I’m on what I can only describe as a reluctant mission to find the best buffets in town, I say reluctant because while I very much want to know the best buffets in town, I very much do not want to eat bad buffet food. I set out today to do some scouting on dinner buffets in places that also have a beer and wine license—an exceedingly small category of restaurants. The Pho 79/Caravelle buffet seemed likely; I love that place for its soups and grilled beef stuffed grape leaves, but after looking at the actual buffet I couldn’t bear to sample it. Everything—save the two soups and the iceberg-lettuce based salad bar—looked fried and greasy. I fled. Then I felt like a failure. What sort of buffet reviewer chickens out at their first buffet? Meandering down Nicollet, failure clinging to my every footstep like toilet paper from God’s great bathroom of existential despair, I grew wan and whiny. Then, Eureka!
Why, Seafood Palace has a buffet! I ventured in. Seeing me, and, presumably, my Caucasian-ness, I was greeted with: “Buffet?” Yes, I nodded, really this time: Buffet. Once I was guided into the room with the buffet, I lost heart again: Two tables of Asian folks were ordering from the menu, not the buffet. I walked over to it and peered in; it seemed brownish. I then doubled back to the table thinking I’d just order off the menu, but the nice man at the door had put a pot of tea, a glass of water, and silverware at my table and vanished. Be brave, I told myself. In for a penny, in for a pound…
And I am happy to report that it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was pretty good. I can kind of recommend it. The buffet is smaller than most, which I’m going to consider a virtue, There were half a dozen entrees, including the ubiquitous chicken fried, sauced with sweet and sour, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. But there were also dry-fried string beans coated with a salty brown sauce and lots of little bay shrimp. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve had in my life, but it had a nice fresh, elemental aspect to it. There was fried rice, a dish of tender squid and some not particularly remarkable, but inarguably fresh and colorful, chopped vegetables in a simple white sauce. There were fried spring rolls, which weren’t bad, and a couple other fried things that I didn’t try. There was a serviceable, and, again, very fresh beef and broccoli.
What really caught my interest, however, was a zingy, spicy, stand-up Singapore curry, in which rice noodles were sautéed with curry powder, scrambled egg, big chunks of chewy, meaty roast pork, and fresh scallions. The stuff was savory, tasty street-food at its finest. I went back for seconds. The place is definitely trying to do more than average buffets. For instance, they offered a mixed-green salad made with mesclun, candied walnuts, and mandarin orange slices. And though the salad would have been better without the sweet oranges, I admire their gumption. I finished up my meal with lots of fresh canteloupe and honeydew chunks, though I could have also had carrot cake, almond cookies, and donuts. Then the bill came: $6.71, including tax. Holy cow! $6.71 would have been worth it just for the Sinagpore noodles, which I say with authority because they cost $8.50 on the dinner menu, though the dinner version is made with more expensive wide mai-fun noodles.
As far as lunch buffets go, I’m obviously a tough crowd, but I’m going to give out my final ranking:
Seafood Palace’s lunch buffet: Good for a buffet.
Seafood Palace’s Singapore noodles, in the buffet: Just plain good.
Availability: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Beer and wine: Yes!
Buffet fun facts: In the winter, the Seafood Palace plans to offer a fondue buffet, in which they give you a pot of boiling soup and you pick up the raw food from the buffet to cook for yourself, at the table. When that starts, it will be for dinner only and be priced at $21.95 per person.
2423 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis