Times They are A-Changin’ at TodaiCover Story Features
April 21, 2013
Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel
Toru Makino is a legend in the dining scene, both here at home and across the globe. He opened Todai Restaurant, an upscale international sushi and seafood buffet establishment, in December 1999 in Waikiki and later ended up selling the eatery. Most recently, Makino reclaimed ownership of Todai, along with his business partner Han Kim, and together they are eager to, once again, treat diners to an impeccable dining experience — one that is all-you-can-eat, by the way.
Dining Out recently paid a visit to this 450-seat restaurant and sat down with Makino and Todai’s executive chef Richard Lee among platters of prime rib, endless morsels of sweet and succulent shrimp, and so much more. It wasn’t long before we delved right into the endless and delicious possibilities that are sure to entice all palates.
DO: Mr. Makino, now that you’ve returned to Todai, you’re offering some unbeatable deals. Correct?
Makino: Yes! I’m excited to be back! Todai was very popular when it first opened back in 1999, and we hope to draw in crowds of locals and tourists like we did in the past. Our all-you-can-eat buffet appeals to everyone and we’ve rolled back the prices to what they were when we first opened the restaurant more than a decade ago. For a limited time, the cost for kamaaina during lunch is $10.98 (Monday-Friday) and $13.98 (Saturday and Sunday), and dinner is priced at $23.98. We also have a special deal for keiki ages 10 and under, which is half off $23.98. During lunchtime, seniors also only pay $8.98 when they bring in their Dining Out coupon. And if you dine on your birthday with a party of four or more, you receive a complimentary birthday meal (must present ID).
DO: The buffet spread is immaculate. With more than 100 items on the buffet line, what are some must-haves?
Makino: Everything here is very good, but we’re well known for our prime rib, Kauai shrimp and sweet shrimp.
Lee: I’ve worked with Mr. Makino for several years now, and I consider him to be a master chef. It’s an honor to be working with him as executive chef here at Todai. I have to agree with him, our prime rib is incredible. I go through about four to six prime ribs per day.
The prime rib is slow-roasted, seasoned with a special blend, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. The real trick, however, is in the roasting process. We blast the meat at a high temperature to develop that nice crust that prime rib should always have, and then we bring the temperature down and let it sit for up to three to four hours, that way it develops the texture and taste that makes our prime rib so delicious. It’s also important for us to support local, so that’s why we serve Kauai shrimp. It’s some of the best shrimp you’ll ever have.
Other top buffet items are, of course, snow crab — everyone comes here for that — as well as fresh, steamed clams. I can’t keep enough clams on the buffet line. It seems like every 15 minutes I’m putting out another couple hundred clams. Then, we have tempura from our tempura bar, which customers absolutely love. We average about 2,000 pieces a day and it’s Mr. Makino’s specialty. It’s made out of love straight from his heart. And if you’re a fan of sushi, we have more than 30 kinds of sushi to choose from.
DO: That’s enough to make mouths water. And there’s more?
Makino: Yes. No one will leave here hungry. Todai also offers its patrons endless amounts of barbecue chicken, teppanyaki, beef sukiyaki, crab cakes, orange chicken, spicy barbecue pork, poke, pizza and more. In addition, we also have a salad bar and an udon noodle station. We also have many draft beers to pair with your meal.
DO: What about dessert? No meal is complete without a sweet treat.
Makino: We have a dessert bar that offers 10 decadent selections to choose from — the most popular being cheese-cake. There also are crepes, tiramisu and a chocolate fountain, which the children really enjoy.
DO: Delicious! On top of that, there’s also nightly entertainment. Please explain.
Makino: Every night from 6 to 8 p.m., Makino Ring of Fire will perform for our patrons. Makino Ring of Fire is a Polynesian dance troop, and they will most certainly add to the dining experience at Todai. Locals and tourists will love them!
DO: Chef Richard, you’ve worked with Mr. Makino for a number of years. What have you learned from him and what is something unique that you bring to Todai?
Lee: I’ve learned a lot from Mr. Makino, such as flavor enhancing tricks, skills to perfect my Japanese sushi making, as well as different Japanese culinary techniques. I also will bring more homemade-style dishes to the restaurant. I’m introducing a Tofu Caprese, which is a unique twist on the traditional caprese, and I’ve also created a Furikake Caesar Salad and a few homemade dressings. I like rustic and vibrant cuisine. I want everyone to like our food and appreciate the passion that we have for Todai. We’re going to make things pop. No where else can you get such tasty food at such a great value.
DO: It sure seems like great things are in store for the restaurant. What are your thoughts on this new era for Todai?
Makino: I’m very happy! It’s nice to be back here! We’re already gearing up for Mother’s Day (May 12). The restaurant will be open all day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the buffet will be priced at $24.98 per person for lunch and dinner. Parking also will be free for the first hour-and-a-half at the parking structure behind the restaurant.
Lee: Now that Mr. Makino is back, there are going to be a lot of nice improvements going on. Todai is his baby, and we’re going to run wild with some nice, new flavors and really update things around here.
1910 Ala Moana Blvd.
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.;
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m., Friday-Sunday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Note: Parking entrance is located behind Todai Restaurant on Ena Road. Parking is free for the first two hours on the second and third floors of the structure.