Downtown Sacramento has so many popular sushi destinations — Mikuni, Nishiki, Sakura, Zen. Each Japanese restaurant has its own creative dishes, but most also offer only standard boiler plate menus of sushi rolls, teriyaki plates, and soup-based udon and sukiyaki.
John Voong, owner of Shabu Japanese Fondue, believes Sacramentans are hungry for change.
"I see it this way. It’s a new concept here in Midtown," Voong said. "Sacramento is ready for something like this."
Shabu did a soft opening Nov. 30 to gauge diners’ interest and it will continue until Thursday. According to Shabu’s Twitter page, the first night was a "great success" and boasted a "packed house the entire night."
"I have heard requests for this," Voong said. "This is not Asian fusion, this is an actual proper Japanese dish. I think Sacramento will enjoy the style of it."
Voong worked for a number of years at Osaka Sushi in Elk Grove and Davis, working his way from busboy to manager to chef. He described himself as entrepreneurial.
"I felt that it was either now or never," he said. "I am ready for it and I went with it. I have a lot of good support, and I felt ready."
Shabu, the word for Japanese fondue cooking, is onomatopoeic. That is, the word comes from the sound associated with the action. Shabu translates roughly to "swish swish," the noise made by the chopsticks in the large cooking pot, Voong said.
The dining experience begins with starters of edamame, wakeme salad (Japanese seaweed), or oshitashi (steamed spinach with a citrus sauce), all less than $5. The second course is a Japanese hot pot, which heats up different soup bases, Voong said.
"Concept-wise it is similar [to Melting Pot], but the taste is more Asian or Japanese," he said. "The soup bases are a miso, spicy miso or shoyu (soy sauce).
The primary ingredient is thinly sliced beef, lamb or chicken. Other choices include assorted vegetables, udon noodles and rice. Diners shabu (swish swish) their food before consuming. Two dipping sauces, ponzu (citrus) and sesame enhance flavors. All meals are served with tofu, mushrooms, noodles, rice, and green tea ice cream for dessert, Voong said.
Entrées are less than $20; a plate of beef is $13, and a large plate of lamb is $17. A sampler with beef, lamb and chicken is $18.
Single diners are welcome, with 12 seats at the bar, Voong said.
"I have a modern design concept in the dining areas," he said. "One section has a long table for larger parties, another section for couples, or two friends, and the long bar seating. There will be TVs in the bar with either sports or cooking shows."
Eventually Voong wants to offer lunch, but for now it is all about breaking into the Sacramento market.
"I just opened on Monday," he said, with a laugh. "I want to make a good first impression. I want to get established first, succeed, and then eventually begin to grow."
Shabu is at 1730 16th St. It is open from 5 to 9 p.m. until Dec. 10. The grand opening will be Dec. 11 with hours of operation scheduled to change.
Read the menu here.