It’s Chinese New Year and traditionally, in my family, we eat hot pot. In the past, I will do this at home, but I wasn’t in the mood this year and my son was hankering for it.
After a little bit of research, I realized there was nothing nearby which served the style of hot pot we like so I started asking around to see if some of my friends had some recommendations. We ended up at Ayame, a surprisingly small restaurant in — wouldn’t you know it — an Irvine Company strip mall.
What is unique about this place is the variety of broths available for you to cook your food in. Generally, one type of broth is offered and that’s it. With a variety of broths, everyone can have his or her own selection to cook with.
Spicy miso is savory and has only a light hint of miso and turned out to be our favorite all around.
The other pot has a divider — a yin yang pot — and we chose Asian spicy and soy milk for that option.
Depending on how much you want to eat, combos are the best way to go, on top of your protein selection, you get a bowl of rice — white or brown — and a plate of assorted vegetables.
After you select your broth, choose your protein and there are several ways to do this, there is regular, large and lunch prices. Kobe beef ($35.95/combo large) is the top grade of beef offered. There is even marbling all around and although the meat is slice a tad too thick, it was very flavorful and tender.
Prime Rib Eye ($23.95/combo large) is a stellar cut and I thought, the best deal for what you pay. The meat is tasty with a good meaty flavor.
If meat is not your thing, then Seafood ($17.95/regular combo) is a respectable choice. The plate includes green lip mussels, scallops, shrimps, squid and salmon.
The pots are promptly brought out to the table and place on top of the gas burners. The tables are really small and this was when it hit me that there was no room to maneuver at all.
Two types of sauces are provided — sesame sauce and ponzu — along with grated daikon, scallions and garlic, which you can add to your sauces if you choose to do so. I like a lot of daikon in my ponzu!
The vegetable plate were broccoli florets, baby bok choy, napa cabbage, carrot, shiitake mushroom, imitation crab, and a hollowed out bamboo filled with a ground chicken paste you can make meatballs with and drop them into the broth.
The soy milk broth was unique and I liked how it made the meat taste — but if you are going to dip it into the ponzu or sesame anyway it really doesn’t matter what broth you get because you’re going to mask the taste of the meat anyway. If you like it au naturel, then the soy milk flavor comes through and enhances the meat.
This is one of the better ‘shabu’ places close to home. It is also pricier than the other shabu places around. An extra order of prime rib eye will set you back $9.95 while Kobe beef is $17.95.
I don’t mind paying when the food quality is good, but it irks me when an automatic18% gratuity is added to my bill when there are only three of us.
3923 Portola Parkway
Irvine, CA 92602