The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, February 27, 1997

Quantity counts for
more at Jan Jan buffet

WHEREVER people congregate, there's a natural order, a natural claim to personal space. You don't see everyone flocking to the front of the bus or the front of the classroom. Certainly if you're the only one in a movie theater with 500 seats, the next person who walks in isn't going to sit next to you, but position himself or herself a socially acceptable distance away (unless they're weird).

Yet, this natural phenomenon was dashed at Jan Jan on King, a restaurant that suddenly appeared in place of King's Cave. There, table after table fills up quickly in one part of the room. The cause for this "upset"? Food, lots of it.

"Sit anywhere," we were told, "most people like to sit next to the buffet."

And no wonder. With everything from miso soup to sushi, there are many reasons to get out of your chair and walk. Where else can one eat and put in some exercise mileage?

As for the cost of the meal, you have to decide if it's worth it to you. Adults pay $19.95 per person for the all-you-can-eat dinner of appetizers, sushi, soup, yakiniku and dessert. (See notes below for price schedule.) I'd like to think that I can't eat that much, yet I've gone to regular sushi bars and gobbled up $42 worth of sushi ... after eating dessert elsewhere.

BUT that was good sushi. At Jan Jan, the sushi - which runs on a conveyor belt from kitchen to dining room - is a cut above the likes of Kozo's.

At Jan Jan, the maguro was stringy, the shrimp flavorless and there was a white fish from Japan that was chewy. But I didn't feel cheated. Eating on buffet terms meant I could trash these inferior items and recast my vote for sushi topped with silky salmon or slippery scallops dressed with mayo and pepper.

Most patrons seemed to prefer loading their plates with red meat. There was plenty of it for cooking at the table. Kalbi ribs, boneless chicken, sirloin tip, ribeye and other steak choices were cut thicker than teriyaki. I prefer a thinner, papery cut for quick cooking and chewing ease.

Some of the meat is marinated; some plain, allowing you to season it with salt and pepper to taste. Spicy meat was especially intense, responsible for my devouring more rice than usual.

For dessert there are a selection of cakes, but the fresh fruit - kiwi, pineapple, orange slices - are divine. Shorties will need help to reach them since they are on a top shelf out of eyeshot.

There is soft-serve vanilla ice cream too, with a choice of chocolate, pineapple or fruit preserves for toppings.

It's easy to go crazy and eat more than your tummy can stand. A tabletop note from management politely requests that customers take only what they can eat in order to keep costs down, but they can help by weeding out some of the inferior sushi and dry king crab legs and putting out only food worth eating.

The staff deserves a mention also. For a self-serve restaurant, Jan Jan has more waiters than many a full-service eatery. The notion of customer satisfaction wasn't lost in the chasm between staff and management either. All I encountered were friendly and helpful. That is so rare.

Jan Jan on King

Jan Jan on King: 1936 S. King.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; dinner 5 to 10:30 p.m. daily
Prices: Lunch $12.95 for adults and $6.95 for children, or $9.95 for adults and $4.95 for children without yakiniku; dinner $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for senior citizens, $12.95 for children ages 7 to 11 and $5.95 for children 3 to 6
Call: 951-8898

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

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