If you’re into Korean food, barbecue, cooking (notice a comma between those two), and all-you-can-eat buffets, Camellia Buffet Yakiniku restaurant is a place you must put on your to-do list!
In true Yakiniku fashion, tabletop propane gas “grills” are located on every table throughout the establishment, where patrons cook their own meats and vegetables, which are self-served from a buffet line filled with Korean cuisine delights.
On our lunch time visit to the McCully st. location on this occasion, the place was almost full by the time we arrived, so fortunately we made reservations for our party of 5, which included 2 tables equaling 2 grills, making this “Do-It-Yourself” effort that much easier. Here’s a glance of an individual booth and the general interior…
Once you’re seated, the server offers you water and optional beverages, then you immediately go on and make your way to the buffet line.
To the left are all the yummy Korean-style prepared cold vegetables — most of which are flavored with the familiar chili-based Kochu Jang (Kim Chee) and/or sesame oil marinades. There’s several styles of Kim Chee, including cabbage, cucumber and Daikon. Also Taegu, marinated bean sprouts, seaweed, macaroni salad, and even a Korean-style Poke and Tako.
Above the chill pans of prepared vegetables is a shelf with a row of cut raw vegetables that are meant to be grilled alongside the meats. This includes sliced white onions, bell peppers, broccoli and white mushrooms. There’s also whole leaves of fresh lettuce that are intended for use as a “wrapper” to eat the finished grilled meat and vegetables. This is a traditional method of eating this type of cuisine. Or, you can “go local” and just grind ’em with rice. There’s also fried rice and Chap Chai noodles.
Here’s a plate of prepared vegetables I chose…
That stuff next to the macaroni salad is that Korean style Poke I mentioned, which alone could make this worth the price of admission. It was good, although, like any poke that sits in the marinade too long, the fish was a bit stiff. Still, it was decent.
Everything else was on par with what you’d find at your favorite Korean take-out restaurant, such as Yummy’s.
I actually thought the Kim Chee here was exceptional, with an intense, yet-not-too-spicy profile. If ANY Korean restaurant fumbles on Kim Chee, that would be a disappointment, so thank goodness Camellia’s got this most-important part of the meal “aced”.
Now let’s not forget the MEAT! Here they offer 4 different choices: Kal Bi (marinated beef short ribs), sliced marinated beef rib eye, spicy marinated pork and marinated chicken. These are all RAW, in precut pieces in chill pans, which you serve what you want on a plate in quantity to your heart’s content (amazing!) to take to back to the table and cook on the grill. Here’s a plate of raw meats and veggies ready to hit the fire…
Here’s what the tabletop grill looks like before it gets “blessed” by the raw vegetable and marinaded meats…
That dial appears to control the heat, but apparently there was just one heat setting: FLAMING HOT. Which is a good thing! Actually, there are various hot and not-so-hot spots on the cooking surface, which you can move your stuff around according to how done you want it. Note that the waitress lights it with one of those butane lighters with the extension wand, so if you want full control, bring your own wand-style lighter here, otherwise you’ll have to either leave the fire on, or ask the server to come back around and relight it for you.
Time to load it up!…
Just like grilling at home, you must keep a close eye on it. Concentrate too much on your conversation, or worse yet, walk off to grab other things at the buffet, and your stuff will be end up burnt REAL quick. Part of the fun here is the interactivity of cooking your own food, turning it on the fire and getting it just right! Of course, the chicken and pork are the most important that you cook thoroughly. Once you achieve that nicely-seared “papa’a” edge, it’s done!
Now serve it up with your plate of cold prepared veggies…
The first plate above is mine. Notice the lack of starch such as rice or noodles. My golden rule in any AYC buffet is NO STARCH. That’s just filler. Gotta’ save room for the good stuff!
So how’s the barbecue? The Kal Bi is decently tender and fresh-tasting, as is all the other meats. The marinade isn’t over-soaked either, which would otherwise (as I’ve had before) detract from the beef itself. This Kal Bi was as good as any I’ve had from most other Korean take-out places in recent memory, and even better because I could cook it to my personal preference, with nicely-burnt edges! Plus, it was “All You Can Eat”! Actually, those first two on my plate could have stood more time on the fire, but I was hungry and couldn’t wait.. ha ha! The ribeye and chicken was equally as tender and delicious, with just the right amount of marinade, without being overpowered.
The only thing I didn’t care for was the spicy pork. It actually wasn’t spicy at all, but it just didn’t taste like pork. Just some kind of “mystery meat”, with that red marinade I couldn’t pinpoint in flavor. I may have enjoyed it more if I put an abundant amount of it wrapped in lettuce, along with some other condiments.
Speaking of which, the place was absent of signs providing directions on how to cook your food, the procedures of ordering and serving things, or signage describing what each item was, except for the raw meats. Neither did the server assume we were newcomers and provide instructions, although, surely if we had asked, she would have told us.
The service was attentive; our (drink) glasses kept full and the grill-plates changed-out for new ones when we finished cooking each round of meat. This is actually an important part of the experience, as the sugars and marinade ingredients scorch and get stuck on there after each grill session, and if not changed, leave an unpleasant burnt smoke wafting up in the air. So they’re certainly on-it in this regard. This is one of the reasons you walk out of Camellia smelling like a barbecue pit. So as some might recommend, have at least a spare shirt if you have an important business meeting after dining here.
Obviously there’s a sense of social bonding and an element of fun with this family-style grill-your-own food format, as we we as much into it as the tables around us.
Overall we all were VERY happy and satisfied with the food, service and overall experience at Camellia at McCully – enough for a unanimous Tasty Island “4-Musubi rating”! .
Lunch costs $11.95/person and is served 10:30am to 2:30pm
Dinner costs $17.75/person and is served 3:00pm to 9:45pm
Children 5-10 costs $8.00/person
Camellia Buffet Yakiniku restaurant on McCully st. (corner of Algaroba st.)
Camellia Buffet Yakiniku
930 McCully St
Honolulu, HI, 96826
also located at:
2494 Beretania St.
Honolulu, HI, 96826
Tasty Island Rating:
Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)
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