Friday, November 02, 2007

Makino Chaya, Hawaii - A Buffet That Is Not a Buffet

When is a buffet not a buffet? When the buffet is served to you from a menu. This is another buffet restaurant that I have not been to - and given it's location I probably will never get to, but perhaps some of you may - and this one is so different that when I learned about it I just knew that I had to share it.

Makino Chaya is a small chain of buffet restaurants in Hawaii. There are several locations. It was started by a Japanese restaurateur and the menu - from what I have been able to learn - is focused around Japanese specialties - and of course, what every buffet should have - lobster and crab legs. I say buffet, but the Makino Chaya restaurants offer a very different concept in buffet dining - menus. What!?! Menus at a buffet! That is not a buffet, you say! Well, yes, here it is because when you go to the Makino Chaya you are dining at an all you care to eat menu restaurant. The menu here is a picture menu and you point to what you want on that menu and it is brought to you made to your order - and then you point some more and it is brought to you - and you point again... Well, you get it. This is really something! There are more than one hundred different dishes on the menu for you to select. This is a "sit-down" buffet.

They do impose a rule here - "Ok", you say, "Now the catch!" Well, it is not really a catch it is a small but understandable rule. You may only order two dishes from the menu for yourself at one time -and then you must eat everything from those dishes before you can order another two. That is reasonable. They talk about "rounds" here -a round is a serving of plates. Finish the first round before moving on to the next.

A buffet like this cannot be inexpensive, but the dinner price is not that out of line. The prices that I have been able to find may be slightly out of date but the price I have is $21.98 per person on weekdays and one dollar higher on weekends. Soft drinks are $2.50 and are refillable. Now, while this is not in the OCB, Ryans, Golden Corral range of price, but it is within the range of many of the "nicer" restaurant buffets that I have reviewed. The lunch price is $10.95. I have seen other prices mentioned but all were within two dollars of all of the prices that I have listed. Some locations seem to be open until 11 pm.

There is a typical buffet table set up as a salad bar and a fried bar to start your meal. Here are salads, prepared specialty salads, and also sushi, and things like crab legs, steamed scallops and clams, chicken wings and other dishes. This is all there to lure you in but this is not the place at this restaurant to fill up. The menu and its unlimited possibilities awaits.

The emphasis is seafood but there are meat choices on the menu as well. As I have said there is lobster that is served both steamed and grilled. There is steak cooked Japanese-style. There are grilled fish dishes. There are Japanese pot dishes of noodles and fish, shell fish, or beef. The size of the portions vary from large platters of food to small samplings. But, what does it matter as long as you eat it you can get more! Yet, you must choose wisely because you could fill up on just one or two selections - which is fine, unless you are one that wants to try a bit of everything. There is one thing for certain here - you must like Japanese food! While you are not limited to the exotic and will be able to find things close enough to foods that you like, the menu served is Japanese.

If you want dessert, you have to clean your plates. Dessert is considered another "round". For dessert there are three types of cheesecake (not all Japanese, after all). There is also a green tea cake and a Japanese ice cream dessert.

Customers seem to vary in their comments about this chain based upon location. Some locations get raves and others get more reserved applause. All locations seem to be quite busy with long waits to get in at prime times. These restaurants appeal to tourists and some of the negative comments that I found about the restaurants were based on the idea that these were tourist oriented restaurants. So what! Many of the criticisms that I have read would be paid no mind by a regular buffet goer. We tend to be used to "food cooked in volume". We expect a "cafeteria atmosphere". At this price level, we too might expect better, but I do not think that I would be disappointed. Don't think that customers do not like these restaurants. There are rave comments with five star ratings more than there are criticisms. There were not criticisms that when you are ready for more there is not someone there to make sure you get it - this could be a problem if the staff is not right there. There have been some non-buffet chains that have offered all you can eat dishes and the problem is always that when you are ready and want more the wait staff is no place to be found.

The concept is very intriguing to me - I would love to try one of these restaurants. This unique set up does take away one thing that I most like about buffets, however, and that is my ability to take a little of what I would like to taste and have a sampling dinner that satisfies me at the same time. Here if you are brought the platter to you and need to finish it all there is not going to be a lot of tasting.

There is no website that I can find. I am not going to list addresses because I am not aware of all of the locations. There is a recently opened location in Honolulu.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been to Makino Chaya. If you have please leave a comment and tell us some specifics!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

THIS WAS WITHOUT A DOUBT THEEEEE BEST BUFFET IVE EVER BEEN TO IN MY ENTIRE LIFE... THE FOOD IS TO DIE FOR AND ITS ALL YOU CAN EAT.. ITS A LIL PRICEY BUT SOOOO WORTH IT.. CANT BEAT IT.. EVEN BETTER THEN TODAI'S.. I WOULD RECCOMEND TO ANYONE..

Dan said...

To quote the review above;THIS WAS WITHOUT A DOUBT THEEEEE BEST BUFFET IVE EVER BEEN TO IN MY ENTIRE LIFE...
I could not agree more. The sit down menu has just about anything you might find in a mainland restaurant as well as dishes from Japan, China and the Pacific Isles. What the writer was not aware of is, besides the menu, there is a typical buffet offering everything from soup to nuts to Sushi, Sashimi, noodle dishes, crab legs and talk about desserts! If I lived on Oahu, I would probable go there once every couple of weeks then it might just take me a few years to finally get through the combinations of food items available. Do not miss this one!!