(Update: 11/28/2012): I have had multiple readers tell me that food quality has significantly decreased in the past couple months. I can not independently verify this information; although, I do trust my readers informed opinions. I will be revisiting Makino in the next month and report back to you. If you have been there recently, PLEASE leave a comments with your experience, good or bad)
Until the other night, I had started to experience serious apathy about Japanese all-you-can-eat Sushi and Japanese seafood buffets, due to falling quality for the price. My Taiwanese and Japanese friends have refused to step foot inside Todai and Hokkaido. In Orange County, there have been many failed restaurants with this same format including Onami, Sumo
and a couple Todai franchises. When I received an invitation to attend the grand opening of Makino, I was skeptical about another Japanese all- you-can-eat seafood buffet; although, I must say that last night; I experienced the gold standard for this restaurant genre at “Makino – Sushi and Seafood Buffet.” The original Makino restaurant started in the buffet jungle of Las Vegas, which is a place where a buffet better be on its A-Game to survive, much less thrive. Chef Makino learned how to efficiently operate in this competitive environment by learning that quality ingredients and preparation are the secret X-Factors for sushi and seafood buffets.
I will pose the question, what will make Makino successful in Orange County, home of many failed restaurants of the same format? Here are my observations:
I think that Japanese born Owner/Head Chef, Kuku Makino is the “Grand Father of Japanese Buffets” as he opened one of the first Japanese Sushi and Seafood Buffets in 1987, Todai. Since then, Todai has spun off into its own entity through franchises and this restaurant genre has exploded to all parts of the country. In addition to his experience with this restaurant format, his experience in Las Vegas has taught him lessons on how to make this type of operation successful in a competitive environment. My initial impression is that the key differentiator of this restaurant is simple, QUALITY! Quality includes quality ingredients, quality culinary technique, quality chefs. Aside from the food, I enjoyed the high-end ambiance and the professional wait staff. I think Makino will soon dominate the scene as a result of its’ fresh and high quality food selections.
Enough of me yammering on about my new affair with this new restaurant, let’s talk about the food! Get ready for some food porn folks, I have included a centerfolds worth of food images. Let me walk you through the format of the buffet and highlight some of my favorite dishes. The buffet was separated into four main sections: Sushi /Cold Seafood; Hot Dishes; Salads; and Deserts.
There was a very impressive selection of sushi from traditional cut rolls to American influenced fusion rolls, as well as traditional Nigiri sushi and creative Nigiri creations. I counted at least twelve types of sushi on the cold table at all times. There was a quick rotation of new sushi creations, so each time I got up for second and third helpings, I found something new. Some of my favorite sushi at the cold buffet included a spicy Toro Nigiri, a fresh octopus with onion crunchies and a spicy cream sauce, California roll with rep snapper and eggs, Uni, stuffed jalapeno and a salmon skin hand roll. Other items at the cold buffet included an elegant bowl containing 5 types of chopped fresh fish. There also were extremely fresh oysters that had a slight crunch and pleasantly fresh ocean brine. There was also a nice selection of premium snow crab legs, which were plump, juicy and sweet. Finally there was one of my favorites, which I learned from my trip to New Orleans, deep fried shrimp heads…..delicious and crunchy.
Traditional Japanese Soups: Udon, Syoyu and Ramen: I did not try these soups although they were prepared fresh to order.Some of the better hot dishes I tried included the baked mussels, BBQ ribs, breaded calamari cutlets, shrimp skewers, baked salmon, and tempura. Aside from an impressive collection of fish, chicken and hot Japanese noodle dishes there was something here special, a whole loaf of prime rib! The rib roast was baked to a perfect medium rare and carved to order. It was very juicy, tender and had a wonderful natural beef flavor.
There was a wide selection of cold vegetables, salads, seaweed salad, kimchee and noodle salads. This was a very impressive selection of authentic Japanese cold salads. I would encourage anyone who is not familiar with some of the dishes, like seaweed salad, to try it at least once because the quality is quite delicious.
The crown jewel of the dessert buffet was the chocolate and caramel fountains with pineapple strawberries and bananas for dipping. There was also a selection of cakes, fresh fruit and tarts, sweet puddings and crème brule.
My Final Thoughts
We thoroughly enjoyed the buffet and like I said, I went back for thirds and fourths. For you, my readers I performed this service at the expense of my waistline, because you are worth it. I have a couple words for the remaining Todai franchises and Hokkaido in Newport Beach, “Watch your back and say good-bye to your customer base.” I consider myself a near aficionado when it comes to buffets and tend to be very harsh on my assessments. Based on my initial impressions of Makino, I am calling it the best new buffet in Orange County and the best Japanese Sushi and Seafood Buffet in Southern California…perhaps more. I think this buffet will become very successful based on my first visit. I will be revisiting this restaurant in a couple of months to ensure their quality remains high and I will be reporting back to you my readers if anything changes. For now, congratulations are the order of the day to Chef Makino! Please see the Photo gallery (scroll down below)!!!
Makino Sushi and Seafood Buffet1818 Main Street, Irvine Ca 92614 (located near John Wayne- MacArthur/Main) www.makinolasvegas.com (they are so new, they are still using their Vegas website)
Prices from their Website