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.

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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.

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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.

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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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14 comments
Carle
Carle

Ocean Buffet has one unique feature that was not mentioned. Instead of the typical hibachi, this buffet has a Pho bar. The food is pretty typical of most buffets and doesn't really stand out, but is always fresh, hot a tastey.

Samantha
Samantha

I've been there twice. The first was for dinner. It was packed and the food was good. The second time was for lunch. I found a piece of plastic in my soup. It looked like a ripped corner from a package. I let our server know about it and she picked it up, said she didn't know what it was and walked away. I stopped eating my soup and was about to start on my plate of food until my daughter pointed out a hair on my shrimp. I lost my appetite and didn't eat. The bill was brought over, and I walked up to the front and was about to ask our server what can be done with my portion of the bill since I didn't eat and before I could finish she doesn't even look at me and points to the cashier frowning. I felt like i was being shooed away. She didn't say anything to me then walked away. The bill was around $21 and they discounted it to $19. All I took was a few sips of soup. If I didn't say anything at all in the front they would've just acted like nothing had happened. I don't know why I had to pay for anything at all for not eating.  The server was upset at me as if it were my fault that there's plastic in the soup and hair on my food

Craig
Craig

Went there three times now.  The first time it was awesome.  Packed house and fresh food all night.  The second time, not as great buffet items, but great sushi.  Big fat pieces and tasty as all get out.  The only problem was that the sushi plates were constantly empty.  It would take 10 minutes to put out one plate and then it was gone in about 12 seconds.  The third time we went, plenty of sushi.  Grocery store, crappy sushi.  Not sure what happened.  Pho was tepid, not hot at all.  And hardly flavorful.  I would have been happy with one thai basil leaf, but to no avail.  Oh well, looks like they're going to settle into a nice average place.  Certainly not the GREAT place I thought it was going to remain.

Allengurgeer
Allengurgeer

Worst buffet ever. Food wise, the food is decent like any other buffet but the service is horrible. We were asked if a high chair was needed for my daughter and we said yes but never got. The waiter messed up our drinks and doesn't refill until we asked. Our used plates wasn't picked until we started to sat them on a other table.(vacant)

Theshit
Theshit

junk. bad service. i was on my 3rd plate when i got my drink. downing food with soup. bad english and still tried to argue when i complaint

Spab
Spab

decent lunch price $6.25 w/out beverage, others with beverage are $7.50

Dave
Dave

More looks at real restaurants, please.

tom
tom

What a hater

Michael Mattson
Michael Mattson

While this may not be your cup of tea, it's unnecessarily disrespectful to the proprietors to state it's not a "real restaurant".

Hot Dish attempts to cover as much of the Metro food scene as possible, which will no doubt include some restaurants that some readers have no interest in.

Of course, those readers with no interest tend to simply avoid clicking on such posts...

Dave
Dave

You're doing your readers a diservice by wasting their time with places (based on the lack of comments) that don't appeal to them. What's next, Fuddruckers? A low grade buffet joint may reach the definition of restaurant by default, but crap is crap and you're filling this blog with too much of it compared to your predecessor. If you can't take being called out on that perhaps you should not write on the Internet.

Sap
Sap

When I see a blog or something written on the internet with a title I'm not interested in, I don't read it.  What you might think is not useful, others may!

Bboykong1
Bboykong1

Yeah, now stop complaining you dumb ass

vitajex
vitajex

Ah, now THIS comment is coherent and complete.  You have every right to request other restaurants to be covered.  AND we do cover those restaurants as well.

Ocean Buffet is new.  I can not speak for other writers on this blog, but I personally feel that there is value in covering ALL new restaurants that open in the area, regardless of what their menus may be.  I myself LOVE to try new places, regardless of whether or not I've heard anything about them, good or bad.  (That's probably one reason why I do this!)  However, there are many people out there who like to have someone give them SOME kind of input on a location before they will consider trying it.

Again, we endeavor to provide as complete of coverage of local food options as is possible, which includes locations like this.  I'd also point out that there is not a giant influx of new restaurants in the current economic environment.  And they can't all be Brasa or The Oceannaire.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion and we WANT to hear it.  But please don't assume that because something is of no interest to you that there is no one anywhere interested in it.

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