Ocean Buffet in Brooklyn Center: A first look
The Twin Cities has no shortage of Asian buffet restaurants. But who would have guessed that the award for highest per capita concentration of Asian buffets would go to Brooklyn Center? With the recent opening of Ocean Buffet on Shingle Creek Parkway, there are now three such restaurants inside of one square mile that also contains a grand total of zero homes or hotels of any kind. With a veritable saturation of buffets, can the area-- whose most notable neighbor is the long-defunct Brookdale Mall--support yet another all-you-can-eat hibachi/sushi/steamtray spot?
The Hot Dish stopped by to check out the new contender and assess its chances.
Located in a former Fuddrucker's, Ocean Buffet opened in November. Along with the pagoda-style entryway, the outside of the restaurant is festooned with grand opening pennants and Christmas decorations. The combination makes for a uniquely American scene: cultural facsimile, schmaltz, and gaudy gaiety, all at once.
Inside, the restaurant is exactly what one expects-- calligraphy on the tabletops, some impressionistic paintings of misty mountains, etc. Ocean Buffet is actually on the blander side, decoration-wise, boasting too much bare wall for comfort, but it's clean and obviously new.
But the real difference-maker that separates Ocean Buffet from its nearby competitors is its significantly larger sushi selection. Many such restaurants, including "Minnesota's largest buffet," Teppanyaki Grill, offer sushi bars, but we have yet to find one that has a wider selection than Ocean Buffet. When the owners noticed us taking pictures at the buffet and approached us warily, we commented on the sushi selection, which caused one to gush about how she had hired a former sushi chef from Kami Japanese Steakhouse in Apple Valley.
The bar included some options you don't often find, like spider rolls. The unagi was in generous slabs, and the avocado rolls and other vegetable rolls were fresh and delicious. As excited as we were for the rolls with fried shrimp, they were unfortunately not as fresh as we would like, without the mouth-pleasing crunch.
Places like these always boil down to the perennial foodie-on-a-budget dilemma: Does one choose quality or variety? Other buffets are bigger. Some are better. But while far from perfect, Ocean Buffet justifies its existence by offering some unique choices and balancing enough variety with an acceptable level of quality.
Now, if we can just get them to spruce up the place with some nice artwork and some better lighting...
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