When I hear the words “all you can eat,” I usually turn the other way and get to steppin’ in my high heels. What can I say, I’m not in my twenties anymore. But when I spoke with owner Luke Sung about his modern shabu-meets-hot pot restaurant, ~PRIME RIB SHABU~, back before it opened, his commitment to using quality product made me want to take a leap of faith.
For your first time, you really should do the all-you-can-eat offer, which is $25.95 per person—this way you can try everything and see what you like best. A pot of chicken broth was placed on the induction burner in the center of the table—it came with a side basket overflowing with ton ho from Star Route Farms (a leafy and slightly bitter Chinese chrysanthemum green aka cresta de gallo in Spanish), bracing watercress, napa cabbage, cubes of tofu, sheets of yuba (loved), enoki mushrooms, sweet potato vermicelli, chewy udon, and a delicious dipping sauce with soy, cilantro, jalapeño, and green onion—a welcome change from the usual Japanese dipping sauces of ponzu and gomae, because you can really taste the meat. We were also offered some chopped chili peppers (quite feisty, so proceed carefully), and requested rice on the side. Yeah, it’s quite the lineup.
We started placing the heavier vegetables (like the cabbage) and tofu into the hot pot, and readied our chopsticks for the meat swishing. (If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t worry—the staff will totally walk you through the process.)
We were served platters of thinly cut American ribeye, thicker and fattier hand-cut ribeye (although both had lovely marbling). But please note there is a limit of two plates of the hand-cut ribeye per person—and let’s be honest here, it would be an insane amount of beef to consume, but who am I to judge? While we thought we were going to be all over the ribeye, our surprise favorite was the thin-cut lamb shoulder from Modesto—it cooked really well, tasted so fresh, and had excellent flavor. (Don’t forget to dip your meats in the sauce after you swish it in the broth.) We also got a side of fresh head-on prawns (don’t overcook them!), dense fish cake, springy fish and squid balls, and imitation crab that got all stringy in the broth.
Yeah, you’re gonna be eating a lot of protein. Although you can come back and just order things à la carte (which is what I’m going to do with the lamb, baaaaa, which is $17.95). The seafood is also $17.95, the ribeye is $16.95 ($18.95 for the hand-cut platter), or you can do a vegetarian option for $9.95. Overall, the entire experience is a refreshing and somewhat modern California spin on the usual shabu shabu (or hot pot) experience—it’s all about the ingredients.
Don’t come here wearing heavy clothes—you’re going to want to dress in layers, because as the night goes on (fueled by glasses of sake and Orion beer), you’re gonna get sweaty. I also feel badly for anyone wearing glasses—they’ll instantly fog up like you’re in a sauna. And come with a group: while the place is small and cozy, the food is built for group dining. The recent additions of $1 oysters and $1 shots of cold sake will certainly contribute to keeping your tab low but your party vibe high (woot). It would also be a fun date spot (you can make up kissing rules, like when you lose your bread in a fondue pot).
Looking in from outside, if you can even see through the steamy windows, the simple décor isn’t particularly compelling, with induction burners placed on top of the tables instead of sunken into them. But no matter, because the food is what you’re here for. Oh, and the incredibly nice server we had made it extra-pleasant.
At the end of the meal, the broth is just amazing (our observant server thinned it out for us along the way when he noticed it was getting too dense). This is when you want to put your noodles in, either the vermicelli or the thick udon (you can fish them out with the provided ladle). But by the time you’re done with dinner and cruising on a serious protein high, the noodle and broth combo is almost too rich, too filling to fully enjoy.
We thought we were all clever wanting to pack the broth up to bring home to enjoy the next day. But here’s the sad part: since the place is all-you-can-eat, you can’t bring it home. As it’s been said, you can’t take it with you. Fie! My table mustered a few final sips of the deeply flavored broth, and we then headed back out into the chilly Inner Richmond night.