Let me start by saying that I love sushi. I’ve eaten sushi from Hawaii to Amsterdam and everywhere in between. If you read my blog you already know that I’ve reviewed some of my local favorites here in Naperville. But let’s face it, sushi tends to be a pretty expensive culinary adventure regardless of whether its for lunch or dinner. At the same time, nobody wants to show up for steeply discounted sushi in a tiny hole-in-the-wall strip mall space.
Years ago, I struck gold while spending quite a bit of time in Los Angeles in discovering a sushi extravaganza called The Sushi Factory. The offerings were extensive, the quality was good, it was all-you-could-eat and it was constantly being freshly prepared by an iron chef-worthy collection of sushi chefs working in the round in the middle of the restaurant. Every time I returned to the Midwest, I lamented that it was back to “take-out-a-second-mortgage” sushi.
So you could imagine my excitement when I noticed an entire strip mall space along Route 59 being converted into a single restaurant space that read “Coming Soon… Nagoya Sushi and Japanese Buffet. After a busy couple of months, Nagoya had opened its doors and though we had yet to walk through the doors, some friends had gone there and offered us mixed review that veered more toward the negative than the positive. Yet, I had to see for myself.
Saturday night was just right for our trip to Nagoya. I first want to publicly thank my wife for indulging my sushi obsession as it is far from her favorite. We met up with another family and headed in early to beat the crowds, which we did. Tip number one, get there before 6:00 PM because the masses to start flooding in around 6:15 PM.
I was excited as I glanced over and the long spread of sushi, hot dishes, seafood, desserts and yes a full ice cream bar featuring more than 10 flavors. This was also our first introduction to Nagoya service, which still has quite a few problems to be worked out. We were seated in the very back room of the restaurant though there were plenty of tables in the main part of the restaurant which had flat screen TVs to keep track of the college basketball tournaments. Further there were quite a few windows and if I notice it is freezing then that means its sub-zero for everyone else as I’m generally very warm-natured. We asked to sit in the main area and despite the the hostesses displeased looks we managed to relocate to a large table in the main area.
Our server arrived to take our drink order and I was in the mood for a Japanese beer. I asked him what types of beer they had and he replied that they have a wide variety of beer, yet couldn’t remember which ones. I waited a few awkward seconds as he stood there in silence and then asked if they had a drink menu and after a moment of hesitation, he said in almost a surprised voice that they did and he would go get one. The moment was actually kind of humorous and I assumed he was fairly new.
We approached the buffet and began at a series of cold Asian salads, including a variety of chilled octopus and squid as well as a large stack of freshly shucked oysters on a bed of ice. While I love oysters, raw oysters are not an item that I would typically approach on a comparatively low cost buffet. Nonetheless, I gave one a try and it actually tasted quite fresh and tasty. I tried a couple more and all were equally fresh, except for one that tasted slightly funny and brought me back to earth that wasn’t in the French Quarter or at Elliot’s Oyster House in Seattle.
I by-passed the hot offerings of the usual fried suspects and Asian dishes including spare-ribs, sesame chicken, tempura and more. As I neared the sushi line, one item caught my eye which was a lobster roll which reminded me of one my favorite Lobster Dynamite rolls at Kiku. However, these roll were large, deep fried like an egg roll and filled with mostly fake lobster with what appeared to be a few tiny bits of real lobster along the way. Nonetheless, they were pretty tasty though somewhat greasy.
Alas, I arrived at the sushi as chefs were frantically carving up whole salmon and assembling a variety of rolls. There was a nice balance of rolls, sushi and sashimi. I selected a couple of pieces of rainbow roll, spicy salmon rolls, crunch rolls and something I had never had before, spicy crawfish rolls. As for sushi, they had tuna, salmon, white fish, mackerel, shrimp, eel and the egg. Sashimi included red snapper, tuna and salmon. Finally, there were a couple of marinated sashimi incorporating tuna and one other fish I couldn’t determine. At the end, there was open access to spicy mayo, wasabi and sauces. The pickled ginger was the sweetest and tastiest I think I’ve ever had. One constructive criticism I have is it seems there is an excessive overuse of artificial crab meat across their line of sushi rolls which often overwhelms the much smaller quantities of actual fish.
All in all, the sushi offerings were fresh tasting and enjoyable. I must admit I was a bit surprised and enjoyed the open access to such a variety. For the price, Nagoya is definitely a good fix for sushi lovers. At the same time, one cannot expect to have the highest quality you would find at other non-buffet sushi bars. Even more, because they are preparing so quickly, my first piece of salmon was actually slightly warm which doesn’t make for the most refreshing piece of sushi. Nonetheless, I will definitely go back knowing it is fresh and won’t cost me $50 to get my sushi fix.
There is a hibachi chef at the end which I didn’t call upon, but my wife did and the quality seemed somewhat comparable to what you might find sitting at a hibachi table minus the irresistible theatrics.
The dessert bar seemed almost as long as the entree line consisting of fresh fruit, cakes, cheesecakes and other assorted confections. You won’t be able to miss the tiny slice of an ice cream parlor at the end where servers scoop up a selection of more than 10 hand dipped ice creams. In all, the desserts are what you might expect in terms of quality for a large moderately priced buffet but nothing of “otherworldly” delicious quality.
I won’t go too deeply into what happened when we attempted to split the bill and apply a 10% off coupon we clipped from the newspaper, but needless to say it was a horribly frustrating 30 minutes in which nobody associated with the restaurant wanted to take care of the situation. Just have them start with separate bills and everything should be okay.
CONCLUSION: If you go to Nagoya, approach it for what it is… a gigantic Asian buffet extravaganza full of goodness, but not the greatness you would expect to find at a higher end sushi bar, like Kiku, or Asian restaurant, such as Joy Yee Noodles. Let’s face it, most any buffet is a trade-off of “depth” of quality for “breadth” of offering so leave your highest foodie expectations at home and have a good time exploring the vast variety of decent quality. As for the service, I hope the owners and management of Nagoya will read this and work on it. As for you, don’t expect much in the line of service and you won’t be disappointed. I will definitely go back, especially for the lunch price of $11.95 (Dinner is $19.95).
To learn more or to get all the information you need, visit Nagoya’s website here.