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.