We've been watching the preparations for opening of Sakura for several months on our visits to Grocery Outlet in North Salinas. A couple weeks ago, I took my parents there at lunch time. Even at 1pm, toward the end of the lunch hour, the place was packed. That's a good thing, as the buffet tables were still being restocked regularly.
Lunch is $6.99 per person, and kids from 3 to 10 are charged 50¢ per year of age. My parents were happy to hear about the 10% senior discount. With plenty to choose from and a low price, they felt like they actually got their money's worth here.
The layout and variety were quite impressive to view, even if most of the stuff was pretty average. Four hot food stations were stocked with a total of 48 different hot selections. Two giant cold buffets offered up salad fixings, cold appetizers, sushi, and desserts. Along the back wall, self-serve ingredients are stir-fried to order by the Mongolian barbecue cooks. Pepperoni pizza and french fries vie with Asian style foods such as egg flower soup and General's chicken for your attention.
We went for the hot foods first, but later I was a bit sorry that I hadn't scoped out the desserts and cold foods early on. The better items were on these tables. Even if one just stuck to the regular old salad bar, the variety of greens and fresh salad ingredients would be worth the price of admission. I was shocked to find perfect hijiki salad and marinated spicy octopi. I imagine that some of these things are quite low volume in this location so that better quality is affordable for these selections. Even more surprising was discovering beautiful peach buns on the dim sum table. During the hour we were in the restaurant, I was the only one who tried one from the steamer basket.
Here's the list of what I tried from the buffet, from best to worst.
Peach bun - These aren't easy to find in San Francisco, never expected to find a near perfect example on the buffet table in Salinas. A little toughened from sitting on the steam table, but very good nonetheless with a light airy cake-like dough and sweetened red bean paste filling.
Korean donut (picture below) - fresh-out-of-the-fryer batch was fantastic, better than most beignets
Hijiki seaweed salad - nice spice to it
Korean-marinated baby octupus - very spicy, crunchy/chewy, love these cold little critters
Fried sesame balls - moderately thin crispy crust filled with lotus seed paste, liked the small size
Sushi maki rolls - freshly made if not exciting or exotic ingredients, never saw the advertised sashimi
Edamame - I could eat a plate of these
Dry sauteed string beans - not spicy, but very fresh and nicely seared, avoid the bits of beef
Broccoli chicken - spritely green Salinas Valley broccoli, avoid the flavorless pieces of chicken
Kimchi - fresher style, not much age on it but nice zing of heat
Japanese octupus - garlic and sweetened soy sauce seasoned stir-fry of baby octupus
Soy sauce chicken
Canned Mandarin oranges
Steamed soysauce flounder - this tasted and looked more like basa (Vietnamese catfish) to me but still decent
Softserve ice cream - vanilla and chocolate swirly
Sponge cake roll - day-old stale
Mashed potatoes and gravy - watery potatoes, canned gravy
Stir-fried shrimp and squid - frozen shellfish, but cooked okay
Creamed corn - right out of the can
Fresh fruits - pineapple, melons, grapes
Cha siu - dry
Salt and pepper squid - frozen giant squid tentacles, rubbery and greasy
Scallops and snow peas - chemically tasting scallops
Cheesey green-lipped NZ mussels - on the half shell, cooked to death and rubbery, nice cheese sauce though
Grilled Korean beef - not grilled, tough
Lo mein - bad noodle quality
Baked salmon - smelly and too old
Buffalo chicken wings - not spicy, congealed sauce
Korean pork chop - cut too thick to bite through, tough, very fatty, uncooked floury coating
Mongolian barbecue station - very tough and flavorless sliced beef, unwashed mushrooms and other vegetables with dirt and compost clinging to them, not enough condiments available
BBQ brisket - dry and tough
The Chinese family that owns and operates Sakura moved here from Beijing.
Sakura Seafood Buffet
Alvin Square (near Grocery Outlet)
1433 N. Main St.