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Originally published December 17, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Page modified December 19, 2009 at 8:56 AM

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Restaurant review

Bluefin Sushi & Seafood Buffet can fill the bill for lots of occasions

Bluefin Sushi & Seafood Buffet in the Northgate Mall will satisfy a hungry family or a group of friends headed for a holiday celebration.

Special to The Seattle Times

Bluefin Sushi & Seafood Buffet 2.5 stars

Japanese/Korean/Chinese

401 N.E. Northgate Way (Northgate Mall), Seattle

206-367-0115

www.bluefinseattle.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 5-9 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.

Prices: $$$ (Lunch $15.99 Mondays-Thursdays, $17.99 Fridays-Sundays; dinner $26.99 Mondays-Thursdays, $28.99 Fridays-Sundays; children 5 feet and under half-price, 4 feet and under $7, 3 feet and under $2; seniors over 65 15 percent discount.)

Drinks: Beer, wine, sake, soft drinks.

Parking: Free in lot.

Sound: Moderate.

Who should go: Mallgoers with big appetites trolling for something leagues above the food court; great for groups and families.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

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Sitting beneath the cerulean waves suspended above the meticulously maintained sushi and seafood buffet at Bluefin may be the closest I ever get to being on a cruise ship, which is fine with me.

Not everyone loves a buffet, but I suspect we are in the minority. Certainly this all-you-can-eatery at Northgate Mall seems tailor-made for this season of incessant shopping and entertaining.

Bluefin could be the solution to many a holiday quandary: where to gather for that gift exchange with the book club/office/neighborhood gang; where to take the relatives you're tired of cooking for (the restaurant is even open on Christmas and New Year's Day); or where to go with a fractious family when one wants sushi, one wants chow mein and one wants bulgogi.

Formerly The Eating Factory located in Bellevue, two-year-old Bluefin is a smoothly run operation in a bright, cheery space that accommodates 250 people. The one-price-fits-all concept ($26.99 per person at dinner; $15.99 at lunch; $2 more on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) means that unless Uncle Harvey goes heavy on the sake, beer or wine the bill won't be a surprise even if everyone pigs out. (And if Harvey happens to be over 65 he'll get a 15 percent discount.)

Little ones eat at a reduced price too on a sliding scale based on height, gauged by a measuring stick tucked discreetly near the entrance. The shorter they are the less you'll pay.

All of this is no doubt why Bluefin swarms with families and seniors, 99 percent of them Asian. Most begin grazing at the main buffet, plucking sushi, sashimi, fresh oysters, shrimp, snow crab and king crab legs from chilled white platters regularly refreshed by chefs who toil within the large oval.

The sushi is more than acceptable and the selection is broad, encompassing tuna, salmon and shrimp but also escolar, squid, octopus and eel.

A second trip might take you to the far corner for delicate vegetable tempura that features Kabocha squash and Japanese sweet potato. Nearby are savory, scallion-studded Korean pancakes and assorted banchan — tiny dried candied shrimp, spicy platycodon root and more. Appropriate sauces are provided, along with tiny bowls.

Travel to China and bring back whole fried shrimp, battered, wok-fried Dungeness crab and excellent curried squid, along with more standard fare, such as chow mein, fried rice and sweet and sour pork.

Squid swathed in spicy-sweet Korean kochujang and ribbons of jellyfish slippery with sesame oil entice from the salad bar, alongside traditional American salad fixings.

Noodles are cooked to order. Oniony udon was robust and satisfying; the wan ramen broth needed more than a pinch of togarashi and white pepper from the bowls provided.

If you've snagged something you don't care for — like flavorless baked salmon or rubbery pork — put it aside and try something else. While you go fishing for more, your abandoned plate will be removed.

Dessert fanciers will be drawn to the rainbow of bite-size sweets and sheet pans of surprisingly good crème brûlée and tiramisu. Kids will love the soft-serve frozen yogurt you dispense yourself into tiny cones.

Things to know before you go: Serving tongs rest on plates at the edge of the buffet. Stacks of dinner plates and bowls are stashed at numerous locations along the buffet. Flatware and chopsticks are provided. Soy sauce is on each table.

Lunch includes a free giant soft drink. If you don't want a bellyful of carbonated beverage to limit what you can eat, a bottle of warm sake big enough to share is $8; green tea is $2.50.

Crab and other shellfish only appear at dinner, when there are many more choices generally, hence the higher price. Friday-Sunday look for prime rib, BBQ pork ribs, duck and the Korean glass noodle dish japchae. Lobster will be available in limited quantities on Christmas and New Year's Day. Holiday price: $29.99.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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