Due to my very busy schedule, I wasn't able to organize our softball year-ender before the onset of Winter. Yes, I realize that the cold weather and overall dreary surroundings was ironic for a softball party. However, better late than never right? Also, what a great excuse to get a bunch of people together for eats? And generally, a popular choice for a big group would be the dreaded all-u-can-eat. Hey, it does serve a purpose... There is a controlled cost, no one would go away hungry and generally, AYCE joints can accommodate big parties. The place we decided on was Choon Ha Choo Dong. Yes, quite a mouthful and really hard to spot from a moving car. No, the restaurant itself is quite visible with "Korean Japanese Restaurant" prominent on its front signage. The actual name is in little itty bitty letters above the entrance. There was a time when we used to frequent this place when it used to be Seoul House. We wondered how the transformation into AYCE Japanese and Korean food would turn out. A Shabusen or Kyo clone? We'd have to see...
So the first thing to arrive (and no it wasn't Miss Y, because she is afflicted with "Lateinitis") was the Korean BBQ Meats consisting of chicken, beef and spicy pork. These were actually not bad. The chicken was in large pieces and grilled up nicely being tender and full-flavoured. The beef was sliced relatively thick where it retained some moisture so it wasn't dry. The spicy pork did have a decent kick, but was a big gloppy when grilled due to the good amount of marinade. Then everything arrived at a furious pace. I gave the Gomae a try first and it was actually okay considering the fact the spinach was tender, yet not mushy. The sesame dressing was predictably sweet, but they were conservative with it. The Agedashi Tofu was predictable as in there was none of the usual condiments other than a dusting of green onion. It was crispy though and there wasn't too much sauce. The Ebi Sunomono was graced with a good-sized cold-water shrimp. However, the vermicelli was weird in texture, almost plasticky. It was al dente though while the vinegar was quite balanced with sugar. The Fried Gyozas were okay with a crunchy golden exterior giving way to moist ground pork and greens.
Unlike some other lunch AYCE Japanese joints, there was unlimited Sashimi available. However, it was very average-to-poor. The tuna was overly mushy and not really all that tasty, while the salmon was acceptable in texture and taste. Yet, it was cut very poorly along the grain and didn't look that appetizing. We also ordered some rolls such as the Kappa (not my choice!), Spicy Tuna, California, Dynamite and BC Rolls. They were not bad since they were prepared somewhat carefully. The rice was on the drier side and not really all that flavourful, but in the end, it was more than acceptable. The BC Roll could've benefited from less salmon meat. Not surprisingly, the Gyozas were more like korean dumplings (mandoo) since there was an inordinate amount of greens (mostly chives) mixed in with the pork. There was nothing wrong with these pan-fried mandoos, they just weren't gyozas. Arriving piping hot and seemingly on steriods, the Chicken Karaage consisted of over-sized drumettes and centre wing portions. They were fried really crispy and were super moist on the inside. This was probably due to the brining, which made the whole thing far too salty.
Also in a relatively big portion, the Tonakatsu was pretty good with a crisp exterior while the meat was relatively tender. This was probably aided by the fact it was a whole pork cutlet rather than a hacked up puny one (like most other AYCE places). We liked how there wasn't too much sauce either. The Chicken and Beef Teriyaki were pretty typical being over-sauced. Therefore, both of them were too sweet and wet, especially the beef. At the very least, the meat was moist and not overcooked. However, the chicken was a bit too crispy on the outside. They decided to plate the Fried Smelt and Tempura together which thoroughly confused some people as they couldn't figure out what the long vegetable on top was... LOL... I guess it didn't help that they battered the heck out of the smelt where we could not determine what it was. It was crispy though and seasoned properly. As for the tempura, it was okay being crispy and not too greasy. I got an order of the Chicken Udon for my son because I personally would never eat it at an AYCE because it's a filler!!! It was so-so because the soup was cloudy and strange-tasting while the chicken was quite hard and dry.
So yes, I often do a lot of complaining when I eat at a Japanese AYCE. But, to be reasonable, expectations must be consistent with the product. Hence, I do believe that Choon Ha Choo Dong is actually decent for a Korean-Japanese AYCE. If I had to compare it to Shabusen and/or Kyo, it holds its own and if we factor in the price and the good service we received, it comes out ahead.
- Attentive service
- Despite some duds, the food is acceptable
- Sashimi was kinda wrong
- More Korean than Japanese (if that matters to you)