After more than a year’s worth of construction delays, Houston’s newest spot for gourmet shabu shabu has finally arrived. Debuting this past Sunday to rave initial reviews, Shabu Squared is making waves for its premium meats, gourmet sauces and chef-prepared broths.
A first time venture for Houston native Leon Pham, longtime friend Brian Le (who also has roots in Houston), and Le’s wife, Kim Nguyen-Le, of Orange County, California, the project started about two years ago when Le asked Pham, “If you ever opened a restaurant, what would it be?” Pham, a 22-year veteran of the hospitality industry, who has held positions at MF Sushi, Kata Robata, and Uptown Sushi, replied, “shabu shabu.” The idea of a gourmet shabu shabu place, something that Houston didn’t have at the time, took off from there.
Located at 5840 W Sam Houston Pkwy S, the 2300 square foot space is close enough to Houston’s Asiatown, but strategically positioned right off of Westpark Tollway so that it can cater to inner loopers too. Designed by Isaac Preminger, the creative mind behind the interiors at the original Uptown Sushi and the Fish in Midtown, the 64-seat space is clean and modern, with backlit, textured off-white walls, and gleaming black countertops with inset induction burners. In the center of the room is a u-shaped bar with seating for sixteen, while the rest of the space features banquette seating or booth seating for parties of two or four. The back wall is painted in black, with a simple white brushstroke mural evocative of Japanese calligraphy depicting a mountain range and cherry blossoms branches.
For the menu, Pham brought in a trio of consulting chefs to develop restaurant’s five signature broths, the most notable of which is a spicy crab broth. Rounding out the menu is a 24-hour tonkotsu broth, along with a miso, sukiyaki, and traditional dashi kombu broth. Starters are a simple affair of spicy cucumbers, spicy garlic edamame, and a truffle butter edamame. Crunchy cabbage and daikon kimchi are offered as side dishes.
The mouthwatering presentation of the proteins and vegetables are a big part of the draw here. Meats are thinly sliced and artfully arranged in a round flower pattern on stainless steel plates, while a pre-set portion of the vegetables and noodles, included with each order, are piled attractively into a bowl and punctuated with a slice of tofu stamped with the restaurant’s logo. The sauces are also special: Prior to serving the house made gomae and ponzu sauce, patrons are given a dish of fresh sesame seeds with mortar and instructed to grind the seeds for more flavor and aroma.
Though there are plans to offer more seafood in the future, the opening menu features Snake River Farms Wagyu strip or ribeye, USDA prime strip or ribeye sourced from a small co-op of farmers in the Midwest, and A5 Wagyu from Japan. The latter comes with its own certificate of authenticity and is only available in one set portion, while the rest of the meats can be ordered in regular, large, or extra large portions with a price range of $18 to $76. Pescatarians and vegetarians can also choose sashimi grade salmon, an add-on of U-10 scallop, or a vegetarian option. Beer and sake are also available.
“I love eating shabu shabu myself,” says Nguyen-Le, who is on hand to help customers customize their sauces and broths with her special blend of garlic, onions and chili. “We’re excited to be introducing Houstonians to a gourmet experience.”