First Look: Umami-ya Shabu Shabu

A new hot-pot spot attempts to stand out with high-quality meats and Korean flavors.
Umamiya shabu shabu
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


Umami-ya Shabu Shabu opened last week as the hot-pot craze in Hawai‘i seems to be on a steady simmer.


But restaurateur Peter Kim believes his version of the popular concept—more upscale, more Korean—offers something different.


SEE ALSO: 4 Places To Get Your Hot Pot Fix In Honolulu


He’s focusing on high-quality meats including U.S. wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork belly, local veggies and distinctly Korean flavors. And the expansive restaurant space, next door to Liliha Bakery (which Kim also owns) on Nimitz Highway, is sleek and modern, with dark furniture and dramatic lighting. It seats 130 people and boasts four private rooms.


Umamiya beef
U.S. wagyu beef


And, unlike other hot-pot restaurants, Umami-ya offers a five-course dinner set with a chef’s appetizer, a small salad, your choice of a main course with a platter of veggies, rice or udon to cook in the broth afterward, and a yuzu sorbet dessert. The price ranges from $39 for U.S. prime rib eye to $49 for wagyu or the seafood medley.


If the whole point of dining out for you is not having to cook your own food, you can opt for sukiyaki instead of shabu shabu, too, for the same price.


The menu also offer à la carte options and appetizers including ‘ahi poke ($18.95), pork belly with tofu and kim chee ($12) and a seafood pancake ($10.95).


We tried the five-course menu, which started with a small plate of thick, chewy noodles made from kanten (a gelatin of sorts made from a type of seaweed) flavored with sesame oil and nori. The second course was a small green salad with a light citrus vinaigrette.


Kanten noodles


Next came the entrée. You can choose two slow-simmered broths for the hot pot; we picked the house-made beef broth and the spicy miso (Kim’s favorite). Then we picked our meats—six ounces each of fatty U.S. wagyu and Kurobuta pork belly. Along with the meat came a plate of beautifully displayed veggies, including Napa cabbage, aburage (deep-fried tofu), negi (green onions), enoki mushrooms and a Korean rice cake called dduk. (Don’t eat the orchid.)


All this comes with two dipping sauces—ponzu and a house-made goma sauce with peanut butter that took eight months to develop.


“We decided to start simple first,” Kim says about his relatively small selection of items, when compared to other hot-pot restaurants. “We’re taking it one step at a time.”




It’s the fourth course that makes this prix fixe option the most interesting. You can choose between udon noodles (boring) or rice (much more interesting) to make what’s called zosui. This is a Japanese rice porridge made with the flavorful broth that remains in the hot pot. You mix the rice into the broth, bring it to a boil, then add a few drops of sesame oil and an egg and stir together. This is served with a side of fried kim chee. Word of caution: Zosui is delicious but filling and hard to eat after devouring a plate full of wagyu beef and vegetables. So pace yourself.


The final course is a dessert of yuzu sorbet topped with sweetened azuki beans, which, in my opinion, it didn’t need. The tart sorbet alone was a perfect palate cleanser.


Yuzu sorbet topped with sweetened azuki beans


This is Kim’s ninth restaurant concept. (He also owns Yummy Korean BBQ, Chow Mein Express, Lahaina Chicken Co., Mama’s Spaghetti House, Steak & Fish Co., Cheeseburger Factory, Liliha Bakery and The Signature Steak and Seafood.)


Why the name Umami-ya?


“It’s easy to remember,” Kim says, smiling. “And it’s all about great food.”


Umami-ya Shabu Shabu, 580 N. Nimitz Highway, 367-1388,