Grub Scout: W. Knoxville's Kichi buffet covers wide array of culinary tastes

Kichi Chinese and Japanese Buffet

  • Food: ***1⁄2
  • Service: ****
  • Atmosphere: ***1⁄2
  • Overall: ***1⁄2
  • Address: 113 N. Peters Road
  • Phone: 865-357-7750
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays; closed daily from 3-4 p.m.
  • Beer service only

The most challenging part of Grubbing is coming up with a Plan B when Plan A falls through. The Grub Spouse and I were all set to visit a particular restaurant, but when the reservations fell through at the last minute, we had to scramble to find something on our short list to come through in a pinch. That place turned out to be Kichi Chinese & Japanese Buffet, on North Peters Road, in the space once occupied by the short-lived Old College Inn West.

The concept at Kichi is similar to that of Makino Japanese buffet, which is just a few miles away on Kingston Pike. Kichi seems to cover more ethnic culinary territory, encompassing both Chinese and Japanese dishes in its all-you-care-to-eat spread.

The layout of the restaurant has remained unchanged, but now modest Asian decor lies at the heart of the aesthetic theme, without being too kitschy (or, perhaps, too Kichi).

No sooner had we hit our seats, our server had taken our drink orders and released us into the feeding frenzy. I started out at the sushi bar, where the fare is created fresh on-site and presented in about a dozen different varieties (sashimi and nigiri items are available on request from a server). My selections included spicy tuna, spicy eel and the colorful but more ambiguously named Skyline and Dragon rolls.

On my next go-round, I loaded up on mini servings of several main dishes, which are laid out along three different buffet lines. My choices included jalapeno chicken, a seafood-cheese casserole, raw oysters and peel-and-eat jumbo shrimp. The Spouse tried out a couple of different tempura selections along with a spring roll and sweet and sour chicken.

On our final attack, we managed to squeeze in tastings of bacon-wrapped shrimp, stuffed shrimp, coconut shrimp, crab Rangoon, dumplings and hot-and-sour soup (the other usual suspects — egg drop soup and wonton soup — are also available).

I thought it was a nice touch that they had a hibachi grill line where you could order your choice of chicken, beef or seafood, stir-fried on the spot with Japanese vegetables. There were also plenty of sauces and condiments for embellishing your sushi as well as less common buffet fare such as crab legs, crawfish and tapioca-based pudding.

The dessert section featured a familiar lineup of Asian-restaurant treats, including colorful gelatins, pudding, fresh fruit and cheesecake. The Spouse and I tried the cheesecake and pudding to round out our buffet conquest.

In general, I thought the food was passable but not remarkable. Some items were better than others, but I was most disappointed in the seafood selections, which generally lacked that unmistakable fresh ocean flavor. Among my favorite choices of the night were the spicy jalapeno chicken, the seafood-cheese casserole and the stuffed shrimp. The sushi actually wasn’t too bad, but the deep-fried spring rolls were lackluster.

Those who wind up experiencing both Makino and Kichi, as I have, may agree that the quality of food is better at Makino, although Kichi seems to offer more variety. I didn’t think Kichi was terribly value-friendly, thanks to our $35 tab (it’s less expensive for lunch), but the buffet format is still better suited for those who seek sheer volume over quality.

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