South Florida diners tend to get nervous about buffets—perhaps because there are too many locals who confuse the situation with the annual Hot Dog Eating Championship at Nathan’s in Coney Island.
Quality and quantity are hard to find under the same roof. There are a few exceptions in Las Vegas (the Bacchanal Brunch at Caesar’s and Bally’s Sterling Brunch come to mind). The Sunday brunch at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria is certainly a contender. Locally, Sunday brunch at The Breakers is one of the finest experiences the area has to offer. As exceptional as those buffets are, they’re only offered one day each week. Turning out a top-quality buffet twice each day, seven days each week, is a challenge beyond imagining.
In a city filled with delightful Japanese eateries, IchiUmi is a satisfying treat. Located at 6 East 32nd St., right off Fifth Avenue, the two-level restaurant is capable of seating hundreds of customers, although management carefully spaces out the reservations to avoid chaos. The selection is virtually endless, starting with nearly three dozen varieties of nigiri, including fresh local fish and imported delicacies such as the rare Japanese surf clam, along with a dozen or so maki. There’s a broad selection of sashimi, of course, and a station with clams and oysters shucked before your eyes. The raw bar itself is worth the price of admission ($34.95 on weekends, lower on weekdays), considering that it’s difficult to find a dozen raw oysters for less than $35 at any reputable Manhattan restaurant.
The panorama of cooked dishes is just as wide and tempting—on a recent visit, I stopped counting at fifty. The hot side of the menu includes a hibachi station, where meat and seafood is grilled to order while you wait. Desserts are basic (primarily ice cream and pastries baked on the premises), and the wine selection pales when compared to the sake list—par for the course at most Japanese restaurants around town.
Service is quick and attentive, but be advised that IchiUmi has recently instituted a 9% “administrative fee,” which they claim goes toward staff salaries and eliminates tipping. In conversations with servers, it became apparent that the fee may not be ending up in their paychecks, so make sure to ask and verify if this is really the case.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com