All you can eat (AYCE) is one of those phrases that simultaneously delights and horrifies me. I love the idea of choice and options for a single price but I also hate being overwhelmed by choices and trying to decide how much I can eat before feeling too full and wanting to throw up. So when everyone was telling me about It’ All opening up in Chinatown, I was very intrigued but also a little unsure about going. However, my awesome friend JP came to town last weekend and since I know he can eat a lot and would be able to polish off everything I take but cannot finish (no waste here), we decided it would be a great place for a meal.
It’ All is a Japanese and Korean all you can eat place and one of the selling features for us was that it had a ton of Korean side dish (banchan) options. I have seen photos of the massive banchan area in the buffet and couldn’t wait to try as much as possible. After some deliberation, we went with twelve different types of banchan…
The twelve items we grabbed were: Korean seaweed salad, jap chae, wakame salad, marinated lotus root, spicy pickled radish, stuffed zucchini, spicy squid, green onion pancake, pickled Chinese radish, bean sprout salad, kimchi, and the Korean egg roll. Overall, I liked our selections and thought most of them were quite good, although my favorites were the Korean seaweed salad and the pickled Chinese radish. Despite my love for jap chae, I didn’t really care for It’ All’s version – I found that it seemed to finish on a bitter note, which is not what I would expect from that dish. There were several other options that we didn’t try and I am putting them on my list for next time – Korean laver (another form of seaweed) is at the very top.
In addition to the banchan selection, there are also several cooked food items in the buffet area. Normally, this is where I take too many items and end up feeling very gross after forcing myself to eat it all. This time, I showed much more restraint than usual and only sampled a few items: fried chicken, garlic potatoes, ddukbokki and tofu. I started with a smaller plate as well so it made me choose the items I really wanted to try. I liked the fried chicken although I think having it under the lamps on the buffet dried it out a lot, but I did like how crispy it was. Garlic potatoes are one of my favorite things and It’ All does a fairly good job with these as they were crunchy on the outside but still soft on the inside. The ddukbokki also suffered under the chafing dish conditions as they tasted overcooked and a little too chewy, but I think that is the trade off you make at an AYCE restaurant. Other items available included a variety of bulgogi, stir fried vegetables, rice, sushi rolls and soups. I did try the spicy pork bone soup and I liked it quite a bit, but it was hot outside and a hot spicy stew in the heat is not how I want to roll, so I only sampled a little bit. In the winter, I would be all over this one though!
So if I only had a small sampling of the buffet items, what did I eat? Well, at It’ All, they have a small menu of items you can order via your server. And that in my opinion is where all the good stuff is. We started with a few appetizers like the korokke, which is essentially deep fried mash potatoes. It was an ok dish, but not something I would want to order more than one of. We also ordered some takoyaki and these were delicious. I have adored takoyaki from the first time I ever had them and generally make it a point to order them whenever I see them on a menu. The takoyaki had a nice crunchy outside (possibly a smidge too crunchy) and a soft, pillowy inside. We ended up ordering more later on – that is how much we liked them. There were some other appetizer items like fried squid (mmm calamari) and edamame, that I would want to try next time.
JP also wanted to try the seasonal dish, samgyetang, which is a braised quarter chicken served in a Korean ginseng broth. This was probably my least favorite item of the night as I find the broth quite bland, but JP said there is a hint of the ginseng, so he ate the whole thing.
Rounding out the Korean options were the grilled meats. We only ordered two of the meat options, but there were around 5-6 to choose from like boneless short rib, sirloin and pork belly. We decided to go with single orders of the LA short rib and dduk galbi. I liked the LA short rib a lot and found it had great barbeque char (my favorite!) and was not overcooked. The dduk galbi was interesting as I was hoping it would be similar to the Nongbu version with the rice sticks within the meat but there was only a very small piece in the middle of the meat patty. The dduk galbi kind of reminded me of a really sweet hamburger and it was a touch too sweet for my tastes so I probably won’t be ordering this again, but there are other grilled meats to try next time anyways.
Where I really focused my energy was on the sushi and sashimi. My favorite sushi is tamago (sweet egg) sushi and I always order at least one when I go for Japanese food. The best thing about sushi instead of a maki roll is you can get away with ordering only one piece, but since It’ All doesn’t have my second favorite sushi (inari), I just ordered two tamago sushi pieces instead. These were satisfying for me, but the rice wasn’t packed tightly so the second I picked it up with my chopsticks, it all fell apart on my plate. That doesn’t really bother me as I can’t eat the sushi in one bite anyway, so it’s a case of no harm no foul, but it might be a sticking point for someone else. It’ All limits the sashimi to a maximum of 20 pieces per person so that gave us a cap of 60 pieces of sashimi for our table of 3, which is typical for AYCE places in Edmonton. I have never reached the 20 piece maximum before, but we came close this time with 53 pieces ordered. My preference for sashimi is salmon and surf clam as I struggle with the texture of fattier fish options – tuna is a little too soft for my tastes. I enjoyed the sashimi quite a bit, especially the surf clam! The salmon wasn’t as thick as other places, but I think that is fine considering the variety available at It’ All and is probably a good way to minimize food waste.
What would an all you can eat meal be without dessert? It’ All has a mix of Asian and Western desserts and we did try a few like the petit fours, red bean paste mochi, other mochi and the bean manjoo. I thought the Asian desserts were not bad as they were not very sweet, and I liked the yellow and purple mochi with what I think is some kind of nut/seed filling? The bean manjoo reminds me of a fig newton but with red bean paste inside and I liked it a lot. I would pass on the petit fours next time as they were a little too sweet and the cake inside was a bit dry.
While a small dessert plate is nice, the best way to end the meal is actually to take a jaunt over to the popsicle cooler for a frozen treat. It’ All does ask that you keep it to one per person, but I think you would be hard pressed to be able to eat more than one after a large meal. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to tell what each popsicle is since it’s all in Korean, but the staff can answer your question as to what each flavour is if you need help. I tried a cream soda popsicle and it was the perfect ending to our meal!
So What Would Argenplath Pay?
Dinner at It’ All was $36.99 + tax and tip for each person and that covers everything except drinks. JP had a cocktail and it was an additional $7, so not overpriced compared to current cocktail prices across the city. My issue with AYCE is usually trying to justify the price for the amount I eat and I think that as long as you don’t fill up on all the cooked food items at the buffet, but rather order items like the grilled meat, sushi and sashimi, you can find some value in this price. Overall, I had an enjoyable dinner with my friends and based on the amount of surf clam I ate, I did got my money’s worth at the end of the day. So if you like Japanese and Korean food and can eat a lot of it, I would definitely suggest giving It’ All a go!