I was glad I'd invited a veteran as a guest on my first visit to Buffet of Tokyo. Otherwise I might have been at a loss to figure out the game plan. Perhaps they just assume anyone should be bright enough to realize this is an all-you-can-eat buffet and take it from there. The staff is friendly, so I'm sure if asked, they would guide the shy or dull-witted to the dishes and flatware, then explain there's no limit to the number of trips through the buffet line.
Pretty simple--like everything else as this restaurant. Certainly the decor, the focal point of which is a large aquarium dividing the dining room with its subdued lighting in half. Nautical pictures and mounted fish line the walls, and life-size replicas of sea gulls hang from the ceiling.
After being seated at a table with a rosy pink linen tablecloth under glass, we were offered beverages and left on our own. "I usually start here," explained my friend as she led me past the fruit and desserts to the midsection of the buffet. She began choosing some mussels and clams from the mix of offerings, and it didn't take long for me to start loading up on won ton, egg rolls, pot stickers, swordfish kebabs, tempura and fried shrimp.
As we were heading back to the table, my experienced friend pointed out the miso soup and stopped for a couple bowls of tempura sauce. They were at the beginning of the buffet, so I hadn't noticed.
On a second pass, we checked out the sushi area at the far end of the buffet. To be honest, I'd gotten a little too carried away on the first trip and couldn't do this section justice. On a second visit to the restaurant, with still other Buffet of Tokyo veterans, I was careful to restrain myself while making choices from the 30 or so items that preceded the sushi. Still, I couldn't resist trying small portions of the fried noodles, beef and broccoli, squid, yellowtail, cucumber salad and crab-stuffed shumai.
The selection in the sushi section is only slightly less extensive. On one night we found several types of rolled sushi, including two variations of California roll, along with tuna, salmon skin, cucumber, Japanese pickle and soybean. Other nigiri-zushi offerings included unagi (freshwater eel), shiro maguro (albacore), hirame (halibut), tai (red snapper), tako (octopus), ebi (shrimp) and tamago (omelet). There are always bowls of gari (sliced pickled ginger) and wasabi (pungent green horseradish) to serve as accompaniments. This section of the buffet also includes sashimi and crab legs, and concludes with apples and oranges.
Other kinds of seasonal fresh fruit--recently the selection included strawberries, melons and pineapple--are found at the beginning of the buffet. These make a nice, light dessert along with the yokan (sweet bean gelatin) cubes, deep fried bananas and won ton sprinkled with powdered sugar. The beverage selection includes hot and iced tea, soft drinks, Japanese beer, sake, plum and regular wine.
In addition to dinner, the restaurant offers a luncheon buffet. The scaled-down version is $5 less in price, but omits the seafood--clams, mussels, cracked crab, crab legs and sometimes salmon--offered at dinner.
I'd like the napkins at Buffet of Tokyo to be a little more substantial--they're more suited to a coffee shop. On one visit swordfish kebabs were overcooked to the point of being dry, but another night they were moist and flavorful. Most items on the line were judged very acceptable, especially when you consider this is buffet-style service.
Sushi is fresh, especially at peak hours when the chefs are kept busy replacing the quickly depleted supplies. Still, it's not made to order, the presentation is simpler and the selection more limited than in sushi bars. One friend commented that it may be made with a bit more rice. Still, for the price, it's hard to complain--which is true about everything at Buffet of Tokyo.
Buffet of Tokyo, 18406 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 345-0838. Open daily for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m. MasterCard and Visa credit cards accepted. Lot parking behind restaurant. Lunch, $5.95; dinner, $10.95.