Tag Archives: all-you-can-eat

Mika Japanese Cuisine & Bar

A plate of sushi and rolls from

Another all-you-can-eat sushi post, another apology. Here’s the obligatory “I am sorry—this is a little gross, both in concept and in flavor. Get real sushi, please.” At this point, these posts (and especially their many apologies) are getting a little tired, but whaddya gonna do? I ate at Mika, so you’re going to hear about it—and I feel bad, so I’m going to apologize.

Now that I’ve let that out, we can proceed. Let’s.

I’m not sure where I read about Mika, but somehow, the restaurant made its way onto my to-call list. I never really got around to calling, though, until I recognized their name one night as I was walking home. I hadn’t known Mika was so close to my apartment, and I guess the realization sparked my half-interest, because I ended up calling the next day. No nuts in house, they told me—so I moved them to my to-try list, and for a while, that was that.

If you can imagine a person whose cravings are even more persistent and unreasonable than mine, then you can imagine my boyfriend, Sam. For weeks, he had Mika on the brain, and no matter how much I tried to talk him out of going, he remained resolute. Eventually, as the result of a bargain of sorts, Sam ended up with the privilege (read: burden) of choosing singlehandedly that night’s restaurant—and that was how we ended up at Mika.

To the point. When we went, it was storming, and Mika seemed to be having an off night. It’s a big restaurant with lots and lots of tables, but that night, no one was feeling it. The bar was empty, the tables (save for two) were empty, and there didn’t appear to be many employees on duty, either. Sam and I attributed the emptiness to the storm, but it was eery regardless—especially as we sat alone, in the dark, in the corner of the restaurant’s largest room.

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Like Yuka, Mika takes all-you-can-eat orders via paper form. For our first round of food, we ordered beef fried rice (pictured immediately above), fried calamari (pictured below), shrimp tempura, and, of course, a bunch of rolls and quite a few pieces of nigiri (some pictured at the top of this post).

First came the fried food. The fried rice—a huge portion, which we couldn’t help but read as an attempt to fill us up quickly—was all right, though I don’t think I’d order it again. The rice itself was fine, and the vegetables were inoffensive, but the beef was tough and tasted overwhelmingly of char. Still, we chewed our way through the entire serving, hoping there’d be better flavors to come.

The shrimp tempura was better, but not by much. Again, it was a big portion—four large pieces of shrimp—but the dish was certainly more manageable than the fried rice. Flavor-wise, the tempura was bland, and the dipping sauce didn’t do much to remedy that, but again: an inoffensive dish. We got it down without issue (and so avoided being charged extra), which was what really mattered.

The calamari, though, was the stand-out. To our surprise, it was actually good—good enough that we ended up ordering a second helping. Unlike pretty much everything else we’d ordered, the squid itself was flavorful, and its texture was perfect—neither mushy nor tough, but enjoyably chewy. The dipping sauce (basically sweet and sour) wasn’t my thing, but still. I liked the calamari. It was (by far) the best thing we ordered.

Calamari from

With regard to the sushi, I had mixed feelings. (Not that mixed—my feelings ranged from “ick” to “huh, okay.”) The salmon was grocery store–quality, and the ikura was worse, but the white tuna and fluke were both all right. Some pieces were watery and had obviously just been defrosted; others had passably normal textures. The rolls (one shrimp tempura, one salmon) were bearable—though both were made with lots of unripe avocado. But then we made the mistake of ordering one more, at which point things took a distinct turn for the worse.

Neither of us had ever tried a salmon skin roll, so perhaps they’re just inherently terrible. But I’ve since looked at a lot of photos, and I feel pretty confident in declaring that what we ate was not the norm. Honestly, it was disgusting—there’s very little else I can say. (An exchange that took place 30 seconds ago, for science: “Sam, what’d you think of the salmon skin roll?” His reply: “Covered in sugar-sauce, mushy shit inside, no crunch whatsoever. Gross.” Accurate.) It came with six pieces, and we sure as hell weren’t getting any further than the one we’d managed to finish together—so we had to come up with a plan, lest we end up with a surcharge. I’ll leave the rest of the story to your imaginations, though.

Anyway, Mika was all right, I guess. Their sushi was some of the worst I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant, but it wasn’t inedible or anything—and their entrees were tolerable, at least. I’m not in a rush to return, but it isn’t as if I’m orchestrating a boycott, either. (After all, our meal was really cheap, considering how much we ate.)

In all: Meh.

Find Mika at 150 Centre Street, between White and Walker.

[Apologies for the coloring of the photos in this post. Mika has some weird-ass spotlight-esque lighting, and there’s only so much I can fix in post. Forgive me.]

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Yuka Japanese Restaurant

Yuka's all-you-can-eat menu

Listen: I’m sorry. All-you-can-eat sushi is an abhorrent concept, and I’m actually sort of ashamed to be writing about it again. But a nut-free restaurant is a nut-free restaurant, and I don’t really have the luxury of being as choosy as I’d like.

Sushi’s tough, though. Bad sushi and those who swear by it make me irrationally angry, but I can’t shake this perverse compulsion I have to try out every nut-free Japanese restaurant I come across. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of these places are so obviously the exact type of thing that riles me up; I read about them, tell myself I’m not interested, and then find myself there within a month or two. The food’s a joke, but I don’t care. More often than not, I end up becoming a regular at these godforsaken places. It’s insane, and I have no idea what’s wrong with me.

…Let’s move on.

I first read about Yuka on this list of New York City restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat sushi deals—a list I was reading because, as I said, there’s something wrong with me. Yuka was one of the least expensive options on the list, so I gave them a call, and sure enough, they’re pretty much nut-free. There are no tree nuts or tree nut products in any of their dishes, but they do use peanuts in a roll or two of theirs. Fine by me—so on a particularly boring Sunday night, my boyfriend and I made the trek uptown.

The restaurant’s small and dark, with string lights and origami birds hanging from the ceiling. Tables are very close together—we ate about six inches from the couple next to us, both of whom kept (literally) overflowing their own glasses with canned Coke. In all, though, the atmosphere wasn’t particularly unpleasant; it was just…strange.

All-you-can-eat was indeed available—at $23.95 per person, which is a pretty good price. Your whole party doesn’t have to go for the all-you-can-eat deal, but be warned: If one person does, and the waitstaff catches the others sampling off the all-you-can-eater’s plate, all will be charged the full all-you-can-eat price. This rule—along with the others, which concern time limits and fees for leftover food—was printed on paper and secured under a layer of glass on our tabletop, along with a partial menu, a beer ad, and a sushi identification chart. Weird, but whatever.

Ordering is done with paper and pencil, which is straightforward enough (though certainly a little less fun than ordering via iPad). You can place as many orders as you’d like, but Yuka will charge you for the food you leave behind, so make sure your eyes and stomach are in-sync, lest you end up on the receiving end of a few contemptuous side-eyes. Overall, Yuka is pretty similar to most other all-you-can-eat places; there’s one real rule, and it’s “be reasonable.” If you can handle that, you’ll be fine.

Anyway, I guess I’ve avoided talking about the food itself for long enough. I hate to say this, but…it’s actually all right. It isn’t good, mind you, but it’s tolerable—and even enjoyable, if you’re prepared for what you’re getting yourself into. The sushi is better than Kikoo‘s, better than Marumi‘s, and generally just better than I’d expect of a) all-you-can-eat Japanese and b) the particularly unpleasant stretch of 2nd Avenue on which Yuka is located. And although the variety of fish isn’t all that wide, it isn’t oppressively narrow, either.

We ordered three rolls—salmon, tuna, and shrimp tempura—and a whole bunch of nigiri, too. When it comes to rolls, I like to keep it simple, especially when I’m eating at a restaurant I don’t (yet?) trust, and that isn’t just because I have food allergies. In my mind, it’s pretty tough to disgust-ify something as simple as a salmon roll, but a roll with eight different components? That’s a whole different animal—one I’m not willing to bet on.

When we started to eat, the first thing I noticed was the temperature of the rice. Unlike most sushi joints toward the worse end of the spectrum, Yuka’s rice isn’t even the slightest bit cold. In fact, it’s almost too warm, but when it comes to rice, I’ll take too-warm over too-cold any day. Most of the fish is an inoffensive room-temperature, but some pieces are inexplicably cold, which is very off-putting, to say the least. For the most part, though, temperatures are solid. Such a relief.

That first night, our rolls surprised me. Salmon and tuna were simple and pleasant, and shrimp tempura was refreshingly no-nonsense. I’ve gotten used to restaurants putting some crazy shit (ranch? RANCH?!) in their shrimp tempura rolls, but the folks at Yuka seem to know better. They use shrimp, avocado, rice, and seaweed—no cucumber, which was strange, but fine by me—and it’s actually not half bad. (If you’re trying to strategize, though, stay away from this one. It’s the most filling thing I’ve eaten at Yuka.)

Truthfully, the nigiri was even more surprising. The salmon was buttery; the squid was nice and firm, without bordering on tough; and the shrimp was sweet, though a bit boring. The whitefish and the yellowtail were both very cold and very bland, but I got over it. I was paying less than $25; what right did I really have to complain?

And that’s the thing: I expected very, very little of Yuka, so naturally, I ended up with a better meal than I’d prepared for. Perhaps that’s why I don’t find myself descending into an irrational fit of rage every time I walk through Yuka’s doors—well, that and the whole unlimited-food-for-cheap thing. For what it is, Yuka is actually pretty great. It isn’t high-end, and it’s full of misguided Upper East Siders, but you know what? It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s satisfying—and it’s way, way better than most other sushi at its price point.

Find Yuka at 1557 2nd Avenue, between 80th and 81st. It’s pretty far uptown, but that’s fine—you can use your train ride to mentally prepare yourself for the absurd amount of food you’re about to (try to) choke down.

[Sorry about the lack of photos in this post. I tried, but I couldn’t get a single decent picture of the food itself. It’s dark in there, and things move really quickly. I’ve failed you; try Yelp.]

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Kikoo Sushi: For when you’re feeling gluttonous

Shrimp tempura from Kikoo Sushi

I found out about Kikoo on Groupon, of all places. Whenever I’d search for sushi, Kikoo would be there, right at the top: “Up To 53% off All-You-Can-Eat Sushi, Sashimi, and Teriyaki with Drinks.” Honestly, all-you-can-eat sushi sounds like a terrible idea, so I was never really all that tempted to click the link. I guess it got to me, though, because—well, I just got back from my first Kikoo feast.

Before I bought the Groupon, I called Kikoo to ask about allergens, and after some initial confusion, the woman on the phone informed me that they are no tree nuts in anything on their menu, but that one roll—an avocado roll—comes topped with peanuts. I double-checked with the hostess when I arrived, too, and she confirmed what I was told on the phone, so I figured I was good to go.

When we sat down—I’d brought Sam along, as I wasn’t about to try to take on any sort of all-you-can-eat deal on my own—we were given an iPad with which to order. No need to flag down a server at Kikoo; you just throw what you want into a (digital) shopping cart of sorts and then hit the order button. You’re limited to 10 items at a time, but you can order as often as you’d like—and the food just keeps coming. And coming. And coming.

Now, let me make this clear: I think all-you-can-eat dining is inherently revolting. It’s gluttonous, greedy, and quintessentially American in that way that never fails to evoke a whole lot of shame—but it’s also kind of fun to be able to order whatever (and however much) you want without having to worry about over-spending. It’s nice to be able to sample widely, too, which was what I tried to do at Kikoo.

Three hand rolls from Kikoo Sushi

Unfortunately, nothing was all that great—but I didn’t really expect it to be, given that I was paying by the two-hour block. The rolls (both hand rolls—pictured above—and cut rolls) were probably the best thing I tried. Unlike the sushi and sashimi, the fish in the rolls wasn’t ice-cold—which did a lot for their cause—and unlike the fried dishes, they (obviously) weren’t super greasy, which was refreshing, at least. A few of the rolls, though, were filled with this sickeningly sweet rice; those were probably the worst thing I ate.

The salmon cut roll and the salmon hand roll were both decent, and the salmon-avocado hand roll was actually pretty good. I liked the shrimp tempura (pictured at the top of this post), too—but I’m pretty sure that’s at least partially due to the fact that I’ll probably enjoy any fried shrimp dish that’s put in front of me. The sweet potato tempura was a little worse (but still all right), and the soft-shell crab was awful. I wouldn’t have been surprised if our server had returned to tell us our crab was actually chicken, and that we’d received it because of a kitchen mix-up. But no, it was crab—and yes, it was bad.

An assortment of sushi and sashimi from Kikoo Sushi

As I mentioned, the sushi and sashimi (pictured immediately above) were both pretty much freezing—and the flavors weren’t all that, either. On top of that, the selection was pretty small: salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and snapper, when I was there. I guess it makes sense, though. Can’t really serve expensive fish in an all-you-can-eat setting. (But I can dream, can’t I?) Still, there was one problem I couldn’t quite get over: the all-around lack of flavor in all of the fish—and the soy sauce, too. Heartbreaking…and infuriating, when it came to the soy.

But for the most part, what Kikoo lacked in quality, it made up for in quantity, so I did end up leaving satisfied. Not so satisfied that I’m itching to go back, mind you—but pleasantly full nonetheless. (Who am I kidding? I’ll most likely be back within the next few months. You know, once I’ve forgotten just how cold the fish was. It was a safe meal, after all.)

If you, too, are in the mood to stuff your face with low-to-average-quality sushi, you can find Kikoo at 141 1st Avenue, between 8th and 9th. (And if you’re interested, there’s a Groupon available that’ll save you a decent amount of money.)

[Three or four months after I started eating at Kikoo—and believe me, I started—they added (cooked) salmon belly to the menu, and it’s awesome. I took down, like, four orders the other night. (I’m disgusting.) Anyway, I think I’ve figured out how best to approach Kikoo…for me, at least: some sashimi (salmon), a roll or two (…salmon), and a few—only a few—cooked dishes (tempura, katsu, salmon belly, whatever). I don’t know why their salmon sucks so much less than their other fish, but it does. And too many fried dishes make for a bad night indeed.]

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