Friday, March 13, 2009

Return to Makkoli Japanese Seafood Buffet - East Brunswick, New Jersey

It is a year later and we returned to the area of New Jersey where the Garden State Expo Center is for our annual visit to a trade show. My first thought of where to eat after the show was to return to Makkoli. I also found out about another new buffet in the area with a unique theme. I printed out information to find both before we left home. When it was time for dinner on this Saturday night, I decided that Makkoli was calling to me to come back for a second visit. (There is another trade show coming up in the same center and I will save this new buffet for that trip.)

If you read my first article (2/22/08) about Makkoli Japanese Seafood Buffet, located in East Brunswick, New Jersey, you will see that we had quite a hard time finding it. It is located in a small shopping center on a very busy main highway route. The restaurant is located in the back of the shopping center and not visible from the road. I was all prepared this time with a new dashboard GPS, but when I entered the exact address the device told me it did not exist. I checked the listed restaurants in East Brunswick it was not listed. With a last attempt I searched the name of the restaurant and it appeared! So Makkoli is well known enough to be included on, at least this, gps device. The directions guided us directly to the parking lot. When we arrived we did see that there is a sign now for the restaurant on the block of signs for the shopping center - it is the second from the top, but once you see the sign you will have passed the restauant and need to turn around - and on this road that is not an easy thing to do as you must go on to the next left turn circle and then travel back, passing the restaurant, to another left turn circle so that you may get back in the right direction to get to there again.

Happily, we were there and we entered to find that this restaurant was very busy at 6:30 pm on a Saturday night. There was a short wait in the small lobby area for a table. The restaurant was crowded with diners. Most of the people eatting were Asian, most likely Japanese, and there were many tables filled with large groups. These large groups of families and/or friends continued to come in throughout the time that we were there.

As I reviewed this restaurant very throughly a year ago, I will not repeat the description or the basics - they are still the same, with the exception of the price. Like every other restaurant and buffet the price has gone up. Here it is just one dollar more with weekend dinner priced now at $20.99.

When I dined at Makkoli a year ago I had never been to a Japanese Seafood/Sushi buffet before. Since I have been to Minado with several locations including one or more in New Jersey. Coming into Makkoli now, I had something to compare it to. And if you read my article on Minado, you know just how impressed I was with that restaurant. I can't not make comparisons now. Right up front understand, none of this is to say that Makkoli is not good. That is not so - it is very good. But there are differences, pro and con in choosing between the two - and since there is a Minado also in New Jersey, it is possible that one might make a choice between the two. Makkoli is the less expensive of the two - almost $10 less per person on the weekend. What you are getting at Makkoli is less than what you are getting at Minado. The number of varieties of sushi, Japanese salads, hot selections, and desserts are fewer at Makkoli. There is plenty of what there is. I must say that I feel that the freshness in taste of the sushi at Minado (and maybe it was just the one time that I was there) was greater. The taste of the sushi at Makkoli is very good - but it did not stand out to me as what I tried at the other restaurant. My picky wife was happy at both, but did comment to me that what she could select from at Minado was more than what was out at Makkoli. While everything is labeled at Makkoli as to what it is, at Minado the signs not only labeled the items but each also listed what was in the item. Perhaps it is not fair to compare the two. They are not next door to each other. It is not a choice of turn right and go here or turn left and go there. The two are 45 miles apart. Also, Minado is a chain of restaurants and Makkoli is just this location.

Putting the comparison aside, this Makkoli is a very, very popular restaurant. You would not know that there is an economic downturn or crisis in the economy seeing how many people were packing this restaurant at $21 plus beverages per person. And as I have said, the crowd continued through the night. And as I have said in other articles, when a culture-based restaurant is filled with people from that culture, you know that the food is authentic and good.

One of my favorites on my last visit and something that I enjoyed again (twice) on this visit is the Udon Noodle Soup. Thick white noodles are boiled and mixed in a bowl with a variety of spices, seaweed, and crisp batter fried onions. Clear, dark broth is poured over the top to fill the bowl. There was a chef at this serving station preparing each bowl as you stepped up. It has a wonderful flavor! There were other soups as well including wonton, egg drop, and miso soup.

On my last visit I passed on the raw oysters on the half shell because they seemed dry. The oysters on this visit were fresh - and small (which I find better than the larger ones). They were moist and had a nice, fresh taste. There was no sand and they were easy to remove from the shell - even with chopsticks.

At the sushi bar I did not notice the signs that were so obvious last year that if you do not eat the rice and just eat the fish that comes on the rice you will be charged extra. In fact, if I did not just re-read my article I would not have remembered that at all - as I don't think they are there anymore. (I may be wrong and just did not pay attention - but as I am recalling now they were very noticable last year.) Anyway, I often leave over much of the rice and I did this Saturday night - and no one said a word to me or charged me any more. There is a large variety of fish still offered and as trays emptied they were refilled. Fish such as red snapper, white tuna, makeral, and more were offered along with salmon and tuna. There was a tempura sushi roll with slices of fried shrimp tempura rolled in rice and seaweed. Over on the hot buffet there was sushi roll tempura - battered sushi rolls that were fried. This was interesting but for me, well, I like raw salmon and smoked salmon, but I do not care for cooked salmon - so what roll did I get in my sushi tempura but salmon sushi - and inside was cooked salmon. If you are a cooked salmon fan you will love it.

Entrees on the hot buffet varied this time from the last visit which is good. It is good to have something different offered when you return to a buffet. Some were the same, others varied. There were equally as many. If you do not care for fish you will have no problem here. My wife does not eat seafood except for shrimp and she found plenty of dishes to make her happy including chicken, beef, and pork. There were very tempting spare ribs. They were not heavy on the sweet sauce that is done by so many Asian buffets with ribs. They were not without sauce though - I prefer no sauce, cooked under a high heat brioler which is how ribs used to be cooked in Chinese restaurants. For those who love crab legs there were very nice crab legs on the hot buffet. They were individual legs and not clusters but they did look good. In addition to all of the hot entrees there is the hibachi station which cooks chicken, steak, or shrimp with mixed vegetables on the grill. If you have been to a Japanese hibachi restaurant where a chef comes and cooks on the grill on your table this is very much the same, but without the show. The resulting food is the same and very good. Last time I tried the shrimp and that was excellent. This time I went for the steak and that was just as excellent. My wife enjoyed the chicken.

One of my problems when I go to a buffet that I do not get to go to often is that I take a little of everything and wind up eatting too much. This was one of those meals. I wanted to go back for more, but I knew that there was just not enough room left for it. But I was enjoying it so much that I still wanted more - and this was before dessert. I comprised and went back for a second bowl of the excellent udon noodle soup.

Dessert is the standard Asian buffet dessert selection. The little pieces of sheet cake and pastries that I have so often compared to the Little Debbie cakes. There was also fresh fruit pieces and jello. They do have a serve yourself freezer full of tubs of hard ice cream with chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry, and pistachio.

Service was excellent. Dishes were removed from the table immediately. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

Makkoli Seafood Buffet is located in the Village Green Shopping Center at 415 Route 18 South in East Brunswick, NJ. The phone number in case you get lost is (732) 967 - 8900 or for free - 877 - 625 - 5654. There is a website which is linked at the side of this page. It is just off exit 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike and it is not far from US 1.

Makkoli well stood the test of time and a return visit. It did not disappoint in any way. I will go back again. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes sushi or Japanese food who is in or traveling through mid-New Jersey.


JupaMan said...

I have to be honest in saying that I would take with a grain of salt the reviews from somebody that loves the golden corral so much, and not like the showboat french quarter buffet as much as I do. I feel the totally oposite about those two buffets from what I read here. I can do away with never ever again eating at the golden corral, but my girlfriend and I go to the french quarter buffet almost every weekend.

However, this review of Makkoli is right on point. I live 10 minutes away from this restaurant, but I wouldn't have known about it if it wasn't for coming across this blog two days ago.

Tonight I visited the restaurant and it's simply amazing. The cost is now $21.99 for weekends, and $19.99 for weeknights, but it's well worth it. I'm very picky when it comes to oriental foods and I just don't think that NJ can catch up with what NYC has to offer; this restaurant proves me wrong.

They have a wide variety of fresh sushi including the very hard to find inari sushi...... go ahead, I DARE you to find inari sushi unless it's at some high end restaurant.... I"m here, I'll be waiting. This is in fact, the second restaurant in NJ that I have come across where they have inari sushi. To me, this screams authentic Japanese restaurant ( I was a cook at a japanese restaurant in NYC for 5 years, that's how I know about inari and the wild vegetables they use for it).

But I digress, this restaurant has nothing but fresh seafood and you can taste the difference for those that really love great sushi and fresh seafood. When it comes to exotic foods, my girlfriend is very picky, but now she wants to make this restaurant our regular friday hangout instead of the french quarter buffet ....yeah, she loved it that much.

they even have such great treats as the black seaweed salad, with sweet bean curd, salmon and white tuna sashimi chunks, edamame, stuffed shrimp, udon noodles, and buttered fresh squid slices. The list goes on and on.
My only problem is that I tried everything and I wanted more. Here I am still full at almost 4am, so I'm writing this review.

Also I want to say that I'm glad I came across this website, and there will be other recommendations I will be trying soon.

JupaMan said...

just once again I want to thank you very much for this blog, which is now visited almost daily by me.
Since my original response about Makkoli 2 weeks ago, my girlfriend and I have gone there 5 more times in the past 16 days. Yes, I'm not kidding. we are always finding an excuse to invite friends to come with us to this great restaurant.
We went Friday night and to my amazement, they had octopus chunks in the salad section. So that night I had my fill of my favorite foods at that restaurant, the beef and scallion, the roasted duck, volcano rolls, and now the octopus chunks...
I have been eating octopus since I was a little kid, and this was a very tasty and meaty octopus, and perfectly cooked.

Again thank you for this blog as I wouldn't have found this gem of a buffet only 10 minutes from my house.