Ocean Buffet in Brooklyn Center: A first look

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Ocean Buffet in Brooklyn Center
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.


The steam tables feature most of the staples of such places: teriyaki chicken on a stick, coconut shrimp, fried rice, lo mein, cheese wontons, and the like.  But, as the name implies, where Ocean Buffet is trying to distinguish itself from its competitors is its heavier focus on seafood.

On Wednesday night when we stopped by, one of the tables held crimson-colored steamed crawfish, steamed and baked mussels, baby clams, baby octopus stir-fry, salmon, tilapia, two kinds of shrimp, and even frog legs. 

We found the frog legs to be quite tasty, fried in a light, crispy batter with a sharp, peppery taste.  They were much better fresh out of the kitchen than not, losing much of their crunch to sogginess.  The baby octopus stir-fry was also enjoyable, with the octopi small and therefore not over-rubbery.

The salmon was not as good, dry as it was and with a slightly unpleasant citrus glaze.  The coconut shrimp was only mediocre, with too-shrimpy shrimp and blandly sweet sauce.

The other, non-seafood offerings are pretty much on par with similar offerings at other eateries.  The teriyaki chicken is moist enough.  Most of the stir-fries are reasonable.

One unusual feature of Ocean Buffet is its expanded selection of soups. Where other places usually offer two or three--wonton, hot and sour, and an "American" offering like clam chowder--Ocean Buffet serves as many as eight soups at a time.  On our visit we found the three mentioned above, along with a tapioca pearl soup, a peanut soup (like sweet boiled peanuts--take that as you will), a sweet rice soup, cream of broccoli, a (quite visually unappealing) green pea soup, and even miso soup.  The miso won't beat Fuji-Ya's or Moto-i's, but isn't terrible by any means.

Unagi nagiri
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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