It’s summer and I have my son every day which means an endless amount of thinking about lunch and what to feed him. I love it when he suggests something he wants to eat and last week, he wanted to go to shabu shabu (again!) and I wanted to go someplace we haven’t been before.
Since we had just visited California Shabu Shabu in Costa Mesa last week, I wanted to take him to SWSH to take advantage of their Monday/Tuesday 40% off your second entree deal. In the past they had accepted an online coupon but now, they required a print out and my printer was on the brink so I was frustrated. Yelp came to the rescue and we ended up at this new place which was in the stages of a soft opening (we’ve been here twice now during the soft opening) with a grand opening just yesterday.
After we were seated, we immediately put our order in and I watched one of the chefs working in the open area getting some things ready. Our ponzu and goma sauces arrive and after my usual four hot drops were added, I added garlic, scallions and their house special daikon/jalapeno mix as well. Note: their sauces are all made in-house and not from a bottle!
When the pot was brought out, I was pleasantly surprised to see jujubes, green onions, ginseng and black garlic floating in the broth — and yes this is broth, not just water pretending to be broth. I really dislike a pot of water with a piece of kombu floating in there with no taste whatsoever. How is that supposed to make your proteins taste good? Or make a good stock for your udon or porridge?
While we were waiting for our food and my friend Brenda to arrive, I started chatting to the young man behind the counter. I find out that chef/owner Tommy Kim was previously at the St Regis, Dana Point, and sous chef Andrew told me he joined Chef Kim when he opened Mokkoji. A light bulb went off in my head! NO WONDER the condiments were a little different, and the stock pot was definitely oozing style and pizzazz unrivaled to any other I’ve experienced.
My son ordered the large beef ($14.98) which was a beautifully sliced plate of meat, perfectly thin, but without any tearing.
My 3-item combination plate ($25) of beef, white shrimp and Diver’s scallops also came with a pat of house-made shrimp paste for you to make shrimp meatballs with. A micro-planing of fresh lemon zest over the sushi-grade scallops is how a chef trained in fine dining sets himself apart from the rest. An extra touch here and there, a little bit of innovation and creativity makes all the difference. And the best part? His prices are comparable to the other shabu outlets in OC.
The two item combo will only set you back $21 and if Jidori chicken is part of your order, you can be sure Chef has thrown in a pat of minced chicken with raw quail egg for you to make little meat balls with. By incorporating the egg into the minced chicken, the end result is a moist morsel which isn’t at all hard.
The veggie plate here is much more than just the usual napa cabbage, carrot, tofu and udon. Also included are baby bok choy, mizuna, chives, shiso, brown and white shimeiji mushrooms as well as hen of the woods or maitake mushrooms. Sometimes it’s a mix of maitake and shiitakes. It is essentially a gourmet shabu meal.
The proteins are all top quality. Shrimp are plump and large with a great snap while the scallops were beautifully melt-in-your-mouth tender — just don’t overcook them, because that would be your fault, and your fault only. I couldn’t even finish my scallops and udon I was so full (and I didn’t even eat my bowl of rice), but luckily my boy was there to polish everything off and more!
When you’re done, the server will prepare one of two rices with the remaining broth in your pot. Both rices start with a few spoonfuls of finely diced onions and carrots. The arroz negro includes squid ink and sofrito which ends up tasting somewhat like a squid ink risotto.
Arroz blanco omits the squid ink and sofrito, but instead, adds furikake for flavor. Both are delicious but I was way too full to eat more than one bite. Ask to bring it home because you won’t want to waste it, and the flavors are more intense the following day.
Chef Tommy Kim has taken shabu shabu to a whole new level and I for one thank him for it. The myriad of shabu places popping up like weeds has created a string of cookie cutter restaurants which really doesn’t set one apart from the other. Mokkoji has taken it to a whole new level, one which I hope others will take notice and up their game a bit.
Mokkoji Shabu Shabu Bar
14041 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620