kitchen (2007-50)

Buff Buffet

Wireless Kitchen

Makino dares to bring the hibachi to the buffet

Makino Japanese Buffet ⢠8217 Kingston Pike, 560-8878

by Gay Lyons

Restaurant buffets have a reputation for emphasizing quantity over quality and encouraging gluttony. But my biggest problem with buffets is how long the food sits in the warming trays, waiting to be consumed. At Makino Japanese Buffet, however, you may have to wait on the foodâ"not the other way around. Itâ’s the freshly prepared items that make Makino a better-than-average buffet. You can still have sesame chicken, pork dumplings, spring rolls, or beef teriyakiâ"if thatâ’s what you wantâ"but, with a few exceptions, the best stuff is at the hibachi grill and the sushi bar.

Makino advertises an â“upscale buffet.â” The dinner prices are $16.95 Monday-through Thursday and $17.95 Friday and Saturday. Lunch prices are more of a bargainâ"$8.95 and $9.95â"but some of the premium items such as crab claws, oysters on the half shell, sushi specials, and grilled scallops are not available at lunch.

The sushi bar has the basics: sashimi, nigiri, and maki rolls. Because items are placed on the bar in small amounts, the fish is freshly prepared. Things are replaced promptlyâ"though there was a wait for eel rolls both times I was there. Iâ’m not surprised at their popularity; it was my favorite, too. In addition, I liked the salmon skin rolls and the four unnamed specials available at dinner.

Freshly prepared food is also served at the hibachi grill. For lunch, the choices are steak, chicken, and shrimp. Scallops and salmon are added at dinner. The bite-sized steak was tender, but I wouldnâ’t have minded if it were a little pinker. The mustard sauce was on the mild side, but the ginger sauce had just the right touch of ginger.

Both the crab claws and the steamed shrimp on the raw bar were properly cooked, well chilled, but needed just a splash of lemon juice to bring out the flavor. I tried the udon noodle soup, mainly because it was prepared after it was ordered at the soup counter. Served in a mildly flavored broth and topped with scallions, the noodles were thick and slightly chewy. I preferred it to the miso soup, which had only a few tiny diced bits of tofu and formed a grainy cloud any time it sat undisturbed.

The crunchy, peppery carrot and radish salad, with its faint citrus taste, is definitely worth having. I recommend the steamed broccoli and cauliflower, which didnâ’t look that appealing in the pan, but the vegetables were steamed to the perfect stage of tenderness and retained full flavor. On the other hand, the tempura looked greatâ"large vegetables, light batterâ"but was disappointingly bland.

I homed in on the fresh items, but to be fair I sampled at least a bite of almost everything on the hot bar. Most of it seemed like standard Asian buffet fare. If thatâ’s what you like, youâ’ll enjoy the selection.

My favorites were the not-too-sweet coconut shrimp and the simply prepared sea bass. The ginger shrimp had potential, but unless thereâ’s some â“quick peel with chopsticksâ” method Iâ’m not aware of, eating it required peeling slippery shrimp by hand. Thatâ’s acceptable at a picnic table with a roll of paper towels handy, but not at a dinner table with one cloth napkin.

Having sampled widely in the name of thorough research, I wasnâ’t interested in dessert, but I made room for a few bites of ice cream. Inspired by the sight of two young girls eating ice cream with chopsticks, my daughter Liz and I gave it a try. With firm, cold ice cream, it was surprisingly easy. Itâ’s also a good exercise in portion control, which brings me to another problem with buffets: the tendency to eat more than you should just because you can.

Youâ’ll have to furnish your own self-discipline, but you can create a fresh, healthy meal at Makino by partaking reasonably from the hibachi grill, the sushi bar, and the raw bar and adding salad or steamed vegetables. You can even have a little ice cream as long as you promise to use your chopsticks.

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