Crêpes, crab, and chicken feet aplenty



Most buffets cater to those looking for quantity over quality. South Tacoma’s Harvest Buffet, which opened in October, offers the best of both worlds. 

Aside from the standard fare of chow mein, pasta, and fried chicken, the restaurant offers a myriad of seafood dishes, in addition to featuring both a Mongolian grill and a French crêpe stand. Like many buffets, its menu consists largely of Asian foods, yet the Harvest Buffet is in a class of its own when it comes to authenticity: every food is labeled in both English and Chinese. The buffet’s crown jewel is unequivocally its dim sum section, which in itself is worth the entrance fee of $17.99 per person. 

Upon entering the buffet, I travelled immediately to the seafood section, where I found a colorful array of sushi, shellfish, and stir fry dishes. Beside an enormous tray of nigiri was a mound of wasabi large enough to set all the tongues in Tacoma ablaze. Fighting through the crowd, I took my plate up to the dish of battered crab legs— clearly a popular option. Adjacent to the crab were hundreds of bright red crawdads floating in a burgundy broth. I served myself some of both and a large scoop of octopus stir fry. Cracking open the crab legs revealed a small, gray, withered portion of meat. Though virtually devoid of flavor, its aroma provided an unpleasant reminder that I was consuming a deceased sea creature. 

The crawdads, on the contrary, were delectable; cooked in a savory broth with cayenne, they had a fiery, long-lasting zest. The octopus stir fry had a similar aroma, and consisted of a generous ratio of octopus to cooked bok choy. It contained not just tentacles but whole “baby” octopodes, so named for the variety’s petite size. Both types of octopus were cooked to a perfect texture: firm, but not chewy or tough. I did notice the cooks had failed to remove the mealy and somewhat acrid brains from one baby octopus, though I allowed that as an acceptable oversight, considering how great the quantities of food are that move through that kitchen. 

Tucked away behind the Mongolian grill was a small but memorable buffet section serving authentic Cantonese dim sum. While there were a variety of dumplings, buns, rolls, and more, the dish that stood out over all others was the zongzi— for the uninitiated, dumplings of sweet, extra-glutinous rice wrapped up in a bamboo leaf. These were filled with a rich red bean paste that complemented excellently the honeyed, almost coconut flavor rice. It was a pleasure even just unwrapping it from its neatly folded casing secured with twine. 

Also offered were boiled and fried chicken feet, a rare treat this side of the globe. Cooked to perfection in a robust chili sauce leaving them wine red, they were extraordinarily tender, separating at the joints with the slightest touch.

From the Mongolian grill I ordered a skirt steak. Unable to restrain myself, I also assembled a noodle bowl to be cooked in front of me by the lightning fast, spatula wielding chefs. While the noodle bowl was quite delicious, I unfortunately added to it an excess of chili paste, the spiciness of which I had greatly underestimated. I eventually gave up on the noodles, having to employ my napkin in dabbing off the sweat that had accumulated on my brow. 

The skirt steak, on the other hand, elicited quite a different somatic reaction from me: tears. I felt sorry for the poor bull (or, judging by the taste, horse) that had given its life to yield me such an unpalatable piece of meat. The steak’s quality was markedly uncharacteristic of the Harvest Buffet. Simply categorizing its texture as “shoe leather” would be too broad and an exaggeration; “deer-hide moccasin”, however, is an unfortunate but accurate description of its well-tanned character. But the main draw of the Mongolian grill is not the food but the entertaining show, and that it provides quite well.

After loosening my belt a few notches, I made one last round— this one to the dessert section. With a French crêpe stand, cotton candy machine, and 4 foot tall chocolate fountain, there was no shortage of sugary options. The green tea ice cream, light and smooth, I found to be especially delightful eaten in a rolled-up crêpe.

While most of the restaurant’s dishes are meat based, there are a number of vegan and vegetarian options available. The buffet features an extensive salad bar, in addition to various meat-free stir fries, like an especially colorful eggplant and jalapeño mix. A creative eater could also assemble a vegan dish from the Mongolian grill, and serve herself enough dim sum to make for a more than sufficient meal.

Although I’d skip the skirt steak and crab, I would most certainly return. The Harvest Buffet claims on its website to set a “new standard in service and in food in the city of Tacoma”, and while this claim may be a bit extreme, the restaurant has unquestionably raised the bar for buffets in the South Sound.