SHINTORI (15 Charles East at Yonge,
416-921-0003) A former 60s nightclub, this all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet offers a substandard no-frills raw seafood 'n' rice lineup at bargain-basement prices. In other words, sushi for people who don't like fish. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($16 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of sake. Open for lunch daily noon to 3 pm, and for dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free. Rating: 416-921-0003) A former 60s nightclub, this all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet offers a substandard no-frills raw seafood 'n' rice lineup at bargain-basement prices. In other words, sushi for people who don't like fish. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($16 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of sake. Open for lunch daily noon to 3 pm, and for dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN
they're the four words that in- duce dread in every restaurant critic: "all you can eat." The phrase causes a feeding frenzy in some, but for people with discerning tastes, it starts a stampede -- in the opposite direction. Anyone who rates quantity over quality equates a buffet with pure bliss.
Who cares if the usually substandard spread's probably been sitting on a steam table for hours, growing more flavourless by the minute.
No matter if any advertised shrimp or sirloin have likely long disappeared. Start shovelling!
Sure, there are exceptions, like the vegetarian joints in Little India and Etobicoke's recently closed but opening downtown soon Dhaba.
That said, I'm not prepared for the response I get from my gastro-pals when I add one little word to that loathsome culinary catchphrase -- sushi. From all the drooling, you'd think Pavlov had just rung his dog's dinner bell.
All-you-can-eat sushi's not an entirely new concept. A couple of Japanese spots around town offer unlimited meal deals, but it usually costs $30 to $40 per person and only happens once a month. Shintori does it every day and for as little as $8.99 with a coupon. At these prices -- weekend dinner peaks at $17.99 -- even if the food's barely edible, it's a bargain, right?
Located on the first floor of the Comfort Inn -- formerly the Brownstone -- Shintori occupies the space that was once the hotel's piano bar. Little's changed other than the clientele.
Picture a large, L-shaped room with up to 200 sushi-maniacs frantically racing from one station to another with plates piled high with more rice 'n' nori wraps than anyone could -- or would -- ever want to eat, all to the strains of Israeli folk tunes.
The buffet itself is quite spacious, with a separate salad area and stand-alone hot table. But it's the sushi that nearly everyone zeroes in on.
If you keep in mind that Shintori can't be compared to either Hiro or Tempo -- hell, not even to California Roll & Crazy Sushi -- but comes closer to Mandarin's bland food for the masses, this pleasant place is great for pigging out.
The good stuff -- sashimi -- only gets offered at dinner. The limited lineup includes fat-striped salmon, plain red snapper and unappetizing pinky-grey tuna.
Neither maki nor nigiri inspire, consisting mostly of mushy rice topped with lacklustre things like cuttlefish and smelt.
Regulation California rolls come randomly sprinkled with flying fish roe, while simple bean-curd pockets are packed with more overcooked rice. An ineptly executed handroll, the sole offering, sees thick strips of salmon skin and cucumber stalks falling from their rice-bound seaweed wrapper.
The steam table holds the usual suspects, some of which verge on adequate. Stir-fried carrot, onion, broccoli and button mushrooms remain relatively crisp, and pan-fried gyoza dumplings stuffed with shredded chicken are as good as anywhere else, even if they were store-bought. Thick udon noodles strewn with a few veggies are salty from soy but acceptable.
Woeful gingery calamari approach rubber-band texture, and both pork and chicken teriyaki taste of overly sweet commercial sauce.
If Shintori had halfway decent tempura, its faults could easily be overlooked, but the deep-fried approximation we sampled on two occasions borders on appalling. Nothing wrong with sliced yams and zucchini or fake crab sticks, but their traditionally light coating has been replaced with a heavy pancake-like batter suggesting Aunt Jemima and tasting heavily of cooking oil that's gone off.
At lunch, tempura's faux fish gets replaced with salmon -- fat, bones, skin and fins. And yesterday's salmon roll has morphed into another deep-fried lunch selection. Salmon sashimi becomes a breaded cutlet.
At first glance, the salad bar looks promising. Cool soba noodles swim in a light sesame-oil vinaigrette, raw sticks of daikon come spiked with kimchee chili, and marinated straw mushrooms are quite lovely. But iceberg lettuce with Thousand Islands dressing? Mild pickled beets from a jar? Canned black olives? Bread-and-bloody-butter pickles?
For dessert, head straight for the green-tea ice cream kept in a freezer next to the salads.
Add a few pieces of fresh cantaloupe and melon, but pass on the canned peaches and the downright weird two-tone coconut rubbery gelatin thing.
If I were a believer in conspiracies, I'd swear there's something sinister behind the innocent server who constantly refills our mugs with piping-hot tea. After six cups, we're as stuffed as Christmas turkeys.
Maybe that's Shintori's point. *