Extremely good enough
Shabu Extreme Tea House and Restaurant
Shabu Extreme Tea House and Restaurant213 E St.
Davis, CA 95616
Remember when it was the ’90s and everything was extreme? X-treme X-Men. G.I. Joe Extreme. Back then, Trix Yogurt was even branded as extreme(ly chemical laden). Yet, none of it was extreme in the least. Often the most extreme thing about a brand was the font, which is why marketing firms have left the term behind.
Yet, Shabu Extreme Tea Bar and Restaurant in Davis seems to have missed the memo. Is anything about it extreme? The wait staff is pleasant and informative. The décor is inoffensive. The food solid enough, though to call it extremely unique or extremely fantastic would certainly be a ’90s stretch of the term. There are a few points of novelty, certainly, but not EXTREME!!! novelty.
The only thing extreme might be the prices for a meal I essentially cooked myself (shabu, for all intents and purposes, is Japanese fondu) and could have accomplished at home for a fraction of the price.
This isn’t to say I’m giving Shabu Extreme a poor review. I had a fine enough time, was pleased with the food and left full. It’s getting a solid three-and-a-half star rating, which translates to better-than-good-but-not-great.
So let’s begin.
Before you skip to the shabu there are a few good bites to be had. The Taiwanese pork buns ($6) were soft and pillowy. Their spicy-sweet sauce contained granulated sugar that offered a unique textural grit that was appreciated and all-together surprising. Fish-fried tofu ($6) arrived piping hot and with a deep, savory flavor we found addicting.
The milk teas might be one of the bigger pulls here. Plenty of options from slushy ones to brown-sugar infused teas and milk teas are available, and brewed with varieties like oolong and winter melon black tea. Add-ins such as grass jelly and boba are available and should be indulged. One particular item of note is the sea salt cream tea ($4)—essentially a tea topped with a float of sweet cream laced with a hint of salt. The sweet-salty combo is popular, and if you’re the type who likes it in your caramel, you’ll adore it in your cream-floated tea.
On to the shabu: It’s served either agrave; la carte or all you can eat, and the prices vary based on the protein you choose (agrave; la carte, $15 or $17; all you can eat, $30 or $35).
To build the shabu, pick a broth, a protein and a carb. The lot is then delivered with a plate of vegetables and a few dipping sauces, and you proceed to do your fondu.
The broths are where you’ll find most of the flavor. Except for the hot ’n’ spicy broth, which bubbled crimson with chiles and Szechuan peppercorns. There is no flavor. Only pain. The sukiyaki broth—a mixture of soy, Mirin and sugar—offered a perfect counterpoint to it, and I found myself mixing the two for a more balanced option. The miso broth had an earthiness that mingled best with the proteins, while the meaty rib bone broth brought out the umami flavors of the vegetables.
The meat variety includes boneless pork and lamb, scallops and clams. They’re fresh and that’s about all you want from shabu proteins you’ll likely boil into oblivion. Frankly, you’re best bet is ordering tofu and mushrooms, which take on the broths and sauces best.
Carb-wise, there’s rice, udon or vermicelli. All of them greedily absorb the liquids and make for the most substantial part of the meal. After having cooked to your desire, dunk it all into a sandy and unappetizing Vietnamese BBQ sauce, a nutty sesame sauce or a ponzu that overwhelms all but the spicy broth.