Bottom Line: All-you-can eat hibachi and sushi that will leave you sated and happy for a good price. Where: 17012 Palm Pointe Drive, Tampa Hours: 11:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday for lunch, 3:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday for dinner and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday Credit Cards: All major Reservations: Yes Price:Lunch: $9.95 adults, $8.95 ages 11 to 14 and $4.95 ages 4 to 10; Dinner: $17.95 adults, $8.95 ages 11 to 14 and $4.95 ages 4 to 10; Sunday: $15.95 adults Contact: (813) 971-1919
All-you-can-eat Chinese buffets have long been a popular dining trend because they are cheap and plentiful, offer lots of variety, and diners can eat themselves into gastrointestinal distress.
Following their lead are all-you-can-eat hibachi buffets, such as Koizi Endless Hibachi and Sushi Eatery, which opened last year in the The Pointe at Tampa Palms retail plaza. Koizi is in an enormous space with tables and booths corralled off into more intimate areas.
It's low key, comfortable and casual, with easy-listening music in the background.
But this isn't a traditional all-you-can-eat restaurant. The meal is not served as a buffet - rather, you sit down, get a menu, a server takes your order and brings it to you, stopping frequently by the table to take your next request.
Like the name implies, Koizi serves up endless hibachi, a Japanese-style of cooking where meats, seafood, noodles, vegetables and rice are prepared over a hot open grill, usually by a skilled and entertaining chef.
Large groups can opt for the traditional hibachi grill experience, sitting around the chef at tables toward the back of the restaurant.
Koizi also sets itself apart from other all-you-can-eat restaurants in that if you over order its going to cost you. This is a take what you want, but eat what you take experience.
Before you can move onto your next food choice, you must finish what's on your plate, or pay a little extra for what you leave behind. It's a good concept and one that seems to be working well, because we didn't see any plates left behind with half-eaten food during a weekend trip.
For $9.95 a person for lunch and $17.95 for dinner (adults), you can choose from soups, appetizers, hibachi, sushi, sashimi, specialty and signature rolls.
We could have skipped the appetizers. An order of edamame and fried dumplings, both arrived on the soggy side.
The hibachi, however, was very tasty.
You can choose from chicken, steak, shrimp, scallops or a combination, grilled to order and served with fried rice, noodles and steamed veggies. We tried the chicken, shrimp and scallops. Ordering scallops can be chancy when you go out because oftentimes they're under- or overcooked. All of the meat and seafood was perfectly cooked.
The Shrimp and Broccoli was tender and flavorful in a delectable brown sauce and the Szechaun Beef, with sliced sirloin, soy sauce, garlic and chili peppers was bold, spicy and equally flavorful.
But we were disappointed with the General Tso's Chicken, which was dry and had virtually none of the sweet, slightly spicy sauce that usually accompanies the chicken. A mushy Udon noodle stir fry also missed the mark.
At this point my husband bailed. But I couldn't leave without trying some sushi. And I'm glad I did.
Koizi's selections includes tuna, salmon, snapper, shrimp and Tamago, which tasted as fresh as you would find at many sushi restaurants.
Their specialty rolls also get a thumbs-up. Among our favorites, the namesake Koizi roll, with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, seaweed salad, cream cheese, avocado, and eel sauce, and the Sexy Girl roll with spicy tuna, tempura shrimp, krab salad, spicy mayo, crunch and roe. Unfortunately, we had no room for dessert, which our server said included fried ice cream.
Our service at Koizi was perfunctory at best.
Despite telling our server it was our first time dining in the restaurant, he didn't explain the concept. Perhaps my statement was lost in translation, but he didn't take our drink orders, or offer any accompaniments to our meal, such as wasabi, ginger or anything else. At nearby tables, we could see it was a much different experience.
Lucky for us, the manager, Cheeree, happened to walk by and stopped at our table for a chat. She quickly won us over with her warmth and enthusiasm.