Asuka: new nabe and shabu shabu restaurant in Honolulu

Nabe: a variety of meats and veggies, thrown into a hot pot all at once. Shabu shabu: meats dipped into hot broth one by one to cook, served with dipping sauces. This is Asuka's nabe set, with thinly sliced beef and pork, shrimp, enoki mushroom, meatballs, arabiki sausage.

I love nabe/shabu shabu/hot pot. My favorite dinner parties ever? Hot pot ragers. What I love: the casualness, the communality, and that there's little of the usual dinner party stress and prep—everyone's basically cooking their own food. Hot pot ragers are the new fondue parties (remember those in the 70s? I actually don't, though I have all the accoutrements, passed down to me).

When I go out, my go-to places (and everyone else's in Honolulu, judging by the lines), are Sweet Home Cafe (Taiwanese-style hot pot) and Ichiriki (Japanese nabe). Newly opened Asuka in Kaimuki won't unseat these favorites, but it's certainly worth a stop: prices are good (two can dine for under $25); the interior white, modern and stylish with booths offering privacy for a romantic date night (compare that with Sweet Home Cafe, as romantic as an orgy); and there's a wide selection of broths and goodies to throw in the pot.

Asuka offers nabe and shabu shabu. According to the server:

shabu shabu: a plate of thinly sliced meats (or one vegetable option), each piece to be individually dipped into the table side hot pot, until cooked. Served with dipping sauces.
nabe: a wide variety of vegetables and meat, to be thrown into the pot all at once. But you don't have to. I throw everything except the meat slices in and cook the meat shabu shabu style.

Left: vegetable shabu set; right: spicy umakara broth (left) and asuka soup base with chicken broth, milk, honey and miso

The vegetable shabu set ($16.95) overflows with kabocha, watercress, pak choy and more. Dipping sauces on the table include ginger, sesame, and ponzu. All of them are excellent, but I find myself double-dipping into the ginger sauce and ponzu, mixed with green onions and grated daikon, the most. You can grind some toasted sesame seeds into your sauce, too, if you can figure out the grinder. (I never did. Instead, the server caught me with the grinder in my hands and sesame seeds scattered everywhere on the table, except in my dish.)

The Asuka nabe ($21.95), big enough to share, comes with thinly sliced meats, shrimp, meatballs, aburaage fried tofu, udon noodles, and arabiki sausage, with extra snappy cases that would put a Chicago hot dog to shame. The broth is touched with miso and milky. Add a pat of butter and crack some black pepper into it for extra richness and spice. Still, it's not flavorful enough that you can forego the dipping sauces entirely.

To try next time: the oolong tea soup base and chicken collagen soup base (which they don't have yet). The chicken collagen is supposed to keep my skin looking healthy and youthful. Man, I learn so much about skin care when dining out.

3620 Waialae Ave., 735-6666