Back at my table, I plunk down my plate and sink into the deeply cushioned, high-backed booth, a clubby steakhouse refinement in this family buffet setting. Among the bites I’ve assembled for my first round are a few cocktail shrimp; pieces of tuna, tako and salmon nigiri; fresh slices of tuna sashimi; a square of cold tofu; pickled daikon; tiny rounds from California, Philadelphia and salmon-skin rolls; and a handful of miniature crawfish curled up tight from their hot-water bath. In all, I have at least a dozen options on my plate.
The discouraging news is that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the offerings at Hokkaido. Located in a functional, cosmetically challenged strip center in Bailey’s Crossroads, Hokkaido is the Wal-Mart Superstore of buffets. The small chain says its Northern Virginia outlet employs 10 chefs who prepare more than 200 items daily for diners required to fork over a mere $17.99 each (a criminal $9.99 at lunch) to take this gastronomic tour through the cuisines of East and Southeast Asia (or, sometimes, the cuisine of Panda Express).
Few customers, I suspect, would wander into Hokkaido for, say, the sushi or dim sum alone. Its budget-grade fish (note to those already hitting the comment button: It’s not an official grade) and tight-fisted selection of dumplings and buns would not satisfy true enthusiasts. No, the appeal of Hokkaido is the sheer, stupefying, Epcot Center, more-is-more spread of morsels available at your fingers. I do not have nearly enough words in this column to begin to quantify the foods here, let alone provide any qualitative assessments.
But allow me to give you a taste: For less than $20, you are given unlimited access to about a half-dozen types of nigiri sushi, a small selection of sashimi, a few shellfish options, a whole mess of sushi rolls, a generous spread of Asian salads and condiments (from black fungus to kimchi), a hot bar swimming in soups (from clam chowder to, sadly, shark fin), a dim sum station, some Chinese-American plates, a few amusing/confusing stabs at American junk food (pizza, chicken wings), regional Chinese specialties and even a towering, multi-tiered chocolate fountain in which you can drown slices of banana or tiny semi-stale marshmallows on a stick. Did I mention the teppanyaki station where you can select your own ingredients and have a chef spatula them into a hot, tasty mess on a griddle?