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Shabby shabu: The newest Asian hotpot spot suffers from correctable imperfections

Ben Y. and Ana P. share shabu Thursday night at Shabu Grill. PHOTO: TODD LUSSIER.
Ben Y. and Ana P. share shabu Thursday night at Shabu Grill. PHOTO: TODD LUSSIER.

Was anyone out there devastated when Aria closed its shabu-shabu restaurant in April, to replace it with teppanyaki? With a minimum price tag of $300 a person for dinner, I’m guessing Shaboo won’t be missed by many. (In fairness, that was a serious reduction from the $500 minimum the restaurant set when it opened.) But if anyone bemoaned the loss of one of the valley’s few Asian hotpot restaurants, the recent opening of the much more sanely priced Shabu Grill in Silverado Ranch is good news. The restaurant offers Thai cuisine, including Thai spins on shabu-shabu, as well as Korean barbecue.

For the uninitiated, shabu-shabu is basically an Asian version of fondue, in which diners cook their own food in a pot of boiling broth. While the Japanese version is the most predominant in the U.S., variations can be found in several Asian countries. Shabu Grill allows guests to choose from four styles, including a spicy Chinese chicken broth, tom kha (coconut milk) and tom yum (spicy lemongrass).

At Shabu Grill, guests order their broth by the pot, which is split down the middle to allow you to choose two types for $2. You then proceed to a larger refrigerator to choose vegetables, meats and other items, which you take back to your table to cook yourself. Options include assorted seafood ($5), pork ($4), chicken ($4), beef ($5), noodles ($1) and shrimp and pork dumplings ($5).

When my wife and I dined there recently, we shared a combination pot filled on one side with tom yum and on the other with a “traditional” broth. I love that Shabu Grill allows you to sample two types of broth. But the semi-circular compartments were a bit cramped, making it hard to swish your meats back and forth. Instead, I found myself just tossing in several ingredients at a time, waiting a while, and then fishing them out with one of the wire mesh skimmers provided to each table.

My tom yum was extremely good. In fact, if I’d ordered it as a soup in a neighborhood Thai restaurant, I would have been satisfied. The “traditional” broth, on the other hand, was a rather bland mixture of chicken stock, ginger, scallions and daikon.

My biggest problem with my meal, however, was the meat. Everything we took out of the refrigerator was frozen. Obviously, that raises a freshness issue. It also made it extremely hard to peel the frozen shrimp and dumplings apart from each other, or from their dishes. And it was difficult to determine how long to leave those frozen dumplings in the percolating liquids. If I took them out too quickly, I worried the interior might still be cold and raw. Leave them in too long, however, and they tend to fall apart.

Shabu Grill’s Korean barbecue program operates in the same help-yourself way as its shabu-shabu. So while the cuts of meat and vegetables are different, they’re stored in the same freezer. If the restaurant expects either to be taken seriously, I recommend they stop relying on frozen product and prepare fresh offerings throughout the day.

In addition to the shabu-shabu and Korean barbecue, the restaurant has a full Thai menu. It features appetizers such as satay ($7.50) and chicken wings ($6.50), two soups ($5.50-$8.50), five types of curry ($8.50-$14.50) and various stir fries and other entrees ($8.50-$14.50). The night I visited, we began our meal with crispy fried beef strips ($7) that were tasty but a little on the fatty side. I also wanted to sample a dish called spicy crisp duck ($14.50), but was informed by my waitress they were out of duck that night. Instead, I tried the pumpkin red curry with chicken ($8.50), a thick sweet mixture just a touch on the bland side.

Shabu Grill has only been open about a month, so perhaps it will improve. Maybe once the operators know how much business to expect, they’ll be able to offer fresh ingredients. Given the lack of shabu-shabu in the valley, I’m hoping they will.

Shabu Grill 1263 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd., 998-7606. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog,