I have a love-hate relationship with buffets.
On one hand, you can’t beat the flat-rated, all-you-can-eat approach. Only going to eat seafood to get your money’s worth? Go right ahead.
On the other hand, quality usually suffers, as food is made and served in volume. Is the chicken a little dry? That’s probably because it’s been out there since the early bird sitting.
Makino Chaya offers a novel approach that attempts to blend the best attributes of buffets and sit-down restaurants. In addition to the rows of prepared seafood, meats, and sushi, a colorful menu on each table offers additional choices that may be ordered from the kitchen.
The menu items include the more premium offerings such as steak and soft-shell crab. The items are also all-you-can-eat with the only rules being that you can order a maximum of two items at a time per person, and you need to finish both items before ordering again.
My visit to the Aiea restaurant started on a sour note. Instead of allowing those waiting for a table to linger in the lobby, the hostess chased us outside in the hot afternoon sun. Worse, the restaurant’s dumpster is located about four parking stalls away from the entrance, making the stench of garbage overwhelming at times.
Once inside, you’ll notice an atmosphere similar to a cafeteria. Tables are spaced very closely together and you’ll feel like you’re sitting elbow-to-elbow with those on neighboring tables. Unfortunately, I was sitting next to a table with people too busy stuffing their faces to deal with their unruly children. Now, loud kids are certainly not the fault of the restaurant, but the layout certainly exacerbates the problem.
The items on the buffet line were decent, for the most part. I noticed that they didn’t have any salad items (who eats the generic salad mix found at most buffets anyway?) and some of the items promised in their newspaper ad (Alaskan king crab, for example) were missing. My entire table agreed that the batch of Dungeness crab on the line was too salty to the point where it was not edible.
We had better luck with the menu items we ordered. The soft-shell crab was good and the assorted sashimi looked and tasted very fresh.
Service was a mixed bag. The servers seem too harried to take good care of any of their tables. You’ll need to flag down the servers as they fly by your table to get your share of orders placed with the kitchen. Once taken, orders were delivered quickly, but my water remained unfilled till the end of the meal.
After the meal, I decided that IF I ever returned, I would ignore the buffet line and order off the menu for a majority of the meal. The key word is “if.” As it stands now, I’m glad I tried it, but I probably won’t be returning for a second meal.