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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

New changes lead to 'moment of truth'

Patrons can choose from a wide array of fresh sushi, from futomaki to hamachi nigiri to salmon skin roll.

Photos by Randy T. Fujimori


Where: 1910 Ala Moana Blvd.

Call: 947-1000

Hours: Lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and from 11 a.m. Sunday and holidays; dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Fridays; Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m.; and from 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays

Prices: Lunch costs $14.95 Mondays through Fridays, and $16.95 on Saturdays and Sundays. Dinner is priced at $25.95 Mondays through Thursdays, and $26.95 on weekends and holidays. Those celebrating a birthday (on the actual day) will be treated to a free meal, with one paying adult. Present your I.D. before ordering.

Parking: Validated at Cantebury Place and at the Hale Koa Hotel

Since coming under new ownership and management a little more than a month ago, Todai has been infused with new energy and an improved menu.

Even the waitstaff members now all don bistro-like uniforms of crisp white shirts, bright yellow ties and black aprons.

"We call it the 'moment of truth,'" said assistant general manager Jeff Chen, who relocated from the Las Vegas Todai to manage this Waikiki location. "When a guest first walks in, we want to make an immediate impression. We want them to feel welcomed."

During lunch last week, waiters Jarret and Patrick provided a level of attention that one would expect to receive at a sit-down restaurant.

"We want to offer a la carte service but with a buffet convenience," Chen said. "We want to be a little more formal."

Also noticeably different is the food, which corporate chefs from California recently modified and refined.

"They came here two months ago and changed some of the recipes," said kitchen manager Masaaki Kai, a 25-year industry veteran who has worked at such restaurants as The Willows (prior to its re-opening several years ago) and at The Top of Waikiki. "The challenge is always to try to keep the menu fresh."

While the menu is still 80 percent Japanese, Chen said they've been trying to add special items to please the local palate.

"We've had kalua pig on the menu three times now and it has been a huge success each time ," he noted. "Our guests will give us feedback on certain items. And if they like it, we'll keep it on the line. But if they don't, we'll take it off and replace it with something else."

While the buffet is replete with homemade desserts, fresh salads and at least 15 different hot items, Chen likes to place an emphasis on the teppanyaki station.

"We're the only ones that have this for lunch and dinner," he said. "There's always a long lineup at this station."

Here, guests can choose from among such items as beef, calamari, salmon and baby sausages — items may vary — which will be cooked to order.

After receiving their teppan dish, they can then sidle a few feet to their right and pick up some shrimp and vegetable tempura before heading back to their tables.

"The consumption here is tremendous," Chen said, shaking his head. "I can't begin to tell you how much food we go through."

Leonarda Pascual adds the finishing touches to the assorted pastries.
An educated guess, though, would venture that seafood makes up a good portion of the total amount of food consumed on a daily basis.

The sushi counter alone goes through hundreds of pounds of unagi, hamachi, saba, salmon, ikura and tuna in any given day. And then in the evening, even more seafood, including snowcrab legs, is added to the lineup.

"After five years, the lines are still forming outside," Chen said. "Some people have even asked me if we're a club and what the cover charge is. To me, that's a compliment."