioned accordingly, on huge platters stacked with meat, seafood and vegetables.
Choose the half and half broth for variety, although the spicy broth (which is actually not that spicy) has the deeper flavor. The beef comes thinly shaved and silky for fast cooking, and the seafood variety is good. The octopus and fish cakes are particularly enjoyable, their springy chew just asking for a dunk in some hot, spicy broth. The vegetables are a pan Asian selection with Napa cabbage, Korean mushrooms, bok choy and chard.
You'll get your own bowl of warm water for dipping the wraps. Just a few seconds in the water is enough for them to soften. The wraps get more pliable as you fill them with the colorful assortment of shredded vegetables and your meat. Add as much sauce as you can handle, because that's where the flavor is. Don't worry, you can always ask for more of the three sauces — spicy, a salty fish and a dwenjang (fermented soybean) sauce.
At the end of your meal, the server will come back and make you rice noodles and jook (porridge) from your leftover broth. We like a meal with this level of ritual.
Who's at the next table: A couple of ajumma (middle-aged women), with knock-off designer handbags, wait impatiently for their daughters to show up. Korean families, couples and groups of twenty-something girlfriends — all seem to be enjoying their interactive meals.
Appropriate for: A healthful meal to share with a date, a group of friends or even your mom and her posse of Korean aunties — pretty much anyone whose food you're willing to share.
Issues: Not the best for single diners, unless you're going for the beef or pork bulgogi deop bap ("rice topped" with meat). The minimum order for the shabu shabu is for two. The shabu isn't cheap, either. The portions are too small to spread very far — the seafood came with only one mussel and one shrimp per person.
Service: Uneven, but fine. Each server was territorial about her own tables, and other servers wouldn't pick up our check. Even though their English may be shaky, they'll explain everything, help you get your shabu shabu going, and do things like cut the vegetables for you.
What you're drinking: They have a motley selection of sodas, juices, coffee, soju, beer, wine and even baek saeju (medicinal alcohol) and bokbunja (a Korean wild berry wine). Perrier, a light Korean beer or a Diet Coke goes best with the healthful fare.