Friday, March 26, 2010

Dilemma in New Jersey

We had a trip planned to mid-New Jersey - basically the area west and a bit north of New York City. There are two buffets in this area that I enjoy very much - Buffet Europa and Makkoli Japanese. I had just recently been to Buffet Europa and despite the strong temptation to go again, I felt that it would be good to find a new buffet to try and share with everyone. On my previous trip - when I went to Buffet Europa - we saw another Japanese Sushi buffet (which I will not name). It looked nice as we passed it on the road and at that time thought that we might try it on the next trip through. One of my readers is close enough to this area to make recommendations and has been in contact with me through this site giving me suggestions for over a year now. I went back to his emails to check his recommendations and found this one on the list. I sent him an email and asked if he had been back there in the year since his first visit. He had not - but he liked it. I highly respect his opinion and I know from other recommendations that he has given that what I will find will be good.

I decided several days before the trip that I would check out as much as I could about this buffet to find recent opinions - a lot of things can change about a buffet in a year. I also wanted to check on what to expect being served since, as regular readers know, my wife is a very picky eater - the only seafood that she will eat is shrimp - and there should be some variety of non-seafood dishes for her as well. All that I could find with exhaustive searches on this restaurant were reviews all over a year old and consistently they were poor reviews. (This is why I am not naming the restaurant.) And each one said, "Skip this place and go to Makkoli." Yet, my email friend told me that the restaurant is good - and I did see his review on line to this effect as well as the recommendation that he gave me. I got a little nervous - it is one thing to eat and not feel so well close to home, but when there is a two hour trip between you and your house on roads without rest-stop restrooms, you have to give where and what you are eating careful c0nsideration. Still his recommendations have been reliable so I searched some more for information. The restaurant does have a website and I went there - turned off the annoying music that it insisted on playing for me and took a look around. Nice photos and what looked to me to be a nice restaurant as it is shown. I looked at the on-line menu. There was a variety of sushi and sashimi- even a bit more extensive than people had described in their poor reviews. The entree list was a bit short - and it was just about all fish - no shrimp listed - and two beef dishes, one of which is prime rib (which to most would be welcomed - but not by my wife). I still was not discouraged. I looked for a price. No prices were listed. There was a way to contact the restaurant manager by email so I clicked on that link and sent the manager an email asking what the dinner prices are and if three is an hibachi grill (which would resolve any selection problems for my wife). Shortly later, my email bounced back to me with a server message from the restaurant stating that they would not accept my email. Hmm. I use a standard email address when I contact restaurants - nothing that should be filtered out. If there was no way to email this restaurant or they were bouncing back emails - perhaps this is a sign.

I went back to some of the results that I had found on searches for this restaurant to see if somewhere I missed a price. I came across another customer review site that I had not come across before and found still more poor reviews of the place. One of them mentioned a price- around $20.00. Again, reviewers said, "Skip this place and go to Makkoli." Was somebody - everybody trying to tell me something?

I still spoke with my wife and told her what we would find on the buffet and asked her what she would eat. She is very good to me and said not to worry about her, she will find something to eat - but I know what she will and will not eat and to pay $20 a person for her not to eat or to eat very little was just not right. So I decided to look for someplace else new in the area.

I started to search restaurants in this area - buffet restaurants to be specific. After I eliminated results for reviews on THIS site and from my readers at other sites quoting or referring to my reviews of the restaurants that I have written about in the area, I came down to a very small handful of Chinese buffets. If I was willing to travel a distance further in the direction away from home there was a really nice looking Italian buffet, but this was just too far in the wrong direction and even an independent pizza buffet - again too far. There was one of the lobster buffets that I have written about but never gone to but the price is just too far above my current means. There was also a really nice looking Japanese buffet that got great reviews, but when I looked at their website found out that they are well over $30 for a meal which is a bit over my budget for a non-special occasion. So I started looking at those few Chinese buffets remaining on the list of possibilities. Each had so-so reviews. I am never sure if bad reviews are the result of someone with a chip on thier shoulder because of something that may have happened when they were at the restaurant that has really nothing to do with the actual quality of the restaurant or the food - or the review is on the level and not biased beyond being unhappy with the meal. When I see several this way from various customers I do take notice. The one most likely candidate had fair reviews and some not so good reviews - and many said - "Skip this place and go to Makkoli."

I decided that I must take everyone's advice and we were going to go to Makkoli. I have been to Makkoli several times. We both have always enjoyed Makkoli - and despite my great desire to find another buffet to share with you, we were not going to find one in that area.

I will tell you a little about that night at Makkoli. The restaurant is as good as it has been. There was a big crowd for a Friday night, but no waiting to get in. There is a large assortment of sushi and sashimi - including a number of unusual (at least buffet sushi unusual) fish. On the selection of prepared Japanese salads there was a fish that I have only had once before - jelly fish. I do not know if this was raw and marinated in the saled or cooked at all. It was gelatinous and cold so it may have been raw. I had it once many, many years ago in a Chinese buffet where it was deep and crispy fried. I did take a very tiny bit on my plate to try. It was very neutral in flavor and mildly chewy. I was not enjoying the texture or the lack of an identifiable taste so I only ate the one piece.

My wife had no problem finding things that she likes. We both started the meal with a bowl of Udon Noodle Soup - which is just wonderful. I thought all through the meal about going back at the end for another bowl, but as I wrote just recently, I found that if I did that, I would be going for "one udon soup too far" - AGAIN. No, this meal was more than filling and in my zest to try a bit of everything that I like I eventually found myself too full for anything else even to try another sampling of a favorite.

Now, I did have something that IF I wanted to have eaten more at this meal, I should not have had because of the quantity that you are giving. We both went up to the hibachi grill. I asked the chef for steak and vegetables and my wife asked for chicken and vegetables. He took out a whole steak - about a half inch thick and at least seven or eight inches long and four inches wide. This went on the grill all for me. He took out what was the equivalent of a full chicken breast or more and put that on the grill for my wife. She said to me, I hope that is not all for me. It was. With the vegetables added to the grill and then these portions put on plates for us - we each were given a dinner plate full and piled up. As a meal in itself fine. As a complement to all of the rest that we has eaten and were planning on eating, it was really too much. (I have to say, too, that the steak was very tough and not a good choice. It tasted great but was hard to chew. Her chicken was much better.)

All and all we had another great meal at Makkoli. In the year since we were there last the price has not gone up at all. The food is good and the meal is certainly more than one can eat.

It will be some time before we are in this area of New Jersey again - but my first choice - is Buffet Europa. If you are in the mood for Japanese - go to Makkoli.

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