Friday, January 29, 2010

A Bowl of Udon and a Crepe Too Far

It was time for our annual "office party for two". Both my wife and I work at home and decided a few years back when this started that just because we work at hoem we should not miss out on the "Holiday" party. As we dine out regularly, going to just any restaurant is not much of a party. BUT, going to a restaurant that we can't generally afford for "just a night out" would be something special. Now with almost two feet of snow on the ground and icy night roads, there was not too far that we could venture off to - so those big priced all you can eat lobster restaurants in other states were out. No, even without the snow, I knew where I wanted to go. It has been a year since we went to Minado Japanese Seafood buffet and when the subject of Holiday Party came up in discussion, memories of Minado came to mind! And this is a restaurant - while not very, very high priced, is high for us for "just dinner out". And saving this for special occasions, keeps it special.

I wrote extensively describing Minado in January 2009 and I will not repeat all that I wrote there. In a year the price at Minado has gone up a dollar - both on weeknights and on the weekends, making the weeknight dinner $28.95 per person and the weekend dinner $31.99. As I say - high (for me) for a weeknight meal, but as this was our "party" it was just fine. Soda is an additional $2.00 and there are refills.

I had a lot of anticipation about returning to Minado. Sometimes when something is so good you can build it up in your mind and remember it beyond what it actually is. This was not the case and it remains as I remember it. It was at Minado that I tasted really good, sushi quality raw fish. And since I have compared the sushi tuna and salmon that I have had at the usual Asian buffets to this really fresh and quality fish and know that there is quite a difference. The sushi and other sushi bar offerings - there are so many terms for these in Japanese at sushi restaurants that I will not try to identify what belongs to what category. I eat it and I like it - as long as I know the kind of fish that it is, I don't care what the technical category is that identifies it - any way, I was saying - these are plentiful and of great variety. Many types of fish, alone or in many combinations, are found here with several chefs standing behind the counter making more and replacing or refilling the trays out for you to take from. Here, as in another real Japanese sushi buffet that I have been to, some selections come out and are replaced when they are empty by another variety. Something that I have only had here - Tuna Tataki - a slightly seared and seasoned on the edges slice of tuna raw in the middle on a loaf of rice - was there when I first went up to the sushi area - took two pieces - and then when I went back later in the evening, and actually not too long before closing, was gone and not put out again. (My wife suggests that because of the time and what is required of this slightly cooked tuna, it was too late to put out more.) While I would have liked another piece, I did have two to start, and another sushi choice had taken its place on the counter.

Food is in abundance here. There is more out than one can possibly sample all in one visit. The variety is overwhelming and there are things that will more than satisfy most tastes - even if one does not eat fish - which describes my wife. In addition to the sushi there is a counter full of prepared Japanese salads and cold dishes. So many combinations of noodles, shrimp, seaweed, greens, mushrooms, fish and more is found. There was a Beef Tataki which, like the tuna, is raw beef sliced very thin that has been seared and seasoned only slightly on the edges, so essentially it is raw beef. As I like my beef raw, this was not too far from how I eat beef anyway - but it is not something you are bound to find at just any buffet. I had passed this buy a year ago - I had to try it this time and did go back for more.

One thing that struck me on this visit was that the heat of the seasoning has been turned up a notch - some things were spicier hot that I remembered. This was true for some of the cold dishes and some of the hot entrees. Everything is labeled in detail with what the ingredients are - something rarely found at any buffet, but there is no indication of spicy or mild. The labeling of dishes here is excellent. It is very easy to avoid anything that you do not like or may not want to try.

We both started the meal with a freshly prepared in front of you bowl of udon noodle soup. Thick, round, long noodles are cooked in hot water, placed in a bowl and covered with additional items that you indicate to the chef including shrimp tempura. All of this is covered with steaming broth. I love this soup. From there, for me it was off to the sushi, and for my wife it was off to the several types of steamed and fried dumplings that they have. All good.

The entrees were were the same and also were varied to what was there last year - all still good. After a small sampling of several, I headed to the Hibachi grill where you can choose one or two selections of steak, chicken, scallops, shrimp, and fish. I picked scallops and beef. On to the grill he put a thin slice of steak and about ten nice sized scallops. It struck me that this was more scallops than you get in an average dinner order at a menu restaurant - and this was all for me. To this he added vegetables - bean sprouts, large and thick slices of onion, mushrooms, and zucchini. He asks you first if you want vegetables. That is all that he asks as he proceeds to grill it all and add a variety of liquid condiments, a little garlic, and other things until it is time to add hot spices. He asked - and I said no. And no hot spices went in - perfect. He cuts it all as it is cooking into small bite size pieces and continues to grill - no show with spinning knives like at the hibachi restaurants where they cook at your table - but no show was needed. He put all of this onto my plate when it was done. I went over to the hot buffet and added a side of Japanese fried rice - a lighter version of Chinese fried rice - and I went back to my table. It was very good. The scallops were exceptionally good. This was a full and heaping plate of food - equal or more so to what one would get on a menu. After finishing this dish, there is not much room for more.

My wife asked me an interesting question when we first began to eat. Do people eat more in a restaurant like this where the price is high just so that they feel that they have gotten their money's worth? I looked around at the other tables and told her that I did not think so. First, I am sure many people who dine there regularly do not think that they are paying a high price. Compared to many restaurants in this over-priced restaurant region (in fact according to Zagget's the most over priced restaurants in the country including more so than New York City) the price here is average to perhaps below average. NOT FOR ME, but for some. I do think that this type of restaurant and buffet attracts a different type of person than the lower priced buffets and restaurants. The one thing to keep in mind about Minado is that what you are getting is quality and the abundance of what you are getting really is value for the money spent.

No, it was not the money that kept me going. It was however, the idea that it will be a while before I am back and I wanted more of a good thing. So after the plate of hibachi grill I went back up to see what else I could sample. I took a little bit of this and that - some things that I had before and some things that I missed. This was when I went back to look for the tuna tataki. All the while the crepe grill in the corner has my eye and dessert crepes are to be had. But, did I stop at that plate. No! Breaking my own rule of stop when you think you should, I went back up again. After all, I did not feel full. I decided, as my wife sat and watched, that I would have more of what I enjoyed most at the beginning of the meal - another bowl of udon noodle soup. Ah, the mind and eyes truly are bigger than the stomach. I got about halfway through that wonderful bowl of soup and decided maybe I shouldn't have. I did, however, and I finished it.

Dessert is a variety of little squares of cake - of varieties beyond the little Asian buffet cakes often found - fresh fruit, jello, soft serve ice cream, and made to order hot crepes with fruit, whipped cream, and/or chocolate - your choice in any combination. The crepes are made on a round griddle. A stack have been pre-made and are kept hot next to the griddle to keep the crepes moving out to the waiting diners without delay. You tell the lady what you want inside, she puts one of these crepes back on the griddle and then scoops on what you would like. It sits for a bit and then is slid onto your plate. What I don't understand is that she puts on the whipped cream first - on the crepe still on the hot griddle. It does stay intact but when you are back to your table and eating it much of it is now just cream and not whipped cream. No matter - it tastes just as great. I stared with a crepe with whipped cream and chocolate. I followed that with a small square of tiramisu (ok, but nothing like the real one at Buffet Europa) and also a small cup of flan. My wife had the soft serve green tea ice cream. I tried a taste of hers and it was good. That should have been the end of the meal. Yes, it should have been the end of the meal - but that crepe griddle was calling to me, "Come back for another!" Foolish me. I listened. Yes, I was back up at the crepe grill asking for another whipped cream and chocolate crepe. And I ate it too.

And thus the title of this article. Yes, I went one bowl of udon noodle soup and one chocolate and whipped cream crepe too far. I was all right - but I was not comfortable. I can't eat as much these days as I once did - and I do recall those nights years ago of several walks around the parking lot before getting into the car to try to digest - even just a little. I was ok, but I did have an uncomfortable drive home and the freezing cold air did not help. But it did not spoil this wonderful dinner and evening. It was a fabulous holiday office party for two that rivals and surpasses many office parties that I have been to when I actually worked in an office.

Will I go back to Minado? Absolutely - but for me this is a special dinner for a special occasion.

Minado has several locations mostly in New Jersey, one in Pennsylvania, one in Massachusetts, and one in New York - this one in Carle Place.There is also a second group of restaurants under a different name called Nori-Nori. 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. Hours may always vary from location to location so check on the website before you go. On the website you will find details for all of the locations. Be aware that they did come around fifteen minutes before closing to say that it was last call before the food would be taken away. This is nice of them to do - not all buffets are so courteous.

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