I’ve always found so-called “fast food” places in Japan to be reliable because most of the quick-service chains in Japan have clearly-detailed standard operating procedures (SOP) as to how each menu item is to be prepared and assembled (much like McDee’s). A beef don will taste like a beef don no matter which Matsuya or Yoshinoya you visit; a bowl of Ippudo ramen tastes as good in New York, Singapore, and Taipei as it does in its native Fukuoka.
SOP in the restaurant industry is supposed to make the highly-regarded food at commercially successful restaurants easy to replicate. But what if the food that is to be replicated sucks? Unfortunately, suckie food gets replicated too.
I am not exactly a fan of the food served at Donburiya. Although my most recent meal there was actually edible and only slightly-crapy, most of my other meals at the restaurant tasted like crap. So I can’t say that I was surprised by the bland and unenjoyable food my wife, kids, and I received when we visited Donburiya’s sister restaurant: Ebi-Ten.
Why, you might ask, did we visit the restaurant if we knew the food was going to bad? The kids were hungry. They were so hungry that we had to quickly find a place that served food fast. My daughter absolutely needed to have noodles and my son would accept no other starch than rice. Our options were limited. Let me rephrase that: Ebi-Ten was our only option.
My daughter got her noodles: the chicken teriyaki udon.
My daughter thought that the soup was bland. She also thought that the chicken was bland. I asked her if it was rubbery or hard to chew, and she answered that it wasn’t . My daughter liked the udon noodles. She commented that they had enjoyable, teeth-bouncing textures. I knew that the udon noodles would be the best element of the bowl even before the bowl arrived at our table. I knew because I watched the food-preparers in the restaurant’s kitchen place the frozen, pre-packaged Sanuki udon into their automatic-udon-cooking-thingamajig. They were exactly the same type enjoyably teeth-bouncing pre-frozen and pre-packaged Sanuki udon that my family was used to buying at Asian supermarkets in every city that we have lived in.
My son had the beef yakiniku don.
The beef yakiniku don resembled less a “barbecued beef don” than a regular boiled-beef “gyu-don”. My son thought that the non-mayo-contaminated pieces of beef and rice were ok. He finished them with nary a complaint. I tried a piece of beef and can confirm that it was not too dry, not too juicy, not too salty, and not too flavourful at all. I know that Japanese fast food places love themselves some mayo, and I knew that the mayo in this gyu-don probably was meant to be a dressing for the greens, but…REALLY? Right below the beef? I totally do not blame my son for not wanting to have anything to do with the few mayo-smeared pieces of sliced beef.
My wife had the kimchi and pork yaki-udon.
The first thing that both my wife and I noticed is that the bowl looked unappealing and unappetizing. My wife ordered the udon extra hot (she wanted it so hot that they charged us 50 cents for the extra heat), and she got a mildly-noticeable spiciness. The kimchi tasted like kimchi and the pork tasted like kimchi. The pork – like the chicken and the beef – was not too dry but also not too juicy. The stir-fried udon noodles were just as teeth-bouncing as my daughter’s udon-in-soup. All of the above-mentioned ingredients should have combined into an at least average-tasting bowl; my wife said that the entire stir-fried concoction tasted really bad. It felt like all of the ingredients were placed in the bowl and mixed together with no regard to the resulting flavours. None of the components felt like they belonged in the bowl. Each of them would’ve been much better tasting if they were served alone.
I had the Ebi-Ten bowl (…not really sure if I remembered the name correctly).
The tempura was crispy and not greasy. The shrimp beneath the batter, though small, was snappy and a little bit juicy. The sweet potato – also beneath batter – was sweet and not undercooked. The pieces of tempura should’ve tasted good because they had all of the characteristics of well-executed tempura. They didn’t taste good. Something was off. At first I couldn’t pinpoint what I disliked about the tempura, but I was able to isolate the source of the unpleasantness after finishing the rather large piece of sweet potato. The tempura failed because the batter was way too thick. Not only was there too much batter on each piece of tempura, the batter itself was way too heavy and dense. It lacked the light and airy texture of restaurant-quality tempura.
The un-enjoyability of the chicken teriyaki was much easier to pinpoint. The chicken teriyaki sucked because it had uninteresting, one-note, and un-teriyaki-like flavours. The sauce used on the chicken felt like watered-down-non-authentic sukiyaki sauce. It tasted like the so-called sukiyaki sauce from one of those food court Japanese chains. The sauce was so generic that the restaurant could’ve easily gotten away with giving the chicken a Chinese, Korean, or even Cajun/Southern name. Other than that, the chicken was okay. It had acceptably not-too-dry and not-too-rubbery textures.
There was also MAYONNAISE under both the teriyaki and the tempura. WHY? WHY???
After dining at Ebi-Ten, I can confirm that it shared a SOP with Donburiya. The food at both places tasted and felt similar…which meant that the food sucked. The food tasted uninspired, the-opposite-of-flavourful, and generally amateurish. If I opened a restaurant and served reheated food from the freezer section of local Asian supermarkets, it would taste like the food at Ebi-Ten. Actually, the pre-frozen and pre-packaged food would probably taste better.