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The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, December 30, 1999


Todai sets high
standard for buffets

THE year 1999 will forever be known as the Year of the Buffet, such that it was inevitable the business would be overrun by those who refuse to uphold the promise of massive quantities at miniscule prices. I ate at many places where staffers didn't grasp the concept. They skimped on the number of dishes and refused to replenish empty pans. Not cool.

The Year 2000, then, will be the year of paring the excess. Only the best will survive, and now that the long-awaited Todai is here, diners will be setting higher standards. Those who showed up Christmas Day probably don't think so. As happens with big restaurants here, Todai was greeted by mobs and general chaos. This shall pass.


TODAI RESTAURANT

Food STARSTARSTAR
Service STARSTAR
Ambiance STARSTAR
Value STARSTARSTAR

Bullet Address: Canterbury Place, 1910 Ala Moana Blvd. (free parking)
Bullet Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday; 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday-Saturdays; 5-9 p.m. Sunday.
Bullet Prices: Lunch $13.95 weekdays; $15.95 weekends. Dinner $23.95 weekdays; $24.95 weekends. Free on your birthday, I.D. required
Bullet Call: 947-1000


Early advertising fueled the excitement. "Let's go!" a friend urged. "If it's the same one they have in California, they have acres and acres of food!"

This was an exaggeration. By the restaurant's measure, the buffet length is 160 feet, enough to fill a living room and bedroom of a house. Still, one must be a master strategist to sample all. I don't believe it can be done without suffering much post-meal trauma.

Early birds have a 3- to 4-hour window of opportunity. Reservations are a must, for the walk-ins -- typically about 60 to 70 of them per night -- have no such leisure. They must cram furiously to sample even a fifth of what's offered. If you can't arrive before 8 p.m., don't bother. And don't bother if you don't like or are allergic to seafood. There are always a few chicken dishes, short ribs and very good teriyaki beef, but seafood reigns here.

AFTER surveying the terrain, I headed first for the baked lobster, tails halved and dressed with a browned cheesy-looking substance that turned out to be mayo and Parmesan. It's not the best lobster you'll ever eat, but the aura of luxury made me feel this alone justified the $23.95 dinner cost. Of course, I was indignant when the price didn't include a soft drink ($2).

Next stop, the crab. The Jonah crab shells were much too hard to deal with. Snow crab was also available, but your best bet will be the smaller, steamed Maryland blue crabs.

Rice was impossible to avoid with the nigiri sushi. Spicy shrimp and scallop sushi, in fact, cried for more starch. Signs marked each item accurately, even though they sometimes seemed mismatched.

Save room for some wonderful desserts, including a "cheesecake" made of tofu and fudgey chocolate (somewhat hidden on a followup visit!).

And can I say something about greed? There are some pigs out there, including a father who forced his son to eat lobster when the boy clearly did not want it, and those who piled up extra platters and left them untouched. It's wasteful and one of the reasons for buffet inflation. If at $23.95 you're not getting your money's worth, try one of the $12.95 buffets. Give the rest of us a break.



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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to features@starbulletin.com



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