I finally hit Ebisu in Providence last week, a Japanese restaurant that opened about a year ago under a three-person ownership team, including some staff from Haruki. And I’m here to tell you that it was awesome. One of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had for a while, and very fairly priced.
We went on a weeknight, after iceskating, with hungry kids in tow, and despite the fact that none of us had ever had any Japanese food except sushi (which isn’t served here), even the 5-year-old didn’t mind the culture gap. In fact, there was a lot more here to please your average picky eater than at a sushi restaurant. Tempura always works for kids, so we got that, but also some yummy spicy kim chee for the grown ups. Then there were all sorts of things barbecued on little skewers, including my daughter’s favorite part of every roast chicken – the skin, here threaded on the skewer and charred to crispiness. It was obscenely rich but yummy. The other barbecued offerings were quite a bit healthier.
But the real star here is shabu shabu, a version of fondu in which you use hot broth instead of cheese or oil to cook your food. You can choose from a variety of broths, but we went for the basic pork to accommodate the kids and it did not disappoint. We got a variety of seafood and thin-sliced beef short rib, and the order came with a big bowl of mixed veggies and either rice or noodles. The veggies get tipped in the broth, then each person takes some of the meat, puts it in a little wire basket and swirls it around until it’s done. My daughter enjoyed the swirling part so much that she ended up cooking everyone’s food, and actually tried some new stuff while she was at it.
There are dipping sauces to accompany the food, which each person can customize with a little tray of fresh garlic, chili and other stuff. Although it’s so different from European cooking in which sauces tend to be integral to the cooking of any dish, I was really impressed with the complexity of the flavors. And I could have it super spicy without upsetting anyone else! Yay.
We had some cold pearl sake and beer with the food and enjoyed the friendly service – one of the owners stopped by, too, on one of his off-nights from the kitchen at Haruki, where he still works four nights a week. I guess that’s what it takes to keep a new restaurant afloat in this economy, and I was impressed. Even more when we got the bill. You could easily have a great dinner here for no more than $10 a head before drinks; or, like us, a complete pig-out for less than $30 a head including plenty of drinks. Shabu shabu doesn’t really lend itself to doggie bags, so next time, we’ll probably try not to over-order quite so badly. But we’ll definitely be back, and soon – there’s loads more to explore on the menu and too much fun to be had to resist.