By Ben Cheng
When you approach "The Buffet," the simply-named all-you-can-eat restaurant on the eighth floor of the Daimaru department store at Sapporo Station, don't be intimidated by the long line. It moves relatively quickly, and once you've been seated you'll be free to stuff yourself with an array of international cuisine.
The dining area dominates a corner of the tower, with large windows offering views of Sapporo to the south and east. If you're lucky, a window seat will add some extra romance to your occasion.
The ordering system is, naturally, quite simple. On top of the buffet cost, you can add a soft drink bar for a small extra fee or you can opt for access to the alcohol bar for a somewhat higher extra fee. The booze options include beer, a selection of wines, and the more traditional Japanese options nihonshu (rice wine) and shochu (a distilled liquor that comes in many varieties).
While the all-you-can-drink may be an attractive option for imbibers, the food is clearly the main attraction. The range of options is mouth-watering, but keep your portions in control if you want to try it all.
I filled my first plate with pizza (the slices are very small) and a Chinese stir fry. A second trip added a pumpkin and eggplant gratin to the mix, my pick for the best item of the evening. Next, I went back for a bowl of soup curry, a Sapporo specialty. While the dish at The Buffet is a simple version without the usual display or boldness in taste offered by soup curry restaurants, it satisfied my craving for something a bit spicy.
As we finished up our final plates, a bell rang out and a waiter announced that a special roast beef was ready to be served. People literally sprang from their seats and rushed to line up. Already full and wary of lines, I passed, but I was definitely in the minority. The special bell items are apparently a regular occurrence — just be ready to fight for your position among the hungry locals.
Meanwhile, as my wife enjoyed the soft drink bar, always returning to the table with a new kind of tea, I was partaking of the alcohol options. The beer on tap is Sapporo Classic, a version of the usual Sapporo lager that's only sold in Hokkaido. Further, an array of about 10 kinds of wine are lined up for self service. I opted for a (self-designed) tasting course, pouring small portions of about four varieties before settling on a favorite.
We washed down our tea and wine with dessert — and the selection made my wife very happy. Usually opting for one last beer instead of dessert, I gave in and got a plate myself. As my wife struggled to finish her selection, I also had to help our out by finishing up her bowl of ice cream with a kiwi-flavored topping that served as a nice finish to the night.
While specialty restaurants will probably offer higher quality in individual items, and budget options will fill you up for less, The Buffet is a nice option for anyone with a big appetite or diners seeking a potentially romantic view.
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After five years in rural Mie prefecture, I moved to Sapporo in the summer of 2012. As I explore Hokkaido and the rest of Japan, I'll share some of my favorite places through JapanTourist. In Sapporo, I edit an online magazine for Hokkaido called Hokkaido Explorer (http://www.HokkaidoExplorer.com).