Friday, January 16, 2009

MINADO JAPANESE SEAFOOD BUFFET - Carle Place, New York

Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet is a chain restaurant with five locations - Little Ferry, New Jersey; Morris Plains, New Jersey; East Norriton, Pennsylvania; Natick, Massachusetts; Carle Place, New York; and a location in Sandy Springs, Georgia that is called Nori. I recently went to the Carle Place, NY location.

Sometimes the trip to get to the restaurant is as exciting as the dining experience itself, and this was one of those occassions. The restaurant is extremely easy to find, and actually about seven miles from my house. I pass it all of the time. When we decided to go there we thought nothing of leaveing the house and getting there in about fifteen to twenty minutes. What we had not planned on was the fact that we were going three nights before Christmas and the traffic we would encounter miles away from the mall that is between us and this restaurant. In fact the first night that we headed out, we wound up coming back without ever getting there. The second night - now two nights before Christmas - we tried again, took a back way, and with luck avoided the traffic that again was backing up all of the main roads.

You may be wondering if this buffet is so close, why have I never gone there before? Simply, the price. This is not an inexpensive buffet, though as prices keep increasing at the lower price buffets it is not as much higher as it once was. Going there now was a holiday celebration just for my wife and myself - we share an office with her business and mine, and this was to be the office Christmas party - for two.

Now that I have brought the issue of price up first let me get that out of the way. The dinner price for adults from Monday to Thursday nights is $27.95. Beverages are not included and frankly, we did not order any so I cannot tell you how much they are. From Friday night to Sunday night and Holidays the price is $29.95. Lunch prices are less expensive. Lunch Monday to Friday is $15.95; Saturday, Sundays and Holidays is $19.95. Children's prices are actually good compared to many Asian-style buffets. Children pay by height - 5 ft. and under are Half of adult price, 4 ft. and under are 1/5 of adult price, amd 3 ft. & under are Free. Let me say before I go any further that the buffet meal in this restaurant is worth every penny.

The Carle Place location is in an outdoor shopping center and takes up a large space right in the middle. The restaurant is at least five store fronts in width and two store lengths plus in depth. Entering the restaurant you come to the reception desk where you are escorted to your table. I understand that it is not unusal to have to wait to get in - especially on a Saturday night and they do take reservations for groups of ten or more. The room decor is Japanese Industrial Modern - a mix of traditional Japanse motifs with an open steel ceiling and stark, industrial panels crossing the ceiling containing room lighting. Three quarters of the depth of the restaurant is filled with tables, some large enough to seat ten or more and others seating as few as four. The aisles are wide and it is not hard to walk through the dining room to the buffet area that fills the rear of the restauant. There is a second dining room that is reserved for parties. On the night that we were there a party was going on that filled the room. The rest of the restaurant was not filled but it was busy which for a mid-week, icy cold winter night is unusual.

The young lady who seated us was very welcoming and very friendly. We were promptly greeted by our server who asked if we had ever dined there before and then proceeded to explain what we would find at the buffet and where we would find it. The buffet area is dominated by a large and long, U-shape cold server. The three sides tended to from the inside by sushi chefs and attendants. One side is Sushi, the front is cold seafoods, and the otehr side is full of Japanese salads and cold noodle dishes. To the right of the U are two cold servers, one with fresh fruits and jello, and the other with small cubes of cakes and little cups of desserts. There is also a soft serve ice cream machine. To the left of the U is a long hot server of entrees and side dishes. Across the rear between the hot server and the U is an Hibachi Grill, a Japanese Noodle Soup station, a desert crepe station, and a chargrill for skewered meats, seafood, and vegetables. Just by looking you get the scope of the amount of food that is available to you.

We generally start with soup and this was no exception. We went up to the Japanese Noodle Soup staion and asked the chef behind the counter for a bowl full. He dips Udon noodles - thick, doughy noodles in boiling water, adds them to a bowl and covers them with broth. He then points to several bowls of items to add into the soup. There was fried shrimp tempura, scallions, two different crunchies (sorry, but I have no idea what they were and did not really understand what he identified them as), and a bowl of mixed spices and seasonings. I had him put it all in except the spices. My wife asked me, "Is there anything there I am not going to be happy about?" - if you have read my articles you know my wife. She is the one that does not like any fish other than shrimp and tends to be very picky about sauces and spices. I told her that she should be fine with it all and though I did not know what the spices were, to avoid the spice. In addition to the soup that was made in front of you there were also two hot soup servers to the side - one with crab soup and the other with miso soup. We both went back to our table with our steaming bowls of soup. All silverware is at the buffet counter - you get your own. On your table you are brought chop sticks and napkins, as well as a large package with a hand towel inside.

Before I tell you about the soup, let me tell you about the people who were dining here. I have always said that you can tell that a restauant with a cultural theme is good if the people of that culture are dining there. This majority of the diners in this restaurant were Asian - and I am pretty certain that the majority of them were Japanese. Everyone around us were well skilled with their chop sticks. I can use them, but I soon gave up and picked up my fork.

Back to the soup - it was wonderful. There was a subtle, sweet undertaste - just slightly there. The noodles were just right. The shrimp tempura soaking in the soup kept a bit of crunch and had a great flavor - as did those little crunchies. The soup was so good that I considered going back for another bowl but looking across the rest of the buffet I knew that I better move on if I wanted to taste as much of it as I could. I did wind up going back toward the end of the meal and getting a half bowl of the crab soup just to see what it is like. This was just a broth. In the server you could see crab legs in the shell that were cooking in the soup along with some oriental vegetables. I spooned a ladle of broth into the bowl and it was full of tiny pieces of soft crab meat floating in it. This soup had a terrific flavor as well.

I headed to the sushi next. One of the problems about writing about a restaurant that has so many unusual dishes is trying to remember what those dishes are called and when there are as many as those offered here it is also hard to keep track of all of them to report when writing. So, I will tell you about what I tried - as best as I can - and I will try to tell you about what more was there. There is Maki - Sushi which are the rolls wrapped in Nori. There is Nigiri - Sushi which is fish on a bed of rice. There is Tekaki - Sushi which are rolled cones of rice fish, and vegetables wrapped in seaweed. I took what I am familiar with and what I thought I would like to try. I must tell you that I took a piece of tuna on rice and when I ate it, it was the freshest piece of raw tuna that I have ever had in any buffet. The flavor was so much like the sea that as I finished it, I said, "Wow!" No other buffet tuna sushi has ever come close. The salmon melts in your mouth. I tried Tuna Tataki and Salmon Tataki - these were slices of fish that appeared to be cooked on the outside and the outside was also covered in black pepper. The inside was raw. These had a subtle flavor - milder than the usual raw salmon and tuna. I especially liked the tuna. I also tried white tuna that was very good. There were different rolls that had chopped fish rolled in rice. Of these I tried the tuna, the shrimp, the salmon, and two spicy rolls. I have had spicy tuna and spicy salmon before. These had the emphasis on spicy - so hot that I could not finish them. On the restauants website all of the different sushi are named - not everyone is served every day or night. As trays of sushi were emptied they were replaced almost instantaneously. There are sushi chefs working constantly behind the sushi server. This is buffet has so much more than sushi but if you like all varieties of sushi you will not be dissappointed here and you can make a meal of it.

My wife does not eat sushi, but she was not unhappy at all because as you move around the U you move to many other cold Japanese dishes. In the front, there was Sashimi - several varieties of raw fish without rice. The excellent tuna that I had on rice was here as well, along with salmon, and two other fish. Past the raw fish there were cold, peeled and deveined shrimp. My wife tried these and she said that they were excellent. There is also cold snow crab legs. These were legs and claws and not clusters, but they were large and meaty. Nutcrackers are brought to your table. Move around the U to the other side and you find a long, long row of Japanese cold noodle dishes, Oriental and Japanese prepared salads, and cold vegetables. Do not look for a tradtional salad bar - there isn't one. There was a Japanese chopped salad of lettuce, etc. Again, there were so many unusual salads and noodles that I cannot name or describe them all. I tried a cold peanut noodles and shrimp dish that was long noodles with a sauce and no visible shrimp but the shrimp flavor was in the sauce along with a subtle taste of peanuts. There was some red pepper flakes mixed in here too that gave it a mild zing. I also tried a green thin udon noodle salad in oil that was good too. There were several salads with shitake mushrooms. I tried two - one was a mound of finely shredded vegetable and mushrooms which was good and the other was just the mushrooms with vegetable - also good. There was Tataki Salmon with Cilantro Sauce - that same part cooked/part raw salmon, thinly sliced in the sauce - good. There was a Tataki Beef that I did not try as it did look like raw beef cubes that were marinated. Again, the website menu lists everything that might appear in this section.

I moved on to dumplings and tempura next. My wife was a section ahead of me as she skips the sushi. She went to the Hibachi station as she had the dumplings a dish before. There are four types of dumplings. There are Gyoza dumplings - traditional Japanese dumplings that are triangles of dough filled with chopped meats and seasonings that are pan fried. There were three types of steamed dumplings - the usual pork shumai - chopped pork wrapped in a dough cup, a shrimp dumpling ball - chopped shrimp filling a ball of translucent dough, and crab dumpling - again chopped and filling a dough dumpling. The dumplings were served in steamers. When my wife tasted the Pork Shumai she told me that it was the best one she has ever tasted. I tend to avoid these in Chinese restaurants because they are often over steamed and dense. The ones here were very light and had a delicate taste as well. I really should say that all of the dumplings could have been hotter - they were warm and there was no problem, but I expected hot and not warm.

With the dumplings I added some of the tempuras to my plate. I found two types of shrimp tempura - one that was called shrimp tempura and another that was labeled ebi tempura. Both look alike, but there was a light white sauce on the ebi tempura. I also took a piece of a vegetable tempura that was some type of squash. The tempura was crispy and not greasy. All were good. The vegetable had an interesting texture.

I finished my dumplings and tempura and headed back to the Hibachi Grill as my wife continued to enjoy her Hibachi Chicken. I decided to go with the beef. You go up to the grill and tell the chef what you would like. You have a choice of steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops, and fish. The chef took out a steak and put it on the grill. He asked if I would like to add vegetables and there were mushrooms, onions, and bean sprouts to add to the grill. As the meat cooks he begins to cut it up into small peices along with the vegetables. As it nears completion he added black pepper, soy sauce, and lemon juice. There is also chopped garlic and hot peppers if you would like. He scoops it all into your plate and is ready to cook for the next guest. Next to the Hibachi Grill is a chargrill and another chef is cooking charbroiled shrimp on skewers, vegetables on skewers, and Korean pork chops. I took a shrimp skewer and a vegetable skewer - the pork chops were still on the grill cooking. On my way back to the table I stopped at the hot server and added some noodles with vegetables on my plate. The Hibachi Steak was very good. It was seasoned nicely with no overpowering taste of soy sauce and a light taste of lemon. The noodles were also great. The shrimp on the skewer was good fire grilled shrimp. My wife's Hibachi Chicken was just as good as my Hibachi Steak.

It seems like it would be impossible to eat any more, but I take small portions of most things so that I can taste and enjoy more things. I had to try some of the hot entrees and again there were many unusual things. I tried a crab cake that had thin noodles mixed inside with the crabmeat. One of the best things that I tried was fried codfish that was made in a light crispy batter. It had a wonderful, fresh fish taste and was light and flakey. I tried both beef terriaki and chicken terriacki and both were made with a nice terriaki sauce that was not sweet - very different from the usual that is called terriaki. I tried two things served in shells - one a scallop mixture - very good - and the other a crab shell filled with crabmeat and breadcrumb mixture - good. Japanese Fried Rice was good. There were many other things that I just had no room to try (if I was going to make it to the desserts). Among those were Japanese barbecued chicken, salmon rolls, pork spareribs, Fried Whitefish with Asian sauce, eggplant in a sauce, calamari, oysters rockafeller, and more. There was nothing dissappointing.

Dessert. You must consiously make an effort to remember that there is going to be desserts that you will want and you must pace your eating accordingly. It is easy to get to this point in the meal and realize that you are truly stuffed. BUT - you must have the desserts. The most enticing of the desserts are the crepes made to order. A chef makes crepes on a crepe grill and fills them with your choice of fillings. There is a list at the side with all of the fruit fillings and other fillings. I am certain that you can combine them if you like. This night next to the grill were strawberries, rasberries, pineapple, and apples - all toppings and not fresh fruits. On the list were blueberries but there were none out. I was about to ask and then chocolate caught my eye. Yes, that was the one I was going to try. The chef took the hot crepe and covered it with chocolate sauce and then folded it in half and let it cook a little longer. It was then scooped onto a plate and whipped cream was added on top. Oh my! Yes, I made the right choice. It was wonderful. Have you noticed that I keep describing things as wonderful. I have noticed that too, but that is the word that comes to mind first - and it was...wonderful. I finished that and headed back to see what more there was. There was an assortment of cakes - at first glance they appeared to be the usual "Little Debbie"-style cakes found at all Asian buffets, but they were not. Each was a small square or cube but these were flavors and varieties that you do not usually find. There was a smll cup with Vanilla Flan - nice. A cream puff was filled with real whipped cream and not he usual sugared cream. There were sliced fruit tarts. There was a cup with strawberry yogurt - but this was not supermarket yogurt. There was also an assortment of fresh fruit and melons - watermelon way out of season - along with other melons. There was also soft serve ice cream but not what you might expect. There were two flavors - the usual vanilla and the other green tea ice cream. We both had to try green tea ice cream. It is green. It was very refreshing, not very sweet, but I did not taste the tea. My wife said that she tasted a light tea flavor. It was pleasant and I finished it down to the bottom of the cup.

Everything about the restaurant was good. Everything was clean. The restrooms were clean and very modern. The service was excellent and friendly. Plates were removed from the table immediately. At the buffet servers, everything was labeled and many of the items also had descriptions of what was in them. All of the food was kept fresh in the serving trays. Everything was well tended and staff kept a close eye on the serving dishes to make sure they did not need to be replaced.

There was nothing about this at the restaurant but on their website on their FAQ page they state that they like to limit each table to a maximum of 90 minutes. That is fair and adequate and not surprising with the crowds that this restaurant is known to get. They will make special arrangements beyond this for large parties if you speak with them.

The website also notes that the lunch menu does not include the Hibachi Grill or the Crepes Grill, Crab Legs, Cocktail Shrimp, and "Premium" fish .They do say that there is, however, an equal number of dishes served at lunch and dinner. There is no mention that the weekend dinners are any different from the weeknight dinners.

We are both very happy that we went to Minado. I will again say that there was nothing disappointing about the entire meal and all was... wonderful! This will most likely become our new restaurant to go to for special occasions. At the price, at least for me, this is not an every week or even a once a month restaurant. But we have personal celebrations that we like to go to someplace special. This was special on this night and we look forward to the next time that we will have an "excuse" to go and spend more than $70 on dinner with tax and tip.

The hours of the restaurant are to be noted, as they are closed between lunch and dinner. The hours are Monday - Friday: 11:30am - 2:30pm and Saturday - Sunday: 11:30am - 3:00pm for lunch and dinner hours are Monday - Thursday: 6:00pm - 9:30pm, Friday - Saturday: 5:30pm - 10:00pm, and Sunday: 5:00pm - 9:00pm. The last seating is thirty minutes before closing - and you must be aware that the Hibachi Grill and the Crepe Grill also close thirty minutes before closing. If you go at the end of the evening you may not make it to both the Hibachi Grill and the Crepe Grill.

The New York location of Minado is located at 219 Glen Cove Rd, Carle Place, New York. Their telephone number is 516-294-9541. There is a website and the link is at the side of this page.

I definitely recommend that you try Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet. If all of the locations are like the one in Carle Place, NY you will be as happy as we are.

4 comments:

SkippyMom said...

I can definitely see you more than received your money's worth [even tho' it is expensive]! Wow...I wish we lived closer, as it sounds spectacular.

Christopher King said...

Minado and Nori Nori are the shiz-nit.

I've been to Minado in Boston before and have been working in Atlanta, about 3 miles from Nori Nori, where I go twice a week for lunch.

Great concept, great execution.

-KingCast dot net.

pogey1 said...

i have been to minado in carle place a few times for lunch..the food was fresh but i dont think it was worth the money..there are a few other sushi buffets on long island that are less expensive and are equally good.

Robert A said...

Please share the names of those other sushi buffets with us! Thanks!