Attacking the Todai Sushi Buffet With Competitive Eating Masters
If you read this site often, you know I have fairly strict rules about price. I feel in my heart that lunch should not cost a person more than $10. But I have equally strong feelings about buffets, and when it comes to something like the concept of all-u-can-eat, well… I can’t help but think that rules were meant to be broken. I’ll admit up front I don’t break the rule too often for Indian buffets (there are good Indian buffets in Midtown for $10 to $11… so why spend $17?) but when it comes to Asian buffets, all bets are off. So, two years ago this month I made a price exception and hit up the Todai buffet on 32nd btw. Madison+5th. I thought it was just ok, and definitely not as good as when it was Minado (its previous buffet incarnation, before being bought out by the big buffet chain.)
Since that time the price has gone up to $18.95, not completely shocking for a sushi buffet, but waaaay out of the Midtown Lunch price range (even for a buffet lover like me.) But when I got an email invite to buffet it up with competitve eater (and profiled Midtown Lunch’er) Crazy Legs Conti and a few of his competitive eating buddies, how could I say no!?!
The play by play of our meal, their pearls of wisdom, and a photo of every plate put down by Crazy Legs… all after the jump.
It’s no secret that my dream-my “goal in life” if you will-is to strike fear in the heart of every buffet owner whose establishment I step into. I even created a “Guide to Beating the All You Can Eat Chinese Buffet”; a life’s work (if you will) that consists of my rules for attacking a buffet. But, truth be told, I am a fat man… but not *that* fat. And I’m short. And while I can eat like a champ, I’m not an imposing figure. What I’m saying is, no buffet owner is going to be afraid of losing his business after one of my visits.
These guys? Now that’s a different story…
First sign I knew I was about to eat with professionals? The original meeting time was set for 1:30pm… until Beautiful Brian set us all straight. “The place fills up with too many people by that time. We should get there for the opening bell.” Awesome. 11:45 it is. (We planned to meet at 11:30, just to be safe.)
Just walking in to the place with Brian, Nate and Crazy Legs made me feel like a champ. It was like being part of some secret Las Vegas card counting team. As we were being lead to the table, all I could think was “this place has no idea what’s about to hit them.”
I was glad to see that the quality of the food had increased with the price. It was more expensive than 2 years ago, but the sushi was much better- borderline very good. Getting there early ensured that we had the pick of all the best stuff. And they didn’t do the classic sushi buffet trick of overloading each piece with rice. In fact, the ratio of fish to rice was better than many sit down restaurants where you are paying by the piece. I have to say, I was kind of impressed. They even had sea urchin! Alot of the hot food looked great too, so for my first “feeler” plate I did the classic “take a small bit of everything that looks good.” I did a good job on staying away from the sushi rolls, and focusing my seafood eating on the piece of sushi (which had less rice.)
When you are a mere mortal, portion control is very important. You don’t want to load up on any one item that may or may not be good, because then you may end up wasting valuable space in your stomach on stuff that isn’t as tasty. For competitive eaters, with bottomless stomachs, fear of getting full is not really an issue.
Nasty Nate Biller’s strategy was pretty simple. Start from the left side of the buffet, load your plate up, and then work your way down the line, trip by trip, plate by plate. He only eats 1 meal a day (sometimes 1 meal every two days) so this is it for him. “Getting full” off the wrong items isn’t really a concern. His first plate was all sushi from the far left hand side of the buffet.
Crazy Legs Conti attacked the buffet from a different mind set. Like me, he does a walk-through before taking any food, just to survey the scene. See what’s going on… and develop a plan of action. He also liked to group his plates into categories. Here they are, in chronological order:
Plate 1: Crazy legs called this “Breakfast”. He also said he doesn’t like going immediately for the big money items… and yet his first plate was chock full of them. Stuffed clams, mussels, and two servings of tuna tartare (strong!).
Plate 2: Then he dippes his toe in on the sushi side…
Plate 3: And back again… for one of every single sushi roll.
Plate 4: My favorite quote of the day… as we were surveying the buffet at the beginning “Crazy Legs” spotted a couple of whole fish, which usually get cut up into pieces by the buffet-goers. His remark “Oooh. Whole fish. We’ll definitely have to get one of those.” Unfortunately, by the time he made it back to that part of the buffet, the fish had already been torn into, and he had to settle for just the tail portion. I really wanted one of his plates to have an entire fish on it. Oh well… you do what you can.
Plate 5: The Best-Of plate. Or what I like to call “my second plate.” My buffet usually breaks down like this. First plate is the feeler plate (little bits of everything that looks good), second plate is a best of plate. Third plate (usually 1/3 to 1/2 full) is those last few things I just can’t resist stuffing myself with (this plate often will include one last chicken wing and one last onion ring.) Crazy Legs’ “best of” plate was Plate #5. Clearly I have a lot to learn.
Plate 6: The palate cleansing “salad plate.” I usually don’t waste any of my stomach space on salad, but it’s hard to criticize a guy who ate 3 times as much as I did.
Plate 7: At this point Crazy Legs really had to get back to work, but unable to complete the meal without a little bit of dessert… he had one piece of jello. It may have been more for comedy than anything, but it still resonated with me on a very serious level. I don’t know why, but I must end every buffet trip with a little bit of jello.
Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking… actually that’s not true. I know what the fatso/buffet king crowd is thinking. “I expected him to eat more.” Well, in fairness to Crazy Legs, he had to get back to work- and technically their “Major League Eating contracts disallow ‘eating for time, speed, or quantity’ in unsanctioned conditions.” So for these guys, it was just a casual lunch among friends… and I’m pretty sure none of them left completely stuffed. I on the other hand, had to be rolled home.
Todai, 6 E. 32nd St. (btw. Madison+5th), 212-725-1333
One final note: The buffet is $18.95 Monday through Thursday. On Fridays the price goes up to $21.95. Also, Todai is about to change their name to Ichi Umi for some unknown reason. The lady at the front said that it would be the same food, same price, and same owners… just a different name. So don’t get confused when they put the new signs up.