A friend of mine has been itching to try shabu shabu ever since she saw it in the film Lost in Translation. I’ve had it several times in my life, including twice in Japan. While I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it, shabu shabu is always fun. There are only a handful of shabu shabu restaurants in New York, and as my friend lives on the Upper East Side, I decided to give Shabu Shabu 70 a try.
In case you’re not familiar with it, shabu shabu (Japanese for “swish swish”) is food that you cook yourself at the table in lightly spiced boiling water. Some restaurants offer a variety of meat, seafood, and vegetable platters, but Shabu Shabu 70 offers just beef or chicken ($20.50 pp, minimum of two); we chose the beef. You start with a platter of very thinly-sliced beef and another of vegetables (noodles, onions, carrots, mushrooms, greens, and tofu). The meat is so thin that each slice cooks in a matter of 15 to 20 seconds. The vegetables take a little longer.
When you decide that a piece is done, you fish it out of the boiling water with your chopsticks, dip it in one of the two sauces provided, and slurp it into your mouth (it tends to get a little messy). I don’t usually like to work for food I’m paying someone else to prepare, but I make an exception for shabu shabu, which never fails as a social activity, and is also quite tasty. As my friend pointed out, the ingredients are all very lean, so it’s a healthy meal too. By the time you’re done, the water takes on the taste of all the food, so the grand finale is to drink it as a soup.
In Japan, I’ve been to restaurants that do only shabu shabu, where the cooking apparatus is built right into the table. At Shabu Shabu 70, despite the name, they serve a wide variety of Japanese food, so the cooking apparatus is carried over to your table. We started with a couple of excellent sushi rolls ($4.50–7.50).
Service was friendly and helpful. The server could tell that we don’t do this every day, and came over several times to check up on us. I was also pleased that my bar tab was transferred over to the table, something far too many restaurants refused to do.
The décor is fairly plain, but for $20.50 apiece we got an enormous amount of food. Indeed, one reviewer suggested that four people could share a portion for two. With appetizers and dessert, that just might be the case. The lack of a seafood shabu shabu option was a bit perplexing, but the one option offered was plenty enjoyable.
Shabu Shabu 70 (314 E. 70th St. between First & Second Avenues, Upper East Side)
Ambiance: okay, but undistinguished