Todai Restaurant – Sample the Sushi Inexpensively

It was 11:15 and, inside the door, 12 people were lined up for inspection. The servers were all assembled for a check of their uniforms and a final pep talk by the manager before the doors opened to Todai Restaurant. Outside, over 40 people already were lined up at the door, patiently waiting to be admitted in 15 minutes.

Located at a highly visible spot on Camino del Rio South, beneath the Highway 805 overpass from Highway 8, Todai Restaurant offers a good reason for early arrival and enthusiastic patronage. The sushi and other dishes are excellent, inexpensive and one can eat as much as desired. For sushi lovers, it is heaven on earth.

Sushi has become a very popular food, with a large discriminating and sophisticated following. Sushi chefs often go through years of training before they become qualified to work in better restaurants.

The style at Todai is buffet, self service. The restaurant is divided into two large sections on either side of the entry area. One side holds the sushi and seafood buffet line. The other side holds the dessert buffet line. Salads are handled on conical islands. Hot foods are located in the center section, just past the entry. Stainless steel gleams everywhere. The place is immaculately clean. Tables and chairs are Spartan but, who cares. The price is right.

In addition to servers, there is a small army of chefs behind the buffet lines, continually preparing and presenting more food. Platters of food are cleared quickly as satisfied diners reach forward with tongs and serving utensils to load up their plates. Kitchen Manager Philip Chou explained, “We have cooks from all over – China, Japan, Phillipines – each preparing their special dishes. Our sushi chefs are highly trained. This is also the kitchen where we continually create and try out new products. “Chou is the chef that creates the menus and sets up all the new kitchens for the restaurant chain.

Todai Restaurant is a franchisor, with over 14 locations running, and more openings scheduled throughout the United States and internationally. The idea is simple: sell good sushi, seafood and other dishes in a comfortable atmosphere at moderate prices. With successful locations in Hawaii, Texas, Washington and throughout California, the idea seems to be working.

More than 40 varieties of sushi are available. If one doesn’t know what one likes, this is a good place to try different presentations. Diners who are into sushi really love the dishes and consider the food to be very healthful. There are books and websites offering advice on how to prepare and eat the various types of sushi that the talented chefs create.

Most new sushi eaters begin to develop their tastes for the dishes with the “rolls”, like California Roll or Tekka Maki (tuna roll). Little bits of fish and sometimes vegetables or avocado are wrapped in a bed of rice, held together by seaweed or other binding. But preparations can include salmon, kani (crab), unagi (eel), hotategai (scallops), uni (sea urchin) and other denizens of the deep. The fish is usually raw or smoked and attached to a small bed of sticky rice. The flavors depend on the type of fish used, the preparation and the condiments the dish is eaten with.

I love the California Rolls and Todai’s version was very good. The salmon sushi was very fresh and flavorful, making me feel loaded with good health. A tofu sushi was new to me and interesting. The tufo was prepared in the shape of a large ravioli, open on one side, covering the rice like a small tent. The unagi (eel) was also very fresh and tasty. The whole sushi line was a blaze of color and taste.

Hot dishes included lobster, grilled beef, chicken teriyaki, sukiyaki and sea bass. Over 15 items were available. The chicken teriyaki tasted a bit overcooked but the grilled beef was very good, as was the imitation crableg, breaded and deep fried and looking just like the real thing. My favorite hot dish was the vegetable tempura, with a light and tasty batter that melted in my mouth after dipping in soy sauce. Tuna cakes were small, but I could make repeat trips if I so wished. Dumplings were spicy, which I enjoyed and the “sweet and sour” pork was well done to a crunch.

The available salads included shrimp, oysters and snow crab, but I was saving room for dessert. The buffet dessert line was almost as long as the sushi line, with over 30 items displayed. These include cheese cake, carrot cake, and a “mango surprise” that was overpowering with fruity taste. Most desserts are small, bite size piece, like sushi and very satisfying.

Beer, sake and wine are available, including Kirin and Sapporo Japanese beer brands. Parties as large as 500 guests can be handled for corporate events. Todai Restaurant is comfortable and service is attentive. The real draw of Todai is the beautiful and good tasting large variety sushi which may be enjoyed at a such affordable price. Lunch costs $12.95 and dinner $21.95, with prices slightly higher on weekends.

Todai Restaurant is located at 2828 Camino del Rio South. There is lots of free parking. Call 619-299-8996 for information and directions.

Jyoti Bihanga

There is a small restaurant in San Diego where, by the simple act of dining, we can contribute to world peace. The cuisine is very good and very healthful, to boot.

The restaurant is Jyoti Bihanga, located in a storefront building on Adams Avenue in North Park. The name is a Bengalese (now part of Bangladesh) phrase that means “the cool bird of the absolute light supreme”. It is stenciled on a wall high up near the ceiling, next to drawings of flying birds.

The name was given to the restaurant by Sri Chinmoy, the leader of a worldwide movement with thousands of followers, who dedicate themselves to the principles of love and world peace. Some of the profits of the restaurant’s operation go towards supporting this work. There are 16 such restaurants around the world, each with a different name but united in this mission.

Sri Chinmoy’s name is not as readily recognizable as the names of other spiritual leaders but his influence is broad. He has been supported by such luminaries as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana, among others. Twice weekly, he travels from his headquarters in Jamaica, New York to the UN Building in Manhattan to conduct meditation programs for the many diplomats whose activities directly impact on the state of the world.

The cuisine at Jyoti Bihanga is strictly vegetarian. No animal products of any sort are used. Recipes use only natural ingredients and the preparation is relatively simple. However, the tastes, textures and colors of the dishes are very gratifying. For carnivores who enjoy “meat” most, there are several fake-meat dishes offered that have a remarkable similarity to the real thing.

The restaurant is comfortable and decorated with plants and flowers. Tall church-like window allow a great deal of light to enter during the day. The walls are painted a mellow, relaxing light blue color. A very large photograph of Sri Chinmoy hangs on the wall.

The ambiance at Jyoti-Bihanga is very calm and serene. Service is quick and efficient. The menu lists a daily special called the Peace Special, in honor of Sri Chinmoy. Appetizers include “Never Say No Nachos” and a tasty Hummus Dip.

Both wraps and sandwiches are served. The wraps are particularly good. The Grilled Portobello Wrap consists of grilled marinated Portobello slices with red bell peppers, fresh spinach and cheddar wrapped in an organic whole wheat chapati. It comes with a tofu sauce that is wonderful.

Thai stir fry dishes come with sautˇed vegetables, tofu, and peanuts on brown rice. The peanut sauce is totally tantalizing.

For the carnivore, BBQ mock duck actually tastes like duck sautˇed with a barbeque sauce. The “neatloaf” dishes are takeoffs on “meatloaf” with a similar look, texture and taste. Buddha Burger is a patty made of soy protein that is a tasty burger without the fat and excess calories.

If you still have room for dessert after the large portions are finished, the carrot cake is made from scratch with fresh grated carrots and walnuts. It is topped by a terrific cream cheese frosting.

Prices at Jyoti-Bihanga are very inexpensive. It would be easy to enjoy a delicious meal for less than $10.

One good reason to frequent the restaurant, though, is to help support the ideas of world peace. Sri Chinmoy advocates meditation, prayer and athletics. Training of the body is one of his important messages. The manager of Jyoti Bihanga, Mahiyan (his adopted first name) Savage, was once a star tennis player who competed in the French Open.

The organization put together a Peace Run in 2001 that covered over 11,000 miles in all 50 states and went through more than 2000 communities carrying a “Peace Torch” to promote world harmony. It has a worldwide yearly schedule of marathons and races that it sponsors, the largest scheduled program operated by one organization, to bring people together in the idea of harmony.

The Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run is a biennial, international torch relay founded by Sri Chinmoy in 1986. The large participation athletic event unites people of diverse races, cultures and social backgrounds to share their aspirations for peace. A flaming torch is passed from hand to hand and heart to heart across six continents to spread the message.

So, by the simple act of dining, we have the opportunity to bring about positive change in the world. In addition to good food, free classes in meditation and vegetarian cooking are offered. Jyoti Bihanga is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. It is located at 3351 Adams Avenue. Call 619-282-4116 for information and directions.

CyberEater Restaurant Reviews may be found published in the Daily Transcript. In addition to Dining San Diego’s Guide to Fine Restaurants in San Diego, please visit the San Diego Cyber Concierge web site for help finding the ideal restaurant for your needs. Copies of Dining San Diego Magazine are FREE at major hotels.

Dublin Square – It’s Irish!

The Irish spirit expresses itself to me joyously in literature, music, and dance. I feel “Irish” when I read Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, or listen to U2 or watch Michael Flatley’s Riverdance. There is, indeed, something different about “being Irish” that connotes fun and excitement.

This spirit is nurtured and amplified at one of San Diego’s newest pub restaurants, Dublin Square. Developed by Sam Ladki, with the consultation and assistance of the Guinness IPC (Irish Pub Concepts) team, Dublin Square recreates an authentic pub in the heart of the Gaslamp.

Sam Ladki, who is now an “honorary Irish citizen” complete with a “key to the city” of Kilkenny, conceived the concept while skiing at Whistler, British Columbia. After a day on the slopes, he and his friends would recuperate at the local pub, which was filled with happy customers. He realized that the concept would work well in San Diego and organized the venture. With the help of general manager Andrew Noone, who has opened 28 such pubs all over the world, Dublin Square has become one of the key attractions of Fourth Avenue.

Andrew Noone defines the pub as a “city pub, full of light and female friendly.” The doors to the outside patios swing open to let daylight penetrate deep into the interior of the premises. Passersby can see immediately the fun that is going on inside.

Everything in the pub is authentic. The furniture, moldings, panels and artifacts were all crafted in Ireland and reassembled here. The Horse Shoe Bar is a replica of Tynan’s Bridge House Bar, a well-known locale in Kilkenny. The lounge is a recreation of the Shelbourne Lounge in Dublin. The fireplace is over 500 years old.

Dublin Square offers nine beers on draft, five of them imported. Guinness Beer is featured. The beer is a dark, rich color with a gold color head that is full of the flavor of the malts. The brewery was found over 250 years ago and has become one of the most widely recognized beers in the world by creating an excellent array of products and through clever marketing and branding.

The food recipes are authentically Irish, prepared by Chef Charlene Kenny, who was brought overseas to run the kitchen. Potato Leek Soup ($3.50 per bowl) brings good warmth on a chilly day. Smoked Salmon ($9.95), served with toast tips and capers was thick and very tasty. The fish is “cold smoked” to give it a distinctive flavor. A traditional pub favorite, Irish Cheddar and Bacon Potato Skins ($6.95) was loaded with cheese. The restaurant will soon feature a new broad selection of bar appetizers. Tradition Irish soda breads have a sweet taste that goes well with lots of butter and brew.

One of Dublin Square’s signature dishes is Fish & Chips ($9.95). The fish is battered with a mixture blended with Harp beer and served with Killarney sauce. The recipe for the sauce is a closely guarded secret. It does add a lot to the taste of the dish. The chips were round cut rather than cut along the length, creating more surface area to absorb the malt and other flavors. The portions are large and the presentation was excellent.

Corned Beef and Cabbage ($8.95), another traditional favorite, was cooked in Guinness. It also included boiled potatoes. Again, the portion was large and tasty. Other entrees include Shepherd’s Pie ($8.50), ground sirloin topped with mashed potato and baked, and Traditional Irish Stew ($8.95), with large chunks of lamb in a broth. It was excellent. Irish Breakfast ($8.50) is served all day, offering eggs, sausage, bacon, soda bread and black pudding and white pudding. Be sure to ask your server how the puddings are made. Chef Kenny’s original training was in making desserts. Her Bread Pudding ($5.50) and Apple Crumble ($5.50) are really worth trying.

Dublin Square offers live entertainment on most evenings including Irish dancers and bagpipers. Be sure to call for the schedule. On Sunday afternoons, the entertainment is family oriented and children are encouraged to participate.

What makes a pub restaurant like Dublin Square different from a regular restaurant? “It is the atmosphere we create,” Mr. Ladki explained. “We offer good dining in a relaxed casual atmosphere where everyone can mix together and have a lot of fun!” The ambiance, brews and food at Dublin Square carry it off. Prices are inexpensive to moderate. Reservations are suggested at 619-239-5818. The restaurant is located at 554 Fourth Avenue in the Gaslamp.

CyberEater Restaurant Reviews may be found published in the Daily Transcript. In addition to Dining San Diego’s Guide to Fine Restaurants in San Diego, please visit the San Diego Cyber Concierge web site for help finding the ideal restaurant for your needs. Copies of Dining San Diego Magazine are FREE at major hotels.