Friday, November 25, 2005

International Buffet - Garden City, NY

The International Buffet has been open for a number of years in Garden City, New York. It is located just off the Stewart Avenue exit of the Meadowbrook Parkway. This is essentially a Chinese buffet with very extensive international offerings.

The buffet is not cheap. It is $15.99 per adult on the weekdays with unlimited soda extra. Fridays through Sunday are more at around $24.00. The reason for the price is the extent of the types of food offered on the buffet and until just recently was justified on the weekends by the main dish that they are known for on the buffet - unlimited, broiled lobster. Unfortunately, on my recent visit a few days ago, there were notices everywhere posted on the walls, the buffet tables, and the door that there would no longer be unlimited, stuffed, broiled lobster on the weekends. There will continue to be lobster in ginger sauce (as is found at many Chinese buffets on the weekends), but if you want broiled lobster there will be an extra charge for half a broiled lobster brought to your table. There is no reduction in the weekend price, just no more broiled lobster. There still is a large lobster tank in the lobby of the restaurant. It was filled to the brim, but these guys were going to be safe for a while. Big disappointment!

The restaurant is large with two dining rooms, a private room that contains a cocktail lounge, and a large buffet area that includes a charcoal grill. Your table is set with place settings and soda , if ordered, is brought to you by your server. You take your own plates. If you are paranoid that someone is watching you, skip this restaurant, because the whole place is full of surveillance cameras that are pointed everywhere and monitored at the cashier desk in the lobby. There is also a time limit posted at each table. It is over two hours and has never been an issue, for me anyway. There is a napkin dispenser on each table, which is nice for this type of restaurant. On Saturday nights you will usually find a wait to get in. This is a very popular restaurant. Many people know it and go on "special occasions".

There is a soup bar with your choice of eight soups from the usual Chinese soups to Miso soup to New England Clam Chowder to a very good Lobster Bisque. There are two salad bars - one with greens and salad fixings and another large, two-sided bar with prepared salads. In the many times that I have been to this restaurant I have never taken anything from the salad bar - there is just too much else to eat than salad.

The grill is flanked by two seafood areas - at one end is a full sushi bar with a sushi chef continually cutting and refilling the variety of salmon, tuna, and other fish rolls and sashimi. At the other end is a raw bar with clams on the half shell and oysters and cocktail shrimp that have been peeled and deveined. There is cocktail sauce and lemon. The cocktail sauce tends to be on the sweet-side.

The grill serves spare ribs, beef ribs, skewered beef, grilled vegetables, mushrooms, fried dumplings, and salmon. At one time - not so long ago, this was where you would find the broiled lobster - served from the broiler to your plate. At the side of the grill is carved prime rib of beef (not roast beef but real prime rib) and Peking duck. A hot pizza server has recently made an appearance here as well.

There are three and one half double sided buffet bars serving Chinese entrees. Some are exotic - there were fish heads the other night. You will find steamed crab legs - large clusters that are full (not the broken pieces found at other Chinese buffets). There used to be steamed lobster claws mixed in here - not anymore. There are many dishes to choose from and they are well prepared. There are several shrimp dishes, crab in ginger sauce, chicken dishes, beef dishes, hot,spicy and mild dishes, and almost anything that you might expect to find.

If Chinese is not your thing there are one and one half double sided buffet bars that are serving continental cuisine - Italian, French, and American. There is eggplant Parmesan, chicken Parmesan, baked ziti, sausage and peppers, shrimp scampi, baked clams, scallops, sliced ham, a variety of fish, mashed sweet potatoes, and much more. Everyone should have no problem finding things that they like to eat and plenty of them. The other night there was a very good scallop dish with a scallop an cheese mixture baked on a shell. There is no reason for anyone to leave here hungry. The International and American dishes are prepared well. For the adventuresome there have been frogs legs. (Sorry, Kermit!) The buffet offerings on just these bars represent a complete menu in a menu only restaurant.

There is a double-sided chilled dessert table and a long cake buffet bar. The chilled bar offers fresh fruit, puddings, tapioca, flan, etc. The cake bar has a variety of regular layer cakes - not the little squares found in most Chinese buffets, and also pastries. There is ice cream from a machine that a server must server to you at the dessert bar. There is also a sugar-free ice cream machine with a sign on it that says "For Diabetics Only - too expensive". The sign goes along with the cameras, etc.

Service here can vary. This is a problem as the drinks need to keep flowing and sometimes they do not. Now I have been here many times when a pitcher of soda is brought to the table and that is great. Other times I have been at the mercy of attentive and non-attentive servers. The other night the restaurant was near empty - just six or so tables filled and the service was not good. There were plenty of servers but they were busy cleaning tables and the room - not clearing my dishes or keeping my soda glass full. It was late but they were still seating guests. The buffet bar was kept full, but the servers were otherwise occupied!

I would recommend this restaurant to anyone to try at least once - just for the experience. It is easy to overeat here - there is just so much to try. Even without the lobster, you will not find anything lacking. If you never knew there was once lobster here you would never know that it is missing or that you were not getting value for your money. The food is good. The price, of course, is a big factor here for many - but the place is full on the weekends and as I said, many come here for a special occasion. The restaurant is open most holidays and the price on holidays is usually the weekend price. There is a New Years Eve party here. Some singles groups meet here at night and have dances in the lounge during the week. The restaurant is open late almost every night - until 11 pm. If you are looking for something different, try it!

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Buffet for the Holidays

What better a restaurant than a buffet for a holiday feast? There you, your family, and your friends will have all they could ever want to eat and you, your mom, or your spouse will not have to cook. Some singles with families to go to will have a wonderful time at a buffet. You get all of the holiday dinner that you want, festive surroundings, and you will be with many people celebrating the holiday with you.

Many buffet restaurants are open for the Holidays and some add special entrees to match the spirit of the holiday. Thanksgiving is upon us and a number of buffets will be serving the turkey and all of the trimmings. Usually, if there is a special weekend price at the buffet restaurant, that is what they charge for the holiday. Most of the chain buffets will serve the holiday dinner at the usual cost. The menu is holiday oriented and most of them remain open for holidays such as Christmas. Some of the non-chain restaurants are not open on Christmas but are open Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

I know of two buffets in Pennsylvania in Lancaster County that are planning special Thanksgiving dinners. One is the Bird in Hand Family Restaurant and they will be serving on Thanksgiving with a special Turkey buffet menu. This restaurant has been reviewed (positively) in a separate post. Another restaurant in that area - The Leola restaurant - is also serving a special Thanksgiving all you can eat dinner in two different ways. Now I am hesitant to mention this restaurant again as my review of my recent buffet experience there was not good. However, I have been dining here for a long time and despite the change in ownership, the menu dining had not changed at all. For Thanksgiving they are serving a buffet Turkey dinner and a family style Thanksgiving dinner. We have not talk much about family style on this site. It is another way of a restaurant presenting an all you can eat meal. Instead of you going up to the buffet bar for your meal, servers bring platters of food to your table. The platters are passed around and they are refilled as they are emptied. This is the answer to those who want to remain seated throughout the meal and be served. You get all that you care to eat and it is served to you - just like home. The family style dinner on Thanksgiving at the Leola Restaurant will be served in the catering room on the lower floor, while the buffet dinner will be served in the main dining room of the restaurant from the regular buffet table. There is a special price for the Thanksgiving dinner - and the buffet and family style prices are different. Advanced reservations are necessary at both of these restaurants for the Thanksgiving Dinner.

Some restaurants that are not buffet or all you can eat restaurants create special smorgasbord dinners for the holidays. One such restaurant is on Long Island in New York and it is the Milleridge Inn located in Hicksville, NY. (Yes, there is a Hicksville) This restaurant does this not only for Thanksgiving, but also for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Easter. They use their catering building, while the main reataurant serves from the menu. The prices here are not cheap. There is supposed to be a minimum of 6-8 guests for each table, but we have seen less. Reservations are a must. The price includes the smorgasbord tables and a single desert selection. Drinks are separate and are charged at bar prices. There is a cocktail bar. The offering is "festive" with a raw seafood bar that includes small, chilled lobster tails, clams and oysters on the half shell, and cocktail shrimp. There is a salad bar of greens and "fancy" prepared salads. There is a pasta station. There is a long smorgasbord table of entrees, side dishes, and meat carvings. The room is decorated for the holiday. The server must bring your drinks - no refills, and your desert. I have dined here on Christmas Eve and on Easter. Frankly, I do not like it - it is too expensive, the service is poor, and if something runs out it may not be replaced. There is no complaint about the quality of the food - it is well prepared. It is just that the people working really do not want to be working on a holiday and they make it obvious. (As this restaurant has become a family holiday tradition beyond my control, I may be back there again this year and I will give a detailed report after Christmas Eve 2005.)

A number of the Chinese buffets have holiday dinners. Most do not vary their usual menus so do not expect carved turkey and stuffing. One of the best holidays to go to a Chinese buffet is New Year's Eve where for a special price you get a buffet dinner and a New Year's Eve party with entertainment and music.

So if you do not feel like staying home for a holiday dinner - GO TO A BUFFET!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Rules Go On

When we started we established a baker's dozon of rules for eating at buffet or all you can eat restaurants.(Scroll down to the bottom of the blog and read Post #3 to learn about the rules. Of course, those thirteen were not all the rules. We added two more as we went along. Here are a few more.

Rule #16 - Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

Is this something that you actually have to tell people? Apparently so. We have seen this many times.

Rule #17 - Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

So many times there is someone just standing in the middle of the most crowded spot in the restaurant, staring blankly out (sometimes with the mouth hangind open) - seemingly oblivious that there are other people around. Perhaps this is some type of "buffet shock" - overwhelmed by too much to take in all at one time.

Rule #18 - Children should remain seated through the meal.

We have a rule about children going up to the buffet and serving themselves, but apparently, there also needs to be a rule about children getting up from the table and running around the restaurant. Not only is it annoying to the other diners, but it is dangerous. The buffet is not a playground.

Rule #19 - Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

This may be cultural, but often people fill plates with crab legs, chicken, etc and bring it back to the table for each diner to serve themselves from. This not only takes a large amount out of the serving trays at one time, but just as often is not all eaten and must be disgarded.

Rule #20 - If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.


Rule #21- In th buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

There will be more to come - unfortunately...

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Leola Restaurant, Leola, PA

The Leola Restaurant is located on Route 23 in Leola, Pennsylvania – Lancaster County. This has been one of my favorite menu restaurants and when I have gone there it usually has been for lunch. For several years this restaurant was owned by the same family as the Bird in Hand Family Restaurant and was known as the Leola Family Restaurant. Recently the restaurant was sold by that family and bought by a Greek. I have eaten at the restaurant on the menu since the new owner took over and saw no difference. The menu remained the same. The recipes seemed the same. The same buffet seemed to be offered. With the change in ownership another change took place; the restaurant is now opened on Sunday. In an area where none of the local restaurants are open on Sundays, much less Sunday night, this seemed great news. We decided to try the restaurant for dinner – try the buffet and try it on a Sunday night. What a great disappointment!

The Sunday buffet is $10.99. It includes the soup and salad bar, the entrée and side dish bar, and an unlimited beverage. No dessert is included, except fresh fruit salad, jello, canned fruit, and what appeared to be banana pudding on the salad bar. Silverware and one napkin is on your table. Your server brings your drinks.

This is a one rectangular, three sided buffet table. One side has the salads – mixed greens, toppings, a few prepared salads – macaroni and cole slaw, and the dessert items mentioned above. One end is open for entry by staff and the other end has two soups and three breads. The other side is the entrée and side dishes.

This particular Sunday night there was an odd assortment of entrees. There was cold peel and eat shrimp – which was just cool, not cold. There was fried shrimp, fried fish sticks, ham, baked chicken, stuffed chicken, smoked sausage wrapped in bacon (very strange), stuffed peppers, ham, pork and sauerkraut, vegetables, stuffing, noodles, and mashed potatoes.

Everything on the entrée bar was overcooked and sitting in grease (or oil). The ham was overdone and dry. The sausages in bacon were hard and overdone. The baked chicken was sitting in a tray of grease. The mashed potatoes did not seem like they were real mashed potatoes but rather from a mix. The buttered noodles had no taste. The fried shrimp had no taste. The stuffed peppers were just warm and sitting in grease. I did not try the baked chicken for all of the oil or shall we say grease that it was sitting in. I had a hard time finding something to eat that I was enjoying. I tried a piece of corn bread and it tasted like soap powder – someone make a mistake in the mix?

This is not like this restaurant – at least not like it used to be. The only thing that was the same this night was the chicken corn soup – which is the same recipe as when the restaurant was owned by the Bird in Hand Family Restaurant. This recipe is my most favorite soup and I would have had more of it, but when the urn was empty when I went back for a second cup it was replaced with vegetable soup – the other soup was minestrone, so you have to wonder if there were not just two minestrone soups out now.

I was terribly disappointed. I had looked forward to this meal the entire weekend. How sad that this restaurant has come to this. I had eaten lunch here two days ago and was just as happy as I had always been here. Could it be that the Sunday chef is different? Could it be that the new Greek owner wants to create this restaurant that is a favorite of the locals into a diner? This could be. There are refrigerator cases in the front lobby that had always been filled with local-style pies and desserts. This is full of cakes now – just like at the diner. I will go back again for lunch from the menu, but I will not go back for the buffet.

There are limited choices in this area on a Sunday night. There are the chain menu restaurants and there are two local Chinese buffets. Skip the Leola Restaurant, Try one of the others. I am so disappointed!