Shabu Debut

Hot-pot options made for each other

Ah, the smell of chocolate and meat! Two great tastes that taste great together. Okay, maybe not. Still, this is what my olfactory nerves deal with each time I enter Chandler's 4-week-old Shabu Fondue, a hip, nightclubby eatery that looks like it belongs catty-cornered from Stingray Sushi in Scottsdale. Instead, the place is nestled betwixt a Bank of America drive-through and a vacuum-cleaner vendor.

The curious and not-unappetizing fragrance of Toblerone and tri-tip is a result of the Swiss-Nipponese hybrid suggested by the joint's name. The first part refers, of course, to shabu-shabu, a Japanese dish wherein vegetables and thinly sliced beef are quickly cooked in a communal pot of boiling water. Shabu-shabu is an onomatopoeia that translates to "swish, swish," the sound made when your chopsticks are moving the beef around in the broth.

Fondue is the stuff you always see David Niven or Britt Ekland eating in some late-'60s film involving skiing, hot tubs, turtleneck sweaters and jewel heists. It's also the culinary craze your parental units may have participated in back in the decadent '70s by throwing at least one dinner party involving pools of melted cheese, wife-swapping and drugs. Yes, your 'rents. After all, if Methodist-man George "Jesus is my co-pilot" W. was snorting and toking back in the day, you can conjecture that mom and dad may have done it, too.

Flesh peddlers: Co-owner Kevin Weil shares his pot with servers Lauren Sgro (left) and Lydia Torres (right).
Jackie Mercandetti
Flesh peddlers: Co-owner Kevin Weil shares his pot with servers Lauren Sgro (left) and Lydia Torres (right).


Spinach and artichoke fondue: $12 per couple
Prime rib shabu-shabu: $18.95
Shrimp shabu-shabu: $16.95
Chicken shabu-shabu: $12.95

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; bar open until 11 p.m. weekdays, midnight on weekends.

3400 West Chandler Boulevard (northwest corner of Metro and Chandler boulevards), Chandler

Actually, fondue (from the French verb fondre, "to melt") dates from at least the 18th century, when Swiss peasants devised it as a way to make eating stale bread in the wintertime interesting. You'd think the Swiss would've come up with the idea of dipping comestibles in chocolate for dessert, but we Americans seem to get the credit for that particular innovation.

Shabu-shabu is even older; centuries before the concept was introduced to Japan in the mid-1900s, the Chinese had their version. To confuse the issue further, the French have something called fondue bourguignonne, supposedly invented by a shiftless friar, wherein chunks of beef are dipped in boiling oil and dunked into various sauces.

Thus Shabu Fondue's concept is not as grotesque a pairing as it first may seem, and once you eat there, you may wonder why there isn't one of these dunkaterias on every block.

Cheese fondue is offered as a prelude to shabu-shabu, though either one can be ordered separately. And a couple of different types of chocolate fondue are made available for dessert, with maraschino cherries, marshmallows, graham crackers, strawberries, sliced bananas, and a hunk of cheesecake ready for the Hershey treatment. I preferred caramel-chocolate to the straight chocolate, but you'll be hard-pressed to find fault with either one as the gooey chocolate melts before you in the red, traditional-style calquelon pot.

All cooking is done on one of the electromagnetic induction stoves built into the tables and the U-shaped bar that dominates the main dining space. With these induction stoves, only the pot and the area immediately underneath it are heated up, so there's less chance of burning yourself on the flat, Pyrex-like material of the stove itself. Impressive. Probably the way they toast Pop-Tarts on Futurama.

Diners can choose from three types of cheese fondue: the classic Swiss mixture of Gruyère and Emmenthaler, with white wine and spices; a Cheddar fondue of Emmenthaler, Wisconsin Cheddar, beer and seasonings; and a spinach and artichoke fondue, with Emmenthaler, Cheddar, beer, garlic, artichoke hearts and spinach. For dipping, you're served a bowl of bread chunks -- pumpernickel, sourdough and rye -- as well as two of these sides: apple chunks, celery and cauliflower, or pretzels and tortilla chips. Steer clear of the straight-from-the-bag pretzels and tortilla chips, and stick with the apples, celery, cauliflower, and the bread, which is best of all.

I sampled generous portions of both the Swiss and the spinach and artichoke fondues, but I found the Swiss bland and in need of some sort of kick, maybe some sherry or brandy. On the other hand, the spinach and artichoke was quite flavorful, and I discovered myself mopping up a whole portion all by my lonesome. In fact, screw the long prongs. A spoon and a bowl of hot spinach and artichoke fondue will do me fine as a starter.

Shabu-shabu's main course can include prime rib, rib eye, shrimp, chicken, shrimp and prime rib together, or a veggie plate including tofu. Now, I've eaten a lot of shabu-shabu in my day, mainly because I've been blessed with Japanese in-laws who love to see how much I can ingest before doing my reenactment of the Hindenburg disaster. (Oh, the humanity!) And though Shabu Fondue's shabu-shabu was missing a few of the more Japanese elements -- like bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms and shredded daikon -- I found it to be a fair American-restaurant version of what I've had in the past.

I could feast on acres of these nearly paper-thin slices of prime rib and rib eye before finding myself satiated. The surf-and-turf option came in third place. Nice, but not as satisfying as those plates of meat. With the chicken, you really need the variety of condiments Shabu Fondue provides to make it palate-pleasing, everything from the citrusy ponzu and thick sesame gomadare to more American sauces like horseradish, Southern barbecue, and sweet and spicy steak.

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I have been to Shabu Fondue several times, Chiks dig it. Its a foo foo gimiky place where you get to dip your own food in your choice of cheese, or if you should order any meat, you get to dip it in some sort of broth, the portions are skimpy at best. Desert is good if you dont mind melted chocolate dipped fruit, somores, or a slice of cheese cake. no refills on my drink even when asked. waking up at 3 am with a belly ache from too much coliflower dipped cheese, is not my idea of a good meal. The sevice staff was not experenced, slow and a little dumb. the place is very noisy. To top it off, three days later they charged me a $350.00 tip on top of my $127.68 tab, Still trying to get it straitened out, with my bank and Shabu Fondue, No apoligy from Shabu Fondue. There are better upscale places to go in the valley of the sun. If you should get a hankering for some thin sliced meat, cheese, vegies and stale bread. Subway would be a better choice,