First of all, I personally believe that whoever invented such thing as a sushi buffet should be sainted, and I’m not even a religious person. The last time I set foot in a church was Ian’s and my first date, and that was for a concert. Before that, I’m not sure how long it was, but it was for a concert that time, too, and the time before that probably was as well. In any case, yes. Sushi buffet — brilliant idea.
However, I’ve been to buffets that have sushi, and they are… well, unappetizing at best, and likely to give you food poisoning at worst. I’m not naming any names, Great Wall Buffet in Augusta, Maine. The key distinction is that Minado is a sushi buffet that has a few other foods — hot foods like breaded scallops, poached fish and fried chicken wings, as well as cold salads and the standard buffet desserts — instead of a buffet that happens to include sushi. Behind the buffet table, you can see sushi rolls being made, fresh, right before your eyes. The fish is high-quality and delicious, and while the rolls could be a little tighter — I had a few fall apart on their way to my mouth — they certainly couldn’t be fresher.
This was one of our last stops on our Boston trip. Our Sunday lunch visit was rushed, because I dawdled that morning in Chinatown, and we got on the Mass Pike later than expected, so our plan to meet up with friends for a leisurely lunch before attending a listening party at TCAN turned into a mad dash to join our friends’ meal already in progress and stuff as much food down our gullets as the buffet line allowed before the party started.
The nigiri sushi was my favorite — the salmon and tuna were great — but they had an insane assortment of rolls as well, including one that had banana on the inside and kiwi on the outside. I had to try that one just on principle, but it mostly just tasted like bananas and rice. Ian was not a huge fan of the Philadelphia roll, but he never is, because most places use too much cream cheese. The spicy tuna roll was weird, topped with some kind of southwestern-tasting seasoning; I’m more accustomed to spicy tuna rolls employing sriracha mayo for their heat, so the texture was unfamiliar, and not pleasantly so.
I can’t remember everything we tried, but there was one that had smoked salmon that tasted like canned tuna fish, and of course that wasn’t all that great, either — if I wanted canned tuna, I would make some at home, in my pajamas… and sometimes I do. I had one that tasted like it might have had crispy fried salmon skin on the bottom, which is probably really nice if you’re a person who likes salmon skin, like my little sister. I’m not, so it wasn’t a nice surprise at all, and that one ended up discreetly spit into a folded napkin. They were sort of hit or miss, really, but the ones that were a hit were such big hits, and the selection was so vast and so fresh that you didn’t really mind having to kiss a few frogs while searching for the really excellent varieties.
The hot bar had some interesting things on it; Ian had a fried shrimp on a stick, with head and shell intact. He said the head wasn’t bad, but eating the shell felt like chewing on plastic. The fried chicken wings had too much stuff on them and not enough flavor, but were very moist and tender. There were some very decent steamed dumplings, as well. The cold salad bar had a seaweed salad that Ian enjoyed. Our biggest regret was that we didn’t have time for dessert — apparently where more generic buffets have chocolate and vanilla soft serve ice cream, Minado has green tea ice cream! I guess I’ll have to settle for trying to make my own at some point.
Minado is a chain, with locations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; its sister restaurant, Nori Nori, has locations in Georgia and New York. I’d like to say it restored the faith in chain restaurants that I had lost after my P.F. Chang’s experience on Friday, but it is a much smaller chain and therefore has the luxury of being able to more closely control the quality of its products. It was still very delicious, and affordable (my lovely friend Kim insisted on picking up the check, but one of the reasons I chose the restaurant was because it was highly rated but not overly pricey.) I would absolutely (and probably will) return, next time I am in Natick. Four out of five forks.
Featured image from Minado’s website. Borrowed without permission. If this photo belongs to you, we will gladly remove it at your request.