Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Peking Restaurant - Williamsburg,VA

From the beginning I have planned to write a general article about Chinese buffet restaurants, and following that write about individual oriental buffets that I have tried. I have not yet written a general article or about specific Chinese/Asian buffets, but this one is so different that I have to write about it as I am still digesting a wonderful meal.

The Peking Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is located at 120 Waller Mill Road in the Big Kmart Shopping Center. (Kingsgate Green Shopping Center – Bypass Road (Rt.60)) This is an individually owned restaurant and not a chain. The restaurant fills four store fronts in a strip mall with KMart. I have seen this restaurant advertised in Williamsburg tourist magazines for years and never tried it. One of the reasons is that the description of the restaurant has been confusing (and still is). It is described as having a buffet, a Mongolian grill, and a Japanese hibachi. It was never clear if each was a dining option or all was included. From the ads it still appears that each is an option. We went in with the idea that we would have the Chinese buffet expecting the standard set up found in so many Chinese buffets up and down the East Coast and perhaps all over the country. What a surprise when we entered. I expected the host to ask what part of the restaurant we wished to dine in – as there across the back of the large restaurant were all three options. He did not ask, he just sat us in the center room. Shortly, a server came over asked for our drink orders. We ordered two sodas and were invited to partake in all that was offered. This is the most different Asian buffet that I have ever been to and at $8.99 per adult and $1.25 per unlimited beverage this is one of the least expensive Asian buffets that I have enjoyed. There is a children’s price. Lunch is priced at $5.99 for the buffet - I do not know if the offerings are fewer at lunch.

Looking about the room it was quick to see that a number of tables were filled with Asian families. This is always a good sign in any oriental restaurant – buffet or not – as these are the people who know best if the food is properly prepared and of quality.

The buffet is in three sections. The first is a Mongolian grill. This is a large round grill with two chefs working at it. Around the grill is a selection of raw meats and fish, vegetables, noodles, and sauces. You pick up a bowl and fill it with any combination that you wish. There were more meats here than I have ever seen at a Mongolian grill including beef, pork, turkey, lamb, trout, sea legs, chicken, and more. The bowl is handed to one of the two chefs and he places the contents on the grill, Each chef has a long stick and pushes your combo around the grill in a circle – each following the other. I have not seen this before. When done your combo is placed in a clean bowl and given to you. The serving bar around the grill continues on with two types of pizza (yes, pizza seems to always be available at Chinese buffets), fresh fruits, and deserts including almond jello which is an authentic Chinese desert. To the side is a soft serve ice cream machine. You then come upon the main entrĂ©e bar which is filled on both sides with Chinese dishes (appetizers, entrees, and vegetables) – some of the commonly expected ones – chow mien, sesame chicken, General Tso chicken, egg foo young – and some unusual dishes not usually seen on the “standard” Chinese buffet. This is a long bar and it also included two soups – hot and sour and egg drop. For the less adventurous they even had French fries. The next section of the buffet is an Japanese hibachi grill and hibachi steak is being prepared by a chef behind the counter. There were also bourbon chicken, fried dumplings, scallion pancakes, ands onion pancakes. Following along there were hot, steamed Chinese deserts including steamed cake and steamed tarts. Nest there were steamed dumplings and dim sum, The serving bar continued now to a chef preparing wonton and beef noodle soups to order. Why to order? You selected the ingredients to make a variety of traditional oriental noodle soups or a soup to your liking. There were several types of noodles including Japanese Ramen noodles, Vietnamese pho noodles, and Korean potato noodles. You tell the chef what you want and he places the noodles and greens into a small wire basket on a wooden handle and submerges it into a boiling cauldron. When done he places the noodles or wontons into a large bowl adds more greens and seasonings, and beef and hands it to you. This is a LARGE bowl of hot noodles and soup. The bar continues to a sushi bar where a chef is preparing fresh sushi rolls including vegetable rolls and California rolls for the faint at heart. Through out all of the selections there were a number of vegetarian choices. Oh yes, somewhere along the way was a salad bar.

The food was very good. In fact I broke Rule #1 and ate more than I should because I wanted to try all of the different areas. My wife who is a less adventurous eater than I am was very happy with the selection of choices and had no problem finding her favorites.

The buffet bar though long, is set in a narrow space with a low wall separating it from the tables. At times it was a bit of a squeeze moving through as the restaurant was crowded – a great sign for a Monday night late in August. It was obvious that there were both locals and families on vacation dining. Everyone seemed happy. A few seemed to break all of the rules and fill plates high until nothing could be recognized. (Still a good sign as they were enjoying themselves.)

I tried the sushi. I like raw salmon and tuna. The tuna that was being served was described as “dry” and it did not look like what I am used to so I did not take any. The salmon was described as “spicy”. I tried that and wow was it spicy. I would normally fill a plate with sushi – as I am not an adventurous sushi eater, I did not do that here, but there were California rolls and vegetable rolls, BUT I decided why eat that when there is SO much more.

I like Vietnamese Pho soup with beef. I have only had it in one Vietnamese restaurant in Georgetown, Washington, DC and that is what I have to judge the soup on. The Pho that I had the chef make me here looked the same, but was missing the coconut taste that the soup that I have had before has. Now, I have no idea if Pho is supposed to taste that way. The noodles here were good and plentiful and the soup had the “right” look. It was good but not what I expected. Since the same broth is used for all of the noodle soups that may be the reason.

The table was interestingly set with an acrylic server that was filled with napkins, chop sticks, straws, sugar and sweetener, a bottle of soy sauce, and a discount coupon for 10% of at the gift shop that fills a room next to the entrance selling items from China. The only thing missing was a knife. I am sure I could have asked for one and gotten it, but I looked around and no one was using a knife. I cut my steak with my soup spoon – it was that tender. The service was excellent with the server continually checking to make sure all is well and refilling the soft drinks. You pay after the meal and make sure to leave the server a tip – it is not included.

Years past this restaurant had two locations in the greater Williamsburg area. Now there is only this one. When I first saw this restaurant years ago – and had not gone in - it was one storefront. It has grown considerably. They claim to have been voted the best Oriental restaurant in Williamsburg for the past 14 years. That is saying a lot for any buffet restaurant as it is in competition with non-buffets and comes out on top. The gift shop was neat and unusual too.

I am adding this restaurant to my must visit list when I am in the area – and that is usually twice each year. There is just so much down home country cooking that one can eat until you want a good Chinese dinner. This is it in Williamsburg! The restaurant has a website that is linked at the side of this site.

13 comments:

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Benjamin said...

Robert,

Thank you for the wonderful comments about our Restaurant! A friend of mine brought your blog to my attention! Your detailed remarks are greatly appreciated and will help us plan for the future. Robert, if you are back in the area, please drop by and say hello, I am one of the 2nd generations up keeping this restaurant so I am usually here.....

Benjamin Diau

Robert A said...

The Peking Restaurant is my favorite Chinese buffet. It is over 600 miles away, but I am there at least three times a year and think about it whenever I am in another Chinese buffet. With all of the Chinese buffets that I have been to this is still Number One!

Robert A said...

I have to also add that since I wrote the review I have acquired a taste for spicy salmon and spicy tuna sushi rolls. The spicy salmon rolls here are the best.

Benjamin said...

Robert,

Wow! 600 miles!? where do you live? Thank you once again! We are currently back on the drawing board with a new plan, when you visit in 2008 you will be very suprised!

Robert A said...

It is great the way it is! I hope that it does not change too much!!!

Anonymous said...

Vietnamese PHO soups do not have the coconut taste as you have described. The soup is meant to be mixed with all the ingredient they may provide you. I chuckled when you mentioned coconut because the PHO you had = catered towards the American Community.

Robert A said...

As I say in this article, the Pho I have had before is at the Georgetown Vietnamese Restaurant which I have been told is fairly authentic - though I would not be surprised that they slant their seasonings toward American tastes.

Peking Restaurant is the only buffet that I have found so far that even offers a variation of Pho.