I broke the first rule of buffet eating when I pulled into the parking lot of Tokyo Hibachi & Sushi Buffet one afternoon last week. My stomach was growling and I was starving. A big no-no.
RULE #1: Don't Go To A Buffet On An Empty Stomach
This seems counterintuitive. It's not. When you're starving you'll make poor food choices and wind up stuffed before you've reached your eating potential.
This was my first time in Tokyo but I'd heard it was really good. It always amazes me how these places can stay in business putting out what seems like endless trays of food and platters of sushi. The price was the first thing I noticed on my way in: $10.99 for lunch. It seemed to be a bargain for a buffet specializing in sushi.
Before committing to a table I asked if I could take a quick look-see.
RULE #2: Do A Scouting Expedition (Part 1)
A buffet offers a rare chance to see what you're getting to eat before you have to eat it. In most restaurants you order blindly and take your chances on what comes out. At a buffet you can see if it's going to be worth it before buying.
There was a good selection of sushi, a hibachi section and various hot foods that all looked interesting and worth exploring further.
RULE #3: Order and Drink Only Water
The hostess seats me and my waitress appears instantly. She asks me what I'd like to drink and I respond unflinchingly. Water. I'm not here to spend money on fancy filler soft drinks or ice tea loaded with appetite suppressing caffeine. I'm here to eat. And to eat a lot. Water helps lubricate the digestive tract and keep everything moving along. I also anticipate a lot of sodium so the water will counteract that.
RULE #4: Do A Scouting Expedition (Part 2)
The scouting doesn't end after you've committed to stay. You must always do a walk around and plan your meal. Otherwise you may load your plate up not realizing that a favorite entree is just around the corner. You'll have to wait for your next plate and possibly be too full to enjoy the food that should have filled your plate in the first place. Also, don't be the person who navigates the buffet with two plates. Never acceptable.
On my scouting expedition I do a more in-depth look. I'm going to be loading up on sushi and trying some rolls. Also, I add some beef and sesame chicken to my plate. In direct violation of RULE #5 I add a scoop of hibachi rice and noodles.
RULE #5: Don't Eat Fillers
Rice. Noodles. Rolls. Fried stuff. They are to be consumed in limited quantities while at a buffett. The entire purpose is to eat as much quality stuff as possible without feeling sick. The above mentioned items don't contribute to this goal. Be wary of rolls as they contain a lot of rice and will leave you feeling full long before you should be. This leads to drowsiness and sleep is the last thing you need to be doing after a trip to the buffett. Focus on the the more expensive meats and aim to get your money's worth.
When I arrive at my table I get a closer look at the food. The avocado is looking a little rough around the edges. I was excited about the white tuna sushi pieces (my favorite) but noticed the pieces didn't shine like extremely fresh pieces do. I remind myself that I'm in a buffet and that the price was extremely reasonable. I take a bite. It's decent.
The first plate is put away quickly. I find that I'm really loving the wet texture of the hibachi rice and the flavor of the hibachi noodles. The voice in my head is crying out to steer away and stockpile the various chickens, meats and fish. I resist logic and pile the stomach-filling carbs high on my plate. This will happen when you go to a buffet hungry. See RULE # 1.
The rest of my stay at Tokyo is a fork shoveling haze. The carbohydrates go straight to my head and cloud my senses. Drowsiness creeps up around the edges.
I ask for my check and am reminded of a high school buffet expedition. I was one of the last to throw in my money and was tasked with handling the tip. This was before I had a complete understanding of how the whole tip thing worked. There were a lot of us. Maybe 10 guys and we ate a lot of food. I asked how much to leave for tip and someone said that $3 was good. Looking back now it clearly wasn't. I paid our waiter and after he took the bill I, left the three bucks on the table. Barely outside and the waiter tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to face him. He held the 3 singles up to my face and ripped them all in half. They fluttered to the sidewalk.
The waiter escorted his angry face back inside, and I learned a valuable lesson.
RULE # 6 Leave A Good Tip
Ok, they're not really serving you. But they are bringing you drinks and hauling away your pile of dirty dishes. My bill at Tokyo was $10.99 plus tax. I left $3 on top of that. I could have left $2 and still hovered around the 18% mark. But I'm sure that my waitress lives off the steady accumulation of dollar bills and the extra dollar that I wouldn't notice, she probably would. Plus, I had some buffet karma to pay off.
I planned on writing this as soon as I got home. Instead I fell asleep on the couch. RULE #5 will get you every time.