Shabu Shabu With A Difference

Jo McGarry
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Friday - August 04, 2006
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When trendy, late-night eatery Neo Nabe opened its doors a few months ago, the owners had already decided that meals for the wee small hours would be their market. “We all have different jobs that mean we’re up until early morning,” says Moses Gomez, Neo Nabe partner. “Ryan (Chang), one of our partners, used to run a lounge/bar. I still tend bar, and Blaise runs nightclub promotions, so we all have backgrounds with a strong night life connection - and we know how difficult it is to find good food at 3 a.m.”

But the partners wanted a restaurant where the food stood up on its own, “not just a place where people came to hang out,” says Blaise Sato.

The food can certainly hold its own - and then some - but Neo Nabe, in a twist its owners didn’t quite expect, is becoming a hot spot for early evening dining too.

“It’s been amazing, really,” says Sato. “We have this late night and early morning crowd, but the surprising thing is that right as we open at 5:30 in the evening there are people waiting for dinner, and that rush lasts well into the late evening.”

Neo Nabe is located on South King Street in the same parking lot as Any Place Cocktail Lounge, a block Diamond Head of McCully Shopping Center. And this is shabu shabu with a difference. Traditional shabu shabu - the name is a Japanese term for “swish swish,” the action performed with chopsticks as your meat hits boiling broth - is served in a basic, non-too-flavorful broth. At Neo Nabe, you can choose from a variety of highly seasoned, made-from-scratch broths that include a hearty, spicy kim chee broth, beef broth, chicken, vegetarian or miso, and there’s even a pho broth for those who love Vietnamese soup, and a creative take on a French classic, where Chef Michael Sumico uses sake instead of wine in a flavorful onion broth. For an extra dollar, you can combine broths to create something entirely original. Garlic and kim chee perhaps? Chicken pho? Beef and negi (onion)? For those who love to play with their food, Neo Nabe has endless possibilities.

Entrée choices include beef, chicken and seafood, and new items are being added to the menu as we speak.

“We want our dishes to be very affordable, and stay under $20,” says Sato, ” but we have customers asking for salmon and king crab and different kinds of fish, and we’re going to introduce an appetizer menu too. We’re listening to what people want.”

Certainly this is the trendiest shabu shabu restaurant in Honolulu, and there’s a lot of attention to detail being paid in the kitchen. Vegetable platters that include tofu, mushrooms, won bok and spinach are artfully presented by Chef Mike, and the homemade broths bring a dazzlingly different element to shabu shabu. If you’re not a night owl, then check out Neo Nabe for dinner, although be warned that weekends are becoming busy. My advice is to go around 5.30 or 6 p.m. during the early part of the week. Once you get there and smell those intoxicating broths, you won’t want to wait in line for dinner.

Neo Nabe 2065 S. King St. Honolulu 944-6622

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