I Dream of Unagi

Michael Nagrant / 02.10.06

It’s like Las Vegas in the Chicago suburbs. Amidst mountains of crab legs, neon lights, crème brulee pyramids, and Japanese families grazing on all-you-can-eat sushi, it’s easy to forget that you are at the Todai Japanese Seafood and Sushi buffet in Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall.

I haven’t been to an indoor mega mall in years, but a few weekends ago, after much protest that city malls were the same as any suburban mall, I gave in and accompanied my wife.

Anthropologically, suburban malls are still the same as they were in my childhood. There are lots of sullen trenchcoat mafia kids sitting on the brick walls of the children’s play place. Teenage girls, with their sweatpants rolled and tucked right below their hipbones, hang on sporty dudes. The sporty dudes slough off their letterman jackets and try on assorted Abercrombie shirts. The food courts contain ubiquitous gems like The Great Steak and Potato Company, Cinnabon, and Chik-Fil-A.

I know that even considering “all you can eat” and “sushi” in the same sentence revokes my foodster* card, but I was weak from shopping, and hey, it wasn’t Chik-Fil-A.

For 25 bucks, you do get decent all you can eat spicy tuna sashimi, shrimp nigiri, and made to order teppanyaki. For dessert, the hot banana crepes and the green tea cheesecake were pretty tasty.

The problem is that some of the sushi was questionable. Not, “worship the porcelain altar” questionable, just “a day older than it should be” questionable. The Unagi had a fishy tang and the octopus was hard and rubbery. If you knew what was good and could eat only those things, it’s would be a pretty good deal. In order to do that, you’d have to be Penn and Teller or Lance Burton.

In the end, it doesn’t take a Vegas magician to see that Todai is an illusion masquerading as an oasis in the mall food court.

*Note: we don’t believe in the term foodie, we have decided it is elitist and obnoxious. In the spirit of arbitrariness, and probably risking further obnoxiousness, we have decided to call people who love and go in search of good food, “foodsters”. We know it sounds like a video game or a gourmet food download scheme, but we like it. If you have a better idea, let us know.

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