Minami Japanese Grill & Supreme Buffet

by chubbywerewolf on 6 January 2012

Sushi dishes on display at the buffet at Minami Japanese Grill & Super Buffet. Be sure to try the snow roll.

Sushi dishes on display at the buffet at Minami Japanese Grill & Super Buffet. Be sure to try the snow roll.

Minami Japanese Grill South Portland on UrbanspoonWho could have guessed that the solution to Portland’s abysmal Chinese buffet (and takeout) offerings—so well documented here and here—would be a Japanese buffet?

Not me. At least not prior to a few nights ago.

But that was before I discovered Minami Japanese Grill & Supreme Buffet, one of the best buffet experiences I’ve had in the last five years, and a definite game-changer for the Asian buffet scene in Southern Maine.

Minami, which opened a few days prior to Christmas, resides on Philbrook Avenue (South Portland) in the same complex as Hannaford and TJ Maxx.

I admit that when I walked in a couple of nights back, my expectations were pretty low. Can you really blame me? If you’ve experienced any of the Portland-area buffets first-hand, you probably can’t and won’t.

The dining area at Minami Japanese Grill & Super Buffet in South Portland

The dining area at Minami Japanese Grill & Super Buffet in South Portland

Needless to say, I was more than a little surprised—no, astonished—at how nicely decorated this spacious restaurant is. The seating area has a tasteful brown, black and gold color scheme. With its decorative hanging lanterns, soft lighting and gentle background music—the dining room is a stark contrast to the sticky tile floors, tacky furniture and harsh lighting found at many of the afore-referenced establishments in the Portland area.

It certainly helps that everything in the place—from the carpets to the tables to the buffet counters—appears to brand-spanking new and impeccably clean. (It will certainly be understandable if some of the luster wears off over time. But for now, at least, its all just marvelous to look at.)

During my inaugural visit, I was greeted at the front door by a pair of friendly, English-fluent hostesses, one of whom escorted me to my seat. Not long after, a waitress came by and took my drink order. Buoyed by the sight of a the impressive-looking bar a few feet away, I was tempted to try one of the two dozen alcoholic drinks on the beverage menu, but instead opted for a glass of water and a diet soda (delightful revelation number one: Minami serves Pepsi products).

At this point, it was go-time. My waitress, apparently no stranger to the perils of denying a fat man access to a buffet, didn’t bother trying to sell me on any of the menu offerings. She knew what I was there for as much as I did. So, with a graceful swing of her arm, invited me to begin my buffet experience.

With a half-dozen counters, hibachi grill and a handful of specialty stations, the buffet area is quite large. Two of the counters are devoted to cold foods: sushi, salads and desserts; while the remaining four house various hot dishes. Interspersed throughout the buffet are an area for chilled crab legs and shrimp cocktail, a couple of prepared soups (miso soup and a pretty good seafood soup were available on the day of my visit) and a dim sum station. I also spotted a second soup station next to the hibachi grill, this one featuring a sign stating that it was a “steamed organic soup station.” Though I did not sample any soup from this station, my sense is that patrons can essentially have their own soups prepared for them by pairing Udon noodles with any one of a number of secondary ingredients. It is a definite “must try” on my next visit.

Clams with onions and peppers

Clams with onions and peppers at Minami

The buffet is not just large, it is quite nice to look at. In lieu of the standard buffet steam trays, nearly all of the dishes were served on large white platters. I was a little bit concerned that platters might not keep the food very warm (or cold, as the case may be), but everything I ate from the hot foods section was just the right temperature. The use of tong/spoon rests at many of the cold food stations was a nice touch. I did notice that a few of the dishes on the buffet were either not labelled at all, or mislabeled. But in most cases, it was obvious what the food was. In the few instances where it was not, the engaging, friendly and knowledgeable staff was happy to answer my questions.

As a general rule, I don’t eat shellfish or raw fish from buffets. But seeing how beautifully the sushi was presented—and given the fact that it was evident that it had been prepared just minutes earlier by one of the sushi chefs behind the counter—I was more than happy to make an exception.

I’m so glad that I did. All of the sushi dishes I tried were fantastic, but my favorite—by far—was the “snow roll,” a combination of crab, spicy shrimp tempura, mango white seaweed wrapper. I really enjoyed how the mango worked with the seafood to provide the roll with a light, tropical feel. It was an instant favorite, and its a dish that I’ll seek out the next time I’m there.

In addition to the sushi, I tried one chilled crab leg and a few of the shrimp. Expecting to find shrimp of the “peel & eat” variety, I was delighted to see that they had already been peeled and deveined. Firm and tasty, they were the perfect accompaniment to my sushi sampler.

One of the six buffet counters at Minami

One of the six buffet counters at Minami

With my opening course of sushi nestled safely in my belly, I returned to the hot foods section and took in the wide array of dishes available: wok crab, shrimp tempura, cocoanut shrimp, honey chicken, orange chicken, yakitori (beef, chicken and shrimp), shrimp and pork gyoza, Tokyo crab rangoon, pork buns, salt and pepper shrimp, stuffed peppers, teriyaki beef, clams, beef negomaki, stuffed shrimp, baked salmon and an assortment of tempura dishes, to name just a few. (Delightful revelation number two: the large number of seafood offerings at Minami.)

Of the hot dishes, my favorite was the wok crab, which featured succulent crab in a pleasant, not-too-spicy sauce. I tasted onions, chilis and garlic, but I could be mistaken on one or all counts. I did find the crab a little bit hard to eat due to the lack of a knife (tables were outfitted with forks only). I don’t mind tearing apart chilled crab legs with my bare hands, but when they are hot and covered in sauce, it becomes a rather messy task. That said, I’m sure that if I had asked the very accommodating staff for a knife, one would have been provided. (Soup spoons were available at the soup station.)

Another surprising standout for me was the Tokyo crab rangoon. Perhaps the most Americanized of Asian dishes, crab rangoon has never appealed to me very much… mostly because it is usually prepared so poorly. But here, there was the perfect ratio of crab meat to cream cheese to wrapper (which was very nicely fried, and neither too heavy nor too greasy). I still can’t say that I know what makes “Tokyo crab rangoon” any different from regular crab rangoon, but it will be another must-repeat dish for me.

Other hot dish standouts for me included the clams in peppers and onion, beef teriyaki and a baked salmon which—while probably not the type of dish I’ll remember 20 years from now—was simply a thoughtfully and competently prepared piece of fish… something that runs in short supply in the Maine Mall area these days.

End your meal at Minami with dessert... or do what I did and eat more sushi.

End your meal at Minami with dessert... or do what I did and eat more sushi.

Not being a big dessert guy, I opted for a couple more pieces of the snow roll to finish my meal. That said, the assortment of fruit, pies and cakes looked rather tempting.

Near the end of my meal, I met Jimmy, the owner. I had previously observed him making his way around the restaurant—a friendly smile on his face—visiting patrons at their tables, welcoming them to (or back to, as was the case with two nearby tables of repeat visitors) Minami. When he stopped by to great me, we chatted for a few minutes and I appreciated the fact that he was genuinely interested in my feedback about my experience. During our conversation, Jimmy mentioned two interesting bits of information: 1) the buffet offerings change weekly, and 2) that lobster tail is available at the buffet on weekends, at no additional charge.

My meal, drink included, came to around $20, which I feel is very reasonable. (The buffet, sans drink, should run you $16.95. The lunch buffet is $10.95.) Some will point out that you can eat elsewhere for less, but honestly—with its emphasis on quality and variety—Minami is operating on an entirely different level. I’m already planning a return visit in the near future, and I hope that you’ll check it out too.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Mister Meatball January 7, 2012 at 6:21 am

Interesting. I will try it pronto.

ありがとう

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M Lewis January 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

I can’t wait to try it. I took a visual tour a few days ago and everything looked delicious and clean. It has the same feel as Miando in Natick Massachusetts but on a much smaller scale. If you’ve never tried Minado, it is worth the trip.

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Mrs.R January 8, 2012 at 9:12 am

I am Japanese and 100% satisfied!You can’t eat so many variety of high quality food anywhere else for $17.One thing I didn’t like was Fried chicken wing and Chicken strip.Spice tasted funky to me…

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charles reid January 11, 2012 at 10:19 am

I loved it… want to go with my friends but don’t know what the Vegetarian menu is.

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Amy Chen January 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

We went in there with my family, it is much better than great wall, it is more like the restaurant than the buffet. Everything is clean open kitchen style cook to order for sushi soup and habachi, it is great i am glad I went in.

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Bonni Tuttle January 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm

This restaurant is supurb!! I went there yesterday for lunch and was florred by not only the beauty and cleanliness of the place, but the food was excellent. I am definately going again and again. If you enjoy good food than you need to experience Minami.

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Kimberly January 12, 2012 at 9:46 pm

After reading the reviews I could not wait to try this out, when we walked in I thought sure the reviews were right, sadly that was not the case for me. The waitress did not explain how the ordering worked. Most of the dishes were not labled so we weren’t sure what they were. It seemed slow in the restaurant and that may explain why some of the things were dried out. They serve their crablegs cold which I don’t care for. The steak was awesome however. They had only 1 Green Tea creme brulee available and when I asked for more the waitress barely understood what I was asking for so I had to take her over and show her, she said 1 minute and I didn’t see her again so I asked a different one who told me the chef could make it but it would take a long time, 2 seconds later a different waitress brought one to me. This was more than we like to spend on a meal and I have to say it was not worth it. I eat more when I go to the Great Wall Buffet and for less. You are paying for atmosphere here and fancy plates, the food is not any better than any other buffets for less. I won’t go back, We tried it and it’s over rated, in this economy we all need to save our pennies, The waitstaff did not speak good english and were not even remotely friendly.Don’t have high expectations and you won’t be disappointed here.

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chubbywerewolf January 13, 2012 at 12:13 am

Hi Karen. I’m sorry to hear that you did not have a positive experience on your visit to Minami. My experiences differed from yours in many areas, though—in retrospect—I think I’d agree with you about the staff needing to do a better job explaining the ordering. It was not until my second visit (earlier this week) that I was told that included in the cost of the buffet was the option to have up to four sushi and/or hibachi dishes (per person) made to order and delivered to the table. I still did not take advantage of it, simply because the buffet offerings were so large and varied, but its good to know this for future visits.

Yes, they do serve the crablegs cold, but there was also a hot crab dish on both of my visits. It was called “Wok Crab,” I believe. If you do go back a second time, be sure to look for it.

Will agree to disagree on the quality of the food… in my opinion, it is heads and shoulders above the quality of the food at that other place you mentioned. :)

That said, I appreciate you taking the time to write in with your observations about Minami. Did you get a chance to voice your concerns with management when you were there?

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Sarah January 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm

My first experience was today and the food was good but the service was horrible. Our server greeted us with confused look on her face and dropped off our water and ran. She never came back again until she showed up with the check over charging us with stuff we did not have. Thankfully the man next to me was willing to explain how the hibachi and sushi ordering worked. However after 25 mins or so waiting for the server to return I brought my order to front desk for them to put it in. I ended up filling up on the buffett part and then hibachi came long time after. The check came and I was still waiting for my maki rolls. Many other people around us were leaving after waiting a long for there hibachi and sushi and never getting to finish there meals. The servers need more training and probably need to have more on at a time.

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Amey January 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm

My daughter and I had dinner here last night. It was fantastic! I was suprised to see Escolar available..I was so impressed by the emphasis on “fresh”, “made for you and delivered to your table”. A fantastic twist on buffet style dining..Wonderful service, atmosphere, and value..
Hands down a new favorite of ours!! Thank you Minami!! ASM

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shel January 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Thanks for the heads up on this place – we went last night and enjoyed a fantastic meal with good service. The waitress was careful to explain the ordering and encouraged us to try the sushi and hibachi selections. These came quickly. As you mentioned, the hot food was hot, the cold food was cold, and almost everything was delicious. I particularly liked the “baby ribs” and the spicy clams, as well as the spicy octopus salad.

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The Maine Eater February 12, 2012 at 1:30 am

The wife tried her hand tonight at dining in a new location without me. Unfortunately she chose this buffet. She arrived two hours before closing time and half the buffet was empty and not restocked and the staff was busy cleaning and totally ignored her and my daughter’s needs. She finally got tired of this over-priced and over-hyped “restaurant” and got up and went to the exit to pay and leave. They lost any hope of future business from us or anyone else we can tell about this awful experience. They will not last too long. There are too many better restaurants to eat at in the area.

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blue eyed angel February 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

I was not impressed at all. Thought all the food tasted the same. Service was terriable, We did the buffett at $16.95 rip off price. They also tell you that you can order 3 items each off another menu. There was 4 of us, we ordered, chicken, shrimp and steak Hibachi. By the time the Hibachi came to the table we had already ate enough. they brought over 3 full plates of food for us. I asked if that could be boxed up. I was told that it would cost extra, EXTRA for food we have already paid for and was included in our meal. YES, EXTRA, per pound. Total rip off, will never go back and I would not recommend it any one to go

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Olya March 1, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Went for dinner there today, 3 of us. Liked the food, terrible service, or no service at all I should say. No one explained how anything works, staff doesn’t speak English and barely understood what I was asking them. Great selection, but to get them understand I wanted cosmopolitan listed in their drink menu was a challenge. One of my selections for 3 items that came with the buffet was tuna sashimi. Waited for it after gettin the rest of the order and had to ask if it was coming and got “we ran out of it” response. She walked right away and I couldn’t order anything instead of it, even though it came with my buffet. Check was brought too fast,even though I intended to order more..they have good nice food, good presentation and concept, but amateur approach to service. The product they offer doesn’t match the service and I will think twice before returning there again.

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Theresa April 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm

My husband, two teenagers, and I ate there tonight. Wow! We have a new favorite restaurant. The food was amazing and our waitress was very competent and friendly. My son liked it so much that he’s thinking of taking his date there before the prom in a couple of weeks. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone!

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Lisa Wilcox April 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm

My husband & I are from Bangor, 2 hrs away, and don’t get down here very often at all. Tonight was a date night that I had surprised my hubby with, and we decided try Minami. We LOVE hibachi meats. We walked in expecting to see the hibachi grills at some tables –
STRIKE #1.

When we sat down, a waitress came over and placed the one page “menu” in front of us and explained we got to choose 3 items per person. I asked her to explain it in more detail, and though her English was okay, she couldn’t answer my questions. She merely said, “choose three items off of the list, in addition to the buffet”. So over to the buffet we went, to check it out. 90% of it was seafood, something we are not fans of. I explained to the waitress that I had seen a “to go menu” that showed Hibachi Steak, chicken and shrimp; with salad and ginger dressing, clear soup, Hibachi veggies, and rice. She brought me that menu, which is considered “the regular menu”, and walked away. I explained we didn’t care for all the seafood and would like to order off “the regular menu”, to which we then ordered Hibachi Filet Mignon and Hibachi Filet & Shrimp, respectively. 10mins later she returned and said “No Filet”. I said “You are out of the Filet Mignon?” She replied “Yes, must-get-rib-eye”. I said “ooookay” with a huge sigh.
STRIKE #2.

She then returned with MISO soup, NOT clear soup. Very unappealing. 5 minutes later, she came back and told me they “no have ginger dressing. You like ranch?” At the same time, the “manager” came over to the table, took the “regular menu” from me and read, with her fingers, the items on the Hibachi listing, seeing that a salad was supposed to have the ginger dressing.
STRIKE#3.

I explained that I WOULD NOT like Ranch, as I could get that anywhere. I came to a Japanese restaurant to get the flavors expected and at that point I told them I would like to cancel our order entirely and we were walking out.

We walked out and drove to the FUJI Japanese Restaurant at the Waterfront in Portland, about a 10min drive at 6pm on a Wednesday night. Dinner cooked at your table, clear soup, ginger dressing on the salad, and delicious meats and homemade fried rice. It was worth the drive and we will return there many times over. I will never refer anyone to Minami’s and, in fact, will steer them away from it and towards FUJI’s. For literally $5 more per meal, FUJI’s is worth the trip. They changed my whole outlook of the night and my DATE night turned out to be fantastic!

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Beth May 27, 2012 at 7:35 am

It is unfortunate you experience at Minami was so bad. I’ve been only twice but both times was very happy with the food and service. On your way to Portland you drove by another good Japanese/Korean restaurant that we like almost as well as Fuji. It is Nara Sushi, you should give it a try.

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cathy June 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Went yesterday and have been to Fuji many times before trying Minami…and Minami is fabulous! The staff was amazing, the food was delicious, and the decor and atmosphere is beautiful. People who had a bad experience are either looking for cheap digs or are being really picky. There is soooo much to choose from that anyone unsatisfied is not really interested in trying something new, they already had something else in mind. Go! It’s worth it:)

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Susan Higgins June 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I also enjoyed Minami but a) they need to fix the exterior. Those windows /glass doors are foggy and the place looks vacant from the outside, and b) the Avacado salad has ranch dressing. Whaaa? They need to go to miso dressing, like they do a Nara. I absolutely LOVE Nara, to the person earlier who commented about Nara. Best sushi I’ve had in this area.

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Diana Gomez November 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

We went to eat last Saturday night, love their foods..and very good..BUT…..i don’t like the dishes we’re they put the foods it has many crack or chip ..my friend used a cup for her soup, the edges of the cup is crack or chip..almost of there dishes has crack or chip…I’m hoping next time i go they will change their dishes, no more cracks or chip…

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Marie March 1, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Hello,
What happened to this place? I enjoyed it the two times that I went but noticed they abruptly shutdown.

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Susan March 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I understand they are closed now and replaced by another Asian buffet. Any idea how we can get reimbursed for gift certificates to Minami? I inquired at the new company, but they said (rather abruptly) that they have no affiliation with Minami.

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