Today was the last time I ever set foot into Todai in San Diego.
I am not sure if Todai and O’nami were related, but they had an identical offering of buffet seafood, including cooked seafood, rolls and sushi. Both are Japanese. Todai is Japanese for lighthouse; O’nami means wave. I always thought of the two interchangeably. Over perhaps a twenty year period, I used to love going to those places. They had them in San Diego (where I was today) under the I-805 interchange. There was one in the Carlsbad Mall a long time ago and then one in the Westfield Mall in Escondido. I have also been to the one in Honolulu.
Perhaps six months ago, O’nami in Escondido shut down, so I could no longer go there. Today, having business downtown in the afternoon, I decided to stop for lunch at Todai.
Years ago the food was great. There was a large sushi selection with at least 30 different varieties. The trays were full. The sushi was fresh and juicy and normal-sized. It was a truly rewarding all-you-can-eat experience for good seafood, and I never minded paying $17 for lunch or $29 for dinner per person. There used to be a line out the door at lunch. The place was packed from 11:30 to 2:30. I usually went early or late to avoid the crowds.
Today the experience was truly awful. First I walked in and noticed that the place was mostly empty at 12:15. It was hot inside and it smelled musty, like a load wet towels that I forgot in the washing machine after it was in there for three days. The sushi portions are about half-sized now. The rice was dry and the sushi, balanced on the rice morsels, was forlorn and shriveled. The mint leaves were wilted. Even the California Rolls were anemic. The trays were mostly empty, and there was a variety of perhaps only ten different kinds. Thank goodness I didn’t try the hot food. The only rewarding experience was the miso soup – it was fine. But how could you possibly mess up miso soup?
I have never before blogged about a restaurant, good or bad. But when I had paid my $20, for meal, tax and a 10% tip, I felt like I had just eaten at a fast-food place. That low-octane heavy stomach told me that this had been an altogether terrible experience. I knew I’d have to write a review.
Do they have a death wish? Or, better, let me rephrase that: They are already dead. A once vibrant restaurant that is almost empty at noon, with musty air, dirty carpet and walls, and truly awful food is in serious trouble. When that food is sushi (which by definition had better be fresh and inviting) it is doubly serious. There is no way such a restaurant can continue to remain in existence. The management must be completely out of touch. I predict that the place will be shut down by December 31, 2011. Read my lips.
Good bye, Todai. I will not be coming back.