While I'd love to say I'm above buffets, I can't. It's not about taste (as in class), it's about consumption. Buffet restaurants evoke something primal in me. I morph from titillated wide-eyed foodie to feral table-checker, as proven by recent visits to the spacious, locally owned Ocean's Grill Steak and Seafood Buffet, located in the North Academy shopping center near Whole Foods Market.
Upon entering, I was cheerfully greeted, asked for a drink order and escorted to a table. In passing, I noticed a couple with two large plates of steaming clams. This, clearly, wouldn't be an ordinary buffet.
Alongside the usual salad bar, several gluten-free items, French fries and American classics like pot roast, sat a bevy of Italian, Mexican and Asian-inspired dishes, as well as a variety of seafood. The only thing I couldn't find: clams.
Pointing to an empty tray where the clams had been, a server assured me that more were on the way. That established, I loaded my plate with cocktail shrimp, baked mussels, glass noodles and hot and spicy chicken. Heading back to my table, I think I actually sneered at the couple wolfing down their mountains of briny treats. Do people have no shame? Where was the buffet etiquette?
The servers certainly showed some; they kept swooping in for empty plates, helping me forget how much I was eating. Lunch, only $6.95, is a true bargain, and the food including the clams I finally enjoyed shows skillful preparation.
With all-you-can eat ribeye and crab legs, dinner costs $11.95 but is still a deal, especially for families. (Children age 2 to 11 are 60 and 70 cents multiplied by age for lunch and dinner, respectively.) I made a push for sushi at dinner. Standing behind a counter, a deft woman whipped up 17 varieties, including spicy tuna, unagi (eel), California rolls, salmon and tuna. Amazingly, the quality rivaled that of many local Japanese restaurants.
The "Grill" part of the restaurant's name is a build-your-own, stir-fry station with raw veggies, sliced beef and chicken, and varying sauces. My husband piled a plate with his choices and handed them to a grill guy; in minutes, his customized dish was ready. The only shaky moment came with the ribeye: It arrived undercooked, and neither more cooking nor an extra "apology steak," so to speak, could help it measure up.
But we kept eating. Next up: oysters on the half shell. Though I've eaten street food all over the world, raw oysters at a buffet admittedly gave me pause. But bravery and gluttony won out, and hey, obviously, I'm still here. In fact, they were pretty tasty.
The crab legs, unfortunately, grew cold by the time I got them to the table, and so did the butter. That didn't seem to bother anyone else, and they moved quickly.
Lastly, we hit the dessert station, comprised of colorful confections of chocolate and vanilla cakes, crme brule, different kinds of mousse and tasty little crme puffs. My kids loved it all, particularly the soft-serve ice cream bar. As we departed, uncomfortable and happy, I could only wonder how, with several gourmet items and great sushi, Ocean's turns a profit. For a buffet, it exceeds expectations.