Todai Restaurant – Honolulu, HI
1910 Ala Moana Blvd # 5
Tel: (808) 947-1000
I debated even bothering with this particular post since it was such a disappointment in terms of both the food and service, but in the interests of not only writing about those places I’ve enjoyed and the incredibly bizarre episode in just getting seated, I thought I should mix in the bad when it does happen…
Out of shear desperation and fatigue after searching with inaccurate information for a seafood restaurant apparently in the same general area, our group stumbled upon the bright lights of Todai. Having resigned to the fact we would not find what we were looking for, we approached the entrance of this restaurant. Todai, whenever I hear this word, I immediately associate it with Tokyo University, as that’s its popular shorthand name. We even joked, heck, maybe the cafeteria at that storied institution was so good, they’d gone the franchise route.
With about an hour before closing, several diners were making their way to the cash register at the main entrance. I ducked in and nabbed one of the servers and asked for a table for four. She said to wait outside for a five minutes, which I obliged, given the apparent rush at the counter of departing customers.
Five minutes soon passed and became ten. I had enough and stepped back inside and stood face-to-face with the same server I had initially interacted with. She looked right at me and asked how she could help me. Clearly this blonde haired, Swedish-accented English speaking girl (you can catch a glimpse of her in the above picture) did not recognize me at all. So I reiterated that we had spoken just a few minutes before and she’d asked us to wait.
No apology given, she grabbed some menus and led us to some tables and offered us the choice. As one of them had yet to be cleared from previous diners, we took the obvious clean one. As we settled into scanning the menus, some others came to clear the other table away, at which point Ms. Genius came back and asked if we wanted the other table now, despite us not having given any indication that we wanted that particular table. A shake of the head, more so in my disbelief and she was gone never to be seen near our table again, much to our relief.
I’ve heard of poor service due to labor shortages, but this was ridiculous.
Todai is all about the buffet. An extensive one yes, featuring various seafood and cooked items, as well as desserts. The place is massive with each food section located in different parts of the restaurant. Some are staffed by people creating the items (e.g. sushi) but you have no direct interaction with them, and most are self-service (e.g. take as much of whatever you like).
The nigiri, if you can call it that, was absolutely tiny. I am not sure if the image above gives the full indication of just how small each piece was. I’ve read more than a few reviews on other sites and comment boards that people enjoy the sushi here, and all I can say is that they have no clue what they are talking about.
The main exception to this rule was the snow crab legs. Here, a lady behind the glass barrier would give you one set of legs (3 pieces). Not wanting to keep going back and forth from my table a good 40 feet away, I asked her to give me more. Reluctantly she did, but I knew not to press my luck by doing it again. Instead, other members of our group went up there to her and got as many as she was willing to dish out, for the benefit of our table.
Again, not top quality by any means as there was more dead air space in the shell than actual meat, but I’d say it was the only half decent food item in the whole place, and I ended up eating only these.
I can’t begin to describe the wretched mess of cooked items. Dried out, overcooked shrimp, mushy grilled veggies, and bland tasting noodle concoctions were some of the big lowlights.
A place like Todai just reinforced the stereotype of quantity-over-quality preferring Americans. So it did not surprise me to learn that this chain originated in California, but was shocked to learn that it had made its way into more food conscious locales such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul. For about USD30 per person, I can away thinking I got majorly ripped off.