Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Port of Call's all-you-can-eat buffet is just OK

One of the three dinner plates filled with seafood, salad and steamed or sauteed vegetables I had for lunch on Tuesday at Port of Call, an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in Hackensack. The best item I sampled was a fish salad with fruit and sun-dried tomatoes, front center.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
Editor

Only the world's fussiest eaters would demand a selection of more than 100 items at lunch.

But that's what I found at Port of Call, the all-you-can eat buffet restaurant that opened in January in Hackensack's Home Depot Shopping Center.

If a price-fixed, three-course lunch of appetizer, entree and dessert is a focused meal, this no-holds-barred format is totally unfocused, confusing and, ultimately, frustrating.

For $13.69 at lunch, plus tax and tip, you get the run of the restaurant's sushi, seafood, salad, meats-and-roasts, pasta, fried-food and dessert stations.

Tea and coffee are available, but they aren't included in the price, though our server neglected to mention that when we asked for them.



I filled a second dinner plate with large green-lip mussels, fish salad, fish-egg and mackerel sushi, and part of a Dungeness crab.

More mussels and sushi, and cooked shrimp that I didn't bother to peel.


Cold meat, coffee

I met two friends for lunch at Port of Call on Tuesday. Both tried meat items, including short ribs, and one sampled three of the desserts.

One friend found only two short ribs available, and the other said his meat was cold. He liked a cookie, but didn't care for his other desserts.

The all-you-can-eat dinner at Port of Call costs almost twice as much as lunch, and the number of items can balloon to 250 on the weekends, a manager said.

When I asked for sashimi -- raw fish without rice -- I was told it is available only at dinner. Broiled eel? Ditto. And I didn't see any raw oysters on the half shell.

For me, the best sushi selections were mackerel and small fish eggs wrapped in seaweed, but I didn't want to fill up on rice.

I didn't try any of the meat, fried food, pasta or desserts.



Salad and sushi stations, above and below.

A sushi chef, cook or other employee is at work behind all of the buffet counters.

Part of the dessert station.

Dungeness crabs are difficult to eat.

Cooked shrimp are on the small side.


Friendly, but slow

Servers and other staff are friendly, but there is no table service or menus. A woman named Amber brought us ice water, and cleared away dishes and uneaten food.

When we asked for tea and coffee, Amber didn't tell us they are extra. 

She said I could have coffee, an espresso or a latte and I chose the last. She brought over a box of premium tea bags for my friend, and he asked for Egyptian Mint ($2.50).

The coffee took longer than I expected, and it was lukewarm when I got it. I asked for another, and saw Amber go over to a man at the front counter.

She said she would replace the latte and take it off of the bill, but I received a credit of only $2.49. The latte was $4.25.

Even hot, this latte wasn't even close to Starbucks or the ones I make at home.

Skip this port

I don't see any reason to return to Port of Call. 

I felt I got good value, with three plates of salad and seafood for $13.69, but the food is just OK.

And in the absence of table service, why put a tip table at the bottom of the receipt ranging from 15% to 20%?

One of my friends paid for my lunch, and left a tip of 10%.

The receipt says "food is an art" at Port of Call, and "you are the priority." Both are a stretch.

Port of Call is Hackensack's biggest restaurant, with 475 seats, including two private rooms that weren't in use Tuesday afternoon, according to the man at the front counter.

But the all-you-can-eat format is a slippery slope I have never really enjoyed, especially after losing more than 40 pounds over the last few years and keeping it off.


Port of Call American Fusion & Sushi, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, in the Home Depot Shopping Center; 201-488-0888. BYO (wine or beer only). Large parking lot.

Open Mondays to Fridays for lunch, $13.69; Saturdays and Sundays for brunch, $17.69; Mondays to Thursdays for dinner, $24.99; and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for dinner, $27.99.


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