Bountiful bargain

Bountiful bargain

Quantity, variety and relatively cheap prices are sure to attract diners to Osaka Seafood Buffet

By Erica Wayne 08/07/2013

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An ordinarily mild-mannered friend bristled when I mentioned my plans to review the Rusty Pelican when it first opened on the hillside off Harvey Drive two decades ago.  

“I’ll never go back,” she stated flatly. 

“Why,” I asked, “was the food bad?” 

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’ve never been able to get in.” 

She wasn’t alone. The accommodation problems were so acute that the Pelican took out ads to apologize. 
But a decade later, it had fallen on hard times. I was horrified to find that the north half of the knoll on which the $3.5-million structure once rested in elegant splendor was occupied by an In-N-Out, replete with glaring yellow and red neon and blazing fluorescent lighting. In-N-Out’s cold-cash offer for land was too much to resist. And, while I’m ordinarily a fan, their presence didn’t enhance the Pelican’s ambiance.
Once inside, the Pelican’s “feathers” were still well preened; food and service remained excellent. But in 2005, Glendale’s bird flew back to Newport Beach, where it still thrives. Its place was taken by restaurant/lounge/club Minx, which tried for a half-decade to lure the young with its flirtatious name and (according to Yelpers’ critiques) high prices and draconian dress codes. By 2010, it too had fled.
Last year, yet another proprietor decided to try the venue, and Osaka Seafood Buffet (Glendale branch — there are two others) was born. We saw the sign and heard from friends that it was good value for the money. Then, a few weeks back, encouraged by a mailer ad (buy one, get a second for 50 percent), we stopped by on the way home from UCLA for an early dinner. 

From the outside, Osaka still looks like the gorgeous Pelican but, like it and Minx in its later years, the parking lot has plenty of spaces while cars jam its hamburger-wielding neighbor’s take-out. The buffet’s weeknight price for adults is $18.99 ($11.99 for lunch, $19.99 Friday evening and weekends), similar to other local buffets, and, for that price, there’s certainly plenty to choose from.
The building retains its fine bones: high ceilings, panoramic views and odd-shaped nooks and crannies with expensive veneers and woods. The most obvious additions are three huge U-shaped buffet stations and, around the corner of the L-shaped split-level space, a small carvery and stir-fry area. A classic rock radio station backdrop provides nice music (Eagles, Beatles, etc.), but the commercials suck.
We first headed for the extensive sushi/sashimi arrays. The assortment was good-looking, with several fancy rolls alongside basics. I counted about 20 varieties, including tuna, salmon, eel, octopus, egg, shrimp, snapper, tempura shrimp roll, California roll and spicy tuna roll. No yellowtail despite a mention in the ad. Dang! 

The quality was what I expect from buffets — mostly served too cold and meant more for gourmands than gourmets. Nevertheless, we sampled more than a few, especially the salmon, which most closely approximated what you might anticipate from a decent sushi bar. There was plenty of wasabi and ginger nearby, along with soy sauce (unfortunately full-salt) on our table.

A pile of snow crab legs (with melted butter, a nice touch) was on display, along with oysters, which we looked at but didn’t try. There were also trays of crawfish, lobster claws and medium size shrimp with cocktail sauce. All in all, the seafood was plentiful and varied.
Other than the cold seafood, and despite its name, most of Osaka’s food was essentially Chinese. For instance, aside from miso, the soup selection consisted of egg drop, fish ball, mixed seafood, a delicious hot and sour and shark fin. (ICK – I thought that had been outlawed in California!)
The steam tables held mushroom chicken, sautéed string beans, spinach with garlic, orange chicken, chow-mien, fried rice, coconut shrimp, salt and pepper crab, black pepper beef, baked oysters, mussels and scallops. Egg rolls, fried banana, cheese wonton, skimpy pot stickers and fried chicken wings were room-temperature. 

I found the string beans and spinach overly oily. My mate really liked the coconut shrimp. The orange chicken was heavily battered and somewhat bland. The beef was fine. And that was the way our dinner went: a few hits, some clear misses and a lot of food we found edible but not memorable.

The carvery had a big hunk of beef under a heat lamp along with a heap of oversized pork ribs. Since the station wasn’t manned, I made do with a couple of ribs which were tough but tasty enough. The stir-fry station was also unstaffed, so we couldn’t test its merit.

I was attracted by a small dim-sum station, with nine or 10 lidded containers. Two items, a dumpling with a sunshiny sweetened egg-based filling and another with red bean paste, were just dandy. The others, either plain dough or sticky rice bao filled with bland pork, left us unimpressed. 

Desserts were mostly standard: miniature pastries (Napoleons, cream puffs and the like), fresh fruit (melon, orange, banana and pineapple), a serve-yourself ice cream freezer with six tubs and a tri-level chocolate fountain with marshmallows and fruit to skewer. As for us, we finished with more dim-sum. 
Osaka is definitely not the place to go if you’re looking for a high-end Japanese or Chinese repast. However, the quantity, variety and relatively cheap price may easily attract. If you choose wisely, a good meal can be had in an attractive setting. And if you have kids, the chocolate fountain and rainbow ice cream should be an instant hit. 
Seafood Buffet
300 Harvey Drive, 
Beer and wine/
Major cards 


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