Not everyone loves shabu shabu, but I do. You have to enjoy the simplicity of water-simmered food, to like cooking it yourself, and to not mind making a bit of a mess.
There's a sleek, new shabu shabu joint in what I'm boldly labeling the loft district of Glendale. The area surrounding the Americana at Brand is gradually becoming a walkable neighborhood of modern urban dwellings and the shops, restaurants and services that cater to them.
Joon Shabu Shabu is one of those restaurants. Housed at the street level of a newly renovated apartment complex, Joon is the perfect place to pop in, alone or with friends, for a hotpot of healthy veggies and meat.
With a style that would fit right in in Tokyo or San Francisco, Joon proudly specializes in one thing only, shabu shabu. The Korean owners spent time in Tokyo and brought that Japanese sensibility here.
Korean shabu shabu uses flavored broth. Japanese uses plain water flavored with a small piece of konbu (seaweed), as they do at Joon.
There are two long U-shaped bars, one with high stools, one with low ones. In the middle, highly trained servers move about, delivering platters of thinly sliced meats and vibrant vegetables, assisting diners with their individual hot plates bearing simmering liquids, and offering refills on drinks (beer, wine, sake) and dipping sauces. The waitresses — I only saw females — are not only efficient but gregarious, creating a relaxing and fun atmosphere.
They recommend dropping a few vegetables into your hotpot first, allowing the items like sliced lotus root and yam to cook for a minute or two. With your chopsticks, grab your protein of choice (chicken, rib-eye, tofu or seafood) and swish-swish it around in the water until it's cooked.
Shabu shabu is the onomatopoeic derivation of the sound you'll make. Make a pit stop at a bowl of one of the many dipping sauces and pop it in your mouth. Warm, satisfying and yes, messy, but they don't judge. Keep adding and eating more veggies like chrysanthemum leaves, enoki mushrooms, and eggplant at your whim. Delicious black rice and udon comes on the side.
Joon's dipping sauces require a page all their own on the menu. It's hard to decide which two to choose with your order, so ask for the tasting plank. It comes with a sip of ponzu, goma, umami, soyo and ninniku. They're all delectable whether soy-, sesame-, garlic- or fish-sauce-based.
Pricing on the orders starts at $12 for veggie or chicken to $18 for Angus rib-eye and up to a whopping $30 for seafood, including lobster tail, King crab, wild salmon and fresh shrimp. It's almost guaranteed that you won't finish your shabu shabu, so when you're looking full, servers offer to concoct a soup out of your leftovers, adding garlic, spicy sauces and udon if you desire. They box it up, ready for a fantastic lunch the next day.
While the D-I-Y shabu shabu is a kick, the made-for-you sukiyaki is also delicious ($14 at lunch, $17 at dinner). In fact, my fellow diners kept dropping their udon and tofu chunks into my sweet, salty, meaty sukiyaki broth to flavor them up.
For the super health-conscious, Joon offers a unique variation called the Miracle ($25 at dinner). Vegetables and meats are stacked and steamed over water for a predetermined time. In this way, the most nutrients are salvaged.
The side-by-side bar seating is a little challenging for eye-to-eye conversations. But it's got the same unique intimacy as being on an airplane or watching a show with your friend. Plus, it's authentically similar to the seating at udon shops you'll find in Tokyo.
Parking is available but tricky. Check the website, then look for street signage. Better yet, if you live in the neighborhood, just walk in to this trendy, urban, street-side eatery.
What: Joon Shabu Shabu
Where: 220 E. Broadway St., Suite. A, Glendale
When: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Price: Hotpots, $12 to $30; beverages, $1 to $120; appetizers and desserts $2 to $3.
More info: (818) 484-8525, joonshabushabu.com
--LISA DUPUY welcomes comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.