Taguig City, Metro Manila
The Bait: All the Japanese food you can eat
The Line: "Get the best of both worlds -- buffet quantity and a la carte quality."
The Hook: Value for money, or rather, volume for money
The Sinker: Carb fest, not in a good way
The Catch: P535 per person exclusive of drinks and other ala carte items
I just learned about the term "volume for money" in Claude Tayag's book Food Tour. He attributes the phrase to Chef Myrna Segismundo. It refers to the Pinoy's predilection to stuff their faces and load their stomach in buffet lines. Volume a priority, taste only secondary.
Red Kimono's Better than Buffet helped me understand the concept.
It was the second time we went for the 534 peso all-you-can-eat promo. The first time was for dinner some months back. We arrived hungry and joined a group of more than a dozen people. And I enjoyed stuffing my face as well as the camaraderie of playing 1-2-3 pass with all the dishes being passed around the table.
A couple of days ago we went back for lunch, and it was not as enjoyable as the first time.
I need to explain the promo. It is buffet with a twist. And they say it is better than buffet. I disagree. Buffet is a simple concept of lining up the dishes on the buffet table, and the diner is free to strategize what to pick and how much of each.
I tend to go value for money focusing my attention on the starters, which feature high value dishes like sashimis, oysters, and carpaccios; then I skip the main dishes, the pastas, and the rice; and home in on the desserts. In a buffet one can control the quantity per dish. One can enjoy a mere tablespoonful of an item and be satisfied.
In Red Kimono's Better than Buffet concept, there is no buffet table. Instead, they bring the buffet to you. You pick items on a printed menu. You can get as many orders as you like. Then they bring the dishes to you already plated in family style quantities.
Plus there are conditions. They have the usual conditions of no leftovers, no take-home. I can agree with those rules because they minimize wastage. (Yes, we need to remember the starving people in China) The problem is you don't have control over the quantity per order. So you don't get to sample as many dish varieties as you would in a regular buffet.
There is also a condition about a minimum order of rice. The worst thing is they serve only sushis; no sashimis. So imagine how carb-laden you are by the end of the meal, even if you have managed to artfully and deceptively distribute your leftover rice among the plates and under them so it won't be too obvious that you actually had leftover food. Gag me with a sako of rice!
The other reason why this is not better than buffet is that there is no buffet table to walk to. I actually like walking from my table to the buffet table. And back. I can delude myself into thinking that I am exercising in between bites. Walking while carrying the weight of the loaded plate. At Red Kimono, you are deprived of that brisk-walking workout. Unless you need to go to the wash or take a biological break -- for that you need to go take a stub from the servers and walk outside the restaurant to the common rest rooms.
Carbs plus no-exercise -- not the best post-meal sensation. All your body systems focused on digesting all that starch. I was surprised that I was able to stave the lethargy and drive home before having the mother of all siestas. Take note: I am not a siesta person.
But after having said all that, I would still recommend this promo if (one) you are very hungry, (two) you are dining with a big group so you can share dishes, and (three) if you're a member of the extra-rice confederation.
I don't know if there was a change in chef, but the food seemed to be better the first time. Or maybe we were just hungrier. Back then, I loved the crabstick rolls with wasabi mayonnaise, the shitake mushroom teppanyaki, the chicken teriyaki, the grilled miso chicken, and the layered spinach & tofu. The beef kamameshi also seemed beefier then.
On our second visit, I enjoyed the california crunch and the salmon & cream cheese maki. The pork teriyaki is tender and tasty, but make sure you coordinate your orders. We also had teriyaki chicken, and I felt there was just way too much teriyaki in the world.
Of course, dessert is part of the better than buffet menu. If your stomach is not at bursting level, you may have the buko pandan jelly with vanilla ice cream. The green tea ice cream was too overwhelmingly tea-tasting, so I didn't like it. You can also try the chocolate balls.
So, is it better than buffet? Nah. But go ahead and stuff yourself when the time and conditions are right.