The Birthday Girl Brenda, with husband Darryl, and your blogger.
I ATTACK an eat-all-you-can buffet with the arsenal of skills built from years and years of packing my luggage. If Louis Vuitton parlayed the mastery of this art – I read somewhere that he used to pack luggage for French aristocracy – into one of the most recognized luxury brands in the world, I at least would like to make use of it in maximizing the potentials of a sumptuous international spread.
It has to be paced, never rushed. It has to cover all the basic needs. And everything has to fit into only one check-in and one carry-on.
Welcome to TODAI at the Marina Bay Sands!
TODAI at the Marina Bay Sands, right at its very entrance, told me that I had to muster all the courage I had to stuff myself up. Touted as an international seafood and sushi buffet restaurant at its opening in March 2011, TODAI has come to establish itself as one of Singapore’s “upscale” – their word, not mine – “all you care to eat” buffet restaurants on the island. Eleven rounds of their spread – rather smallish portions, not really plates running over – and I wouldn’t argue with either of those quotable quotes.
I snapped this photo on 19 March 2011, vowing to eat at the place the soonest possible time. It took all of 10 months and it was so worth the wait!
I was again fashionably late. But my friends were so understanding, gamely flashing their best smiles for the first group shot.
"Chicago" ... I snapped this shot because this city happens to be my favorite in the States. In TODAI, they have VIP rooms. Apparently, Chicago is "V. VIP". That's VERY VIP!
The Sushi & Roll section. This photo doesn't do justice to just how extensive the spread is!
Ready to attack the buffet! (Photo by Darryl)
The common pitfall of most buffet restaurants is the attempt to mask substandard culinary offerings with the sheer number they would roll out in their spread. I surveyed TODAI’s offerings a couple of times – from end to end – before zeroing in on what I personally would consider as the determinant of the place’s quality. I wanted to start with a particular cold noodle dish in mind. I saw it unassumingly set up in a small corner – the zaru soba, buckwheat noodles served chilled with a dipping sauce.
I fixed myself a bowl by taking one mound of the noodles – the last one at the spread at the time so even if I wanted more… – topping it with a little of the grated daikon radish, lots of chopped spring onions, and a heap of crushed seasoned seaweed (nori). I ladled onto it a little of the dipping sauce and excitedly went back to my table. I dug my chopsticks in and enthusiastically, albeit quietly, slurped. I closed my eyes for a second and got reminded of that time I got to spend in Japan. I tasted the dried kelp and the fermented dried fish that infused the dipping sauce. I got the arrest of the robust roasted goodness of seaweed. I chewed on the buckwheat noodles, still with a little give to them. Before I opened my eyes, I told myself I wouldn’t be surprised if I would look up to a surrounding filled with cherry blossoms. The dipping sauce alone, if it was watered down, wouldn’t be able to conjure up that image.
My first bowl of zaru soba
I found the perfect dish to start my meal with, punctuate every few couple of rounds with, and close it. I did intend to finish the evening with one more bowl of soba – yes, after I would’ve had dessert.
Round two – a plate of sushi (crabstick, eel), steamed mussels on the half shell, and poached shrimps. The mussels tasted fresh in spite of obviously being shipped from some far-flung place like Australia, but the real winner on this plate was the shrimps. The head burst with roe so sweet and so juicy I kept asking if there was steamed Japanese rice to stain with it.
Round Two – A plate of sushi
A squeeze of lemon brightens up the seafood flavors!
Pickled ginger tempers any strong fishy taste, if any.
Round three – a bigger bowl of the zaru soba.
Round Three - A bigger serving of the soba!
Something about thoughts of snow and making things "snow-capped" made me put a dollop of grated daikon radish on the noodles.
Round four – tuna sashimi, some white fish sashimi, more poached shrimps, and snow crab claws. The snow crab claws are a priced delicacy, the “deadly” fishing of which being the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary. I would often stare at crab claws at the Japanese grocery at the basement of Takashimaya and marvel at their size – and their price. I have always been too cheap to actually buy. The claws were packed with sweet, juicy flesh that they can claw on me anytime they want to. Or me on them.
Round Four – Snow Crab claws, sashimi, and poached shrimps!
The sashimi was fresh, obviously not a cheap cut.
These seem lean, but you'll be surprised with the meat they're packing!
The claws were intimidating at first. I got by with a little help from my friends!
eNTeNG lorded it over the claws! Hahaha!
Round five – fresh live oysters on the half shell and steamed snails. I would’ve wanted more of the oysters but they would only serve two at a time. But you could always go back as many times as you want. The snails were uncharacteristically huge and daunting, enough to elicit a loud, denouncing “eww!!!” from those standing behind me. I looked at them with a smile, and holding on to the two biggest snails from the pile, calmly said, “You mean escargot?”
Round Five – Oysters & Snails!
These oysters were fresh. And snails, daunting in their size, were so sweet!
Look at how huge the snail is!
Round six – Barbecued Korean beef short ribs and Prawns Au Gratin. Yummy, safe, delicious, not exotic at all.
Round Six - Korean Beef Short Ribs & Prawns Au Gratin
Round seven – Caesar salad and Seafood Ceviche. The salad attempts to be authentic, I could taste it in the dressing. I particularly loved the fact that the hearts of Romaine were left torn into big pieces. The ceviche is a mélange of the cold seafood station, dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. I fell in love with the baby octopus halves thrown in for good measure.
Round Seven – Caesar Salad & Seafood Ceviche
That has got to be the sweetest mussels!
Too bad I wasn't able to take a good shot of the half of an octopus that was in this pile.
Round eight – another big bowl of the zaru soba.
Round Eight – Soba again!!!
Round nine – a much bigger bowl of the zaru soba, along with a cup each of the cream of mushroom soup and the abalone congee.
Round Nine – A much bigger bowl, yet again.
Round ten – Korean strawberries and Chocolate Ice Cream. The former were sweet, the latter velvety smooth and creamy.
Round Ten – Korean Strawberries & Chocolate Ice Cream
Korean strawberries are the sweetest. This chocolate ice cream, the smoothest.
Round eleven – the final bowl of the zaru soba.
Round Eleven – The perfect bowl to cap the night off!
I’ve been meaning to pay TODAI a visit. But I guess something so good can be worth all the wait. And this dinner, being one organized on the fly in honor of the birthday of one of my best friends, couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
I spoke about the skills I came armed with whenever I would attack buffets. And I mentioned about the limit to one check-in and one carry-on. But whenever I would find my luggage bursting at the seams – as it has always been the case lately – I wouldn’t be ashamed to reach for the zipper to release the expandable portion. Which to me, at that night at TODAI, meant loosening my belt by at least a hole down.
Jossel & Vel, the Birthday Girl, Loradel, and eNTeNG
We asked Darryl & Brenda to "table hop" ... Parang kasal lang (As if it was a wedding). Hahaha!
Hey, hey, the gang's (almost) all here!
Vuma-Vanity Fair... Happy Birthday!!!
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