Japan House: Overabundance Does Not a Good Meal Make
I really wanted to like Japan House. Upon first glance, I was in love. The staff is incredibly friendly, the dining area is modern, and the spread looks vast and promising. Because of all the above, it's difficult for me to write what I'm about to write.
Located off of 75 in Plano, Japan House is a sushi buffet in the same vein as Tokyo One or Osaka, comparable in both price and concept. At $15.99 for lunch and $26.99 for dinner, my best friend, Cathy and I decided to visit during the afternoon to take advantage of the lunch price tag.
Visiting during lunch hours for lunch prices, I was worried that the variety offered would be lacking. Japan House, however, offered an abundant array of options. In fact, bringing along someone as resourceful as Cathy proved to be an efficient solution to tackling all that the buffet had to offer. After a quick walk-through, we began dissecting the restaurant one section at a time. With stations for hot foods, sashimi, sushi rolls, salads, soup station, fruit, dessert, and hibachi, there was a lot of navigating to be done.
As the dobin mushi came highly recommended by the restaurant manager, we decided to start with the soup. Dobin mushi is a Japanese soup served in earthenware teapots. The base of the soup is made with dashi, and while ingredients can vary, Japan House's version contains seafood. The quaint presentation was ambitious for a lunch buffet, but what came out of the teapot was less impressive. The soup was disappointingly bland, and tasted of lukewarm tap water. There was a faint hint of seafood in the broth, but not enough to disguise the tap water taste. It's a bad sign to start off a meal with a restaurant's signature dish and have it be as unflattering as the dobin mushi turned out to be.
The next dish we sampled, chawan mushi, or Japanese egg custard, came out just as bland as the ill-fated soup. While the steamed egg custard's consistency was spot-on, the dish lacked any seasoning. The result tasted like a cup of steamed egg white. Just as we started to worry about an impending trend of blandness, a spike of much needed flavor hit our palates. With its bright red broth, earthy mushrooms, and pieces of seafood, the spicy tom yum scored big points. Too bad none of the other soups from the soup station fared as well. We were excited about having bowls of ramen and udon made to order, but the broth for both fared as poorly as the dobin mushi. The udon could have used more dashi, while the ramen could have used something that is customarily expected with ramen broth, richness.
Not wanting to let our hot foods go cold, we dove into our plate of hot food items next. On the plate was a smorgasbord of tempura, dumpling, shu mai, shrimp fried rice, vegetarian egg rolls, grilled beef, grilled salmon, puff pastry filled salmon, and chicken teriyaki. Sadly, nothing on this monstrous plate of food was very good. The salmon puff pastry, about which I was really excited, was overpowered by an infusion of dill. (Another salmon dish - - marinated salmon sashimi salad - - suffered the same dill overkill.) The grilled beef, chicken, and salmon all were tough and rubbery. While this could be blamed on the buffet's heat lamps, by the looks and taste of everything, it was obvious that the problems occurred from the cooking process. For example, the dumplings and shu mai sat under the very same heat lamps, yet when I bit into both, they were both cold, as if they hadn't been cooked enough. To be fair, I returned to the buffet line to get a new batch of dumplings and shu mai, just to make sure it wasn't my fault that I had let them sit on my table for too long. However, the new batch, which I ate immediately, was icy cold, as well.
As for the other hot items, the shrimp fried rice lacked salt, following suit in the restaurant's seasoning troubles. Vegetable spring rolls lacked any filling whatsoever, rendering it a mess of soggy folded up spring roll skins. The tempura, with its variety of squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and shrimp fared the best. However, it can't compensate for the rest of the hot foods.
Things were looking bleak by the time we settled into the sushi portion of the buffet. Still, seeing how generous Japan House is in that department, from inventive rolls to an array of sashimi, I remained positive. That optimistic outlook wouldn't last very long. Upon my first bite into a rainbow roll, I bit into a centimeter long fish bone. Having once had a fish bone stuck in my gums, this was a bit frightening. Not wanting to make a fuss of it, however, I continued on, albeit carefully, with the sushi. After a few more bites, my ever-sweet and understanding friend noted, in very uncharacteristic behavior, that the sushi didn't seem "very fresh." She was right. Slimy and gummy were the immediate adjectives that came to mind. If the non-freshness factor wasn't enough already to scare me from taking another bite, as I looked down at my plate to take one last bite, I saw another fish bone - - this time one inch long - - in the volcano sashimi. Seeing as how a bone like this could go unnoticed in the volcano sashimi mixture of roe, salmon, and sauce, this time I did alert the waitress of this potentially hazardous situation.
At this point, I was certain that even a spectacular dessert couldn't save this meal. Like the rest of the restaurant, the dessert bar, with its chocolate fountain and shaved ice station, offered more than it needed to offer, with not much of it being very good. Initially, we were very excited about the shaved ice station, but upon taking a closer look, boba bubbles were mushy and overcooked, many of the ingredients were canned, and there wasn't any syrup offered to sweeten the ice. In a sign of the restaurant's overreaching, both crème brulee and flan were offered, with the latter being far superior. The overcooked crème brulee had a paste-like consistency, while the flan was surprisingly good in both its texture and its not-too-sweet or bitter taste. As for my friend's forgiving resolve, it was finally broken as we sampled the small cakes that one is accustomed to seeing at buffets like these. Even for buffet standards, they were dry, hard, and inedible. Along with the flan, the safest bets for dessert would be the delectably chewy peanut coated sticky rice balls, and the ice cream selection one can order from the kitchen. Try the red bean and the mango flavors.
It should be noted that there were several other lunchtime customers in the restaurant when we were there. Therefore, when thinking about writing this blog, my fear of sounding like a mean food snob were real, and made even more real when the kind and apologetic manager comped our meals for the fish bone mishap. I certainly understand the appeal of Japan House's reasonable lunch price, and I can even appreciate the restaurant's ambition. However, there were certain things on that buffet line that just aren't necessary. As even the restaurant manager explained to us, "It's very difficult to look over every single thing in a restaurant like this." I've had friends whose families have been in the buffet business, and I can only imagine what an undertaking such a business can be. So why make it even more difficult by biting off more than one can chew?
300 W. Plano Parkway
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.