Ever get hungry during an opera show? At the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, Saturdays are Italian Opera Buffet day at Oceans 999. What this means is while you're gorging yourself over so many options plate after plate, your bites are accompanied by live piano and opera performances. Is this one-of-a-kind experience worth the price of admission or should you instead make a date of having dinner and sitting down for a formal show? Read on past the jump.
I took my mom here for a pre-Mother's Day treat ($57/person) on Saturday May 5th and we got here right at 6pm. Everything was ready to go so I got to feast my eyes on the different stations:
The appetizer station was filled with things like Caesar Salad, Cheeses, Breads, Olives, Pickles, Asparagus, Shrimp, Herb-Roasted Chicken, Pasta Salad, Beef Carpaccio, and more. It was hard to limit myself because I love carbs but I also had to save room for the entrées and desserts.
Speaking of entrées, they're all served hot so I couldn't get a group shot of them all, but this Mushroom Ravioli blew my mind. I try to temper my expectations for any buffet since variety usually trumps quality, but at 6pm, these ravioli were al dente, full of mushroom filling, and demanding of a second helping.
Another entrée that spoke to me was the Mahi Mahi. Coated in a tangy sauce, these were satisfyingly flaky but not dry. Seeing distinct pieces of it served was also a treat as I'm used to seeing sloppy filets at buffets.
At the Pasta Station, the Pasta Man was all smiles as he stir-fried some farfalle (bowtie pasta) for me. I opted for the full works (a variety of scallop, shrimp, sausage, tomato, peas, and carrots) with my pasta. The pasta is all pre-cooked, so it's not as magical as made-to-order, but this is a buffet after all, so I think pre-cooked pasta is an acceptable compromise. During our 2 minutes of mild social intimacy, the Pasta Man revealed to me that on Sundays he's the Omelette Man.
It's common to believe that a dessert station is what makes a buffet great because if the pastries aren't tasty, the whole experience can be ruined. Variety was the spice of life at this station with more choices than any other station at the Italian Opera Buffet. There were a ton of parfaits, cakes (including a pistachio one!), tarts, and puddings to choose from. I personally enjoyed the creme brulee seen below and could have eaten 6 of them if I wasn't busy trying all the other desserts.
Creme Brulee and Strawberry Mousse Cake
The Italian Opera performances are the main reason one visits Oceans 999 on a Saturday. This evening featured an intro of classic pieces on piano which soon led into a male opera singer and in the second set, a female opera singer. For those with stashes of Italian performance DVDs or playlists on Youtube, this is the real thing. No mics. No acoustic booster. It's all voice. It's all breath control. These folks covered the classics all night so my mom was very familiar with the songs. The performers take a break after each piece but are usually back within 10 minutes.
Opera Singers and Pianist
The most modern opera song I recognized was Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye), first performed by Andrea Bocelli. While I've never seen Bocelli live, I can happily suggest this Italian Opera Buffet is the next best thing and I had the freedom to eat as I pleased throughout the entire evening -- something you would not find at a traditional opera playhouse.
I wasn't expecting much service during the buffet experience but was happily mistaken. Plates were promptly taken away by the staff and a manager even asked how our meal was going. At one point we spotted a dirty glass (perhaps an old dishwasher in the kitchen?) but as soon as we alerted a staff, they came back within a minute with a fresh clean glass. It was actually pretty busy here this Saturday -- evidently some people love the idea of opera and buffet! I feel this is a pretty unique experience worth checking out if you have someone who would a casual evening of live opera. They take reservations on OpenTable and I'd recommend coming right at 6pm so you can get the freshest food and the whole operatic experience.
Note: The buffet is the main feature here but you can also order à la carte from the dinner menu if you don't want the buffet experience.
One-liner: A unique experience that combines a better-than-average buffet with legitimate live operatic performances
Highlight: The freedom of dining and listening to live opera
Price per person: $57 (sans drinks, taxes, or gratuity)
Would I go back? Yes with any opera-loving diner.