Friday, January 27, 2006

The Lobster Grabbers

This is another one of those posts where I am going to bitch about an annoyance at a buffet. I would like to introduce to you The Lobster Grabbers. This is an older couple - perhaps in their sixties - who take all of the lobster at a Chinese buffet. They sit and wait - like a predator stalking its prey. One of them watches - the one facing the buffet tables. He or she is looking for a fresh tray of lobster to be carried out of the kitchen door. When it is spotted, instantly, one is up and hovering close to the spot that the tray will be set down into the steam table - dish in hand. Not seconds after the server places the tray in its spot, he (or she) scoops up the serving spoon and empties the entire tray into the dish. With nothing left to take, and no lobster for anyone who is waiting, the dish is whisked back to their table where it sits and is consumed, until the next tray is brought out.

The Lobster Grabbers come to the same Chinese buffet every week on Friday night. Every week they consume all of the lobster. Tonight they were there in mid-meal when we first sat down and they were there still eating when we were ready to leave. They are large people but not overly fat people. Over time they have done this same maneuver with sushi and tonight, the wife repeated the selfish act with a tray of fresh strawberries that were brought to the dessert table.

One of the difficulties with lobster served at a Chinese buffet is that it is brought out very sparingly - sometimes one tray every half hour regardless of the fact that the tray is emptied as soon as it is brought out. When lobster is served at a Chinese buffet it is usually a prepared dish such as lobster in ginger sauce (as is the case in this restaurant). The tray contains pieces of lobster in the shell that consists of two to three lobsters. These buffets charge a higher price on the nights that they serve lobster - usually Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With the Lobster Grabbers, they are getting more than their money's worth and everyone else is paying a premium for nothing. The management of the restaurant does not seem to care and complaining will result in an unpleasant meal, despite the annoyance of sharing a dining room with the Lobster Grabbers. We could just not go there anymore - but we like to go to the Chinese buffet for dinner on Friday nights and this is the one that we choose to go to.

It is quite rude at a buffet to fill a plate of one item and take it back to serve the table. It usually results in wasted food as it is rarely all consumed It puts a burden on the restaurant and it is terribly unfair to the other diners. A short while back at the Old Country Buffet a couple had a plate of fried chicken, a plate of mashed potatoes, and a plate of salad from which they both seemed to fill their plates. At the conclusion of their meal - after several refills there was a great deal that went uneaten. These were items that are normally refilled regularly and rarely run out. There is no reason not to take what you care to eat on your own plate and then come back for more. The next trip will reward you with hot food, rather than food that has been sitting and getting cold on your table.

So, don't be like the Lobster Grabbers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino, Atlantic City, NJ

I have not reviewed casino buffets before. I will start with my favorite - the Buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The casino is run by Bally's. The buffet is called the Virginia City Buffet. There is now a second buffet in the casino that I have not yet seen and just learned about.

The Virginia City Buffet is the casino's original buffet offering. It is located on a upper floor of the casino and is accessed only through the casino floor which means NO CHILDREN. Yes, this is an all adult buffet experience. No running kiddies. No hands in the serving trays (well, maybe, as I have seen quite a few adult hands in serving trays in the many buffets that I have been to). You purchase a ticket for your meal in advance. Soft drinks are included. Bar drinks are available. Your meal includes an extensive all you can eat buffet and a ticket for one chargrilled steak. Arrive early and purchase a ticket for the time that you wish to eat. The restaurant is open until 9 from Sunday to Thursday, until 10 on Friday, and until 11 on Saturday. If you arrive at dinner time you are going to find that tickets are being sold for late seatings - especially during peak tourist seasons. The price is in the mid-$20 range per person. When you arrive at the suggested 15 minutes before your seating you will wait on a line for a table. Those who have been "comped" for casino play will be seated first. The dining room looks like an old west town with western building facades.

The buffet is divided into cuisines. To start, there is a soup and salad area. There are more than four soups served. The cabbage soup is very good. You can also create matzoh ball soup or wonton soup - you may even mix the two. There are prepared salads and tossed salad with toppings. You will also find peel and eat shrimp here.

The next section is Italian. Here you will find pasta dishes being made behind the buffet counter and refilled regularly. There is a variety of sauces for pasta. There are Italian entrees and pasta dishes that are well prepared. The Italian food served is as good as any Italian restaurant.

The next section is Deli and here they are slicing hot pastrami and hot corned beef to your order. There are potato pancakes. There is a variety of deli salads. At one time there was sliced lox (smoked salmon) here, but in the past few years this has been replaced with a lox spread.

The next section is Chinese. There is a wok behind the buffet counter and a chef is preparing a variety of dishes to refill the serving trays. There are egg rolls. There is an array of Chinese entrees. The selection and preparation is as good as a good Chinese restaurant.

The next section is a potato and vegetable buffet bar. There is a variety of side dishes to be found here along with baked potatoes with toppings, mashed potatoes, and cooked vegetables.

Next to this section is the meats and entrees. There are sliced meats such as turkey and pork. There are prepared meat entrees. There is also a charcoal grill that is flame-broling steaks to your order. You give your ticket for your one steak and order your steak at the grill. It is prepared as you like it - and surprise! they get it right. This is one of the best steaks that I have had.( Oddly, the same lady chef is always cooking the steaks the many times that I have been there - does she never get a day off?) At times the steak area overwhelms the entree and carving area and my wife has complained that you cannot get the server to pay attention to you to get carved meat.

To complete your meal there is a dessert section that takes up the entire middle of the buffet area. There are cakes, pies, pastries, suger-free pies, soft ice cream and toppings, hot cobblers, puddings, fruit, jello, and others. The desserts are good. I do not find them as lavish as the meal, but there really is nothing lacking.

Your table is set with all utensils and your server brings your beverages. Dishes are usually collect promptly and the server is usually available to you if needed. There have been a few rare occasions when table service was not as good as it could have been. In the middle of the dining floor there is "house" with a porch. There are tables on the porch and inside the "house" is a parlor with dining tables. I find that service is not as good both on the porch and inside the "house" as it is on the dining floor.

There is a smoking section in the dining room - though NJ smoking laws may have changed this.

I wholly recommend a visit to the Virginia City Buffet. If you are with the family look elsewhere - or feed the kids first and sent them off to the arcade.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Gone But Not Forgotten

Over the years I have been to a few buffet restaurants that are no longer with us. I have great memories of wonderful offerings and fine meals. Two of the great places were part of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Both restaurants still exist, but neither serves a buffet.

The best of those two was short lived - about a year. It was at Shield's Tavern - one of the colonial dining experiences of the restored 18th Century living history museum town. It was in 2004. When it opened the restaurant's theme was to serve meals as they were served in the 18th Century. While part of the menu reflected choices to this theme, it was pretty much the same as any other restaurant. One thing of note was always small portions and high prices with no value - actually unlike the other colonial restaurants in the restored area. The others serve significant portions with value for what you are paying (which is high). In 2004 Shield's changed to try a bold experiment in dining. They charged one price (yes, it was a high price) and served an all you can eat meal served to your table "family style" with by two servers - one a "serving wench" in historical tradition. The meal was fabulous and worth every penny. The atmosphere was pure 18th Century with authentically dressed, character interpreters roaming the restaurant and interacting with the guests. You began your meal with soup - all that you cared for. The soups chosen for the menu were authentic 18th century recipes. This was followed by a large salad bowl. (Skip the salad and get to the good stuff.) Your table was next brought a cast iron skillet filled with pan fried chicken, baby back short ribs, vegetables, potatoes, and on the side a crock of stew. The server brought a large skewer of barbecued shrimp and pushed each succulent shrimp from the skewer on to a platter for your table. The servers came by frequently. If you wanted more of anything, you just asked and it arrived. More ribs, more shrimp, you got it! The food was tasty and well prepared. The ribs would fall off the bones cleanly. As I write about it I can see and taste it! Oh my! When you had enough it was time for desert. A sampling selection of cakes and pastries were brought to the table. Again, if you wanted more of one thing or everything, your "wench" brought it to you table. Soft drinks and coffee were included in the price. It was an experience and great entertainment. The meal cost about $40 or $45 per person including tax and tip, but it was more than worth everything that you got. We enjoyed this meal twice during our stay in the summer of 2004 and again when we returned in December 2004. When we returned in 2005 the meal was gone! In fact the restaurant changed to what is being called an 18th Century Coffee House during the day (more of an order sandwiches at a counter) and a cocktail lounge at night. What a waste! Of all of the restaurants that have gone - I miss this one most of all, and we hardly had time to get acquainted.

The other buffet, or rather smorgasbord, meal that was served in Colonial Williamsburg was at the Lodge hotel, one of the Foundation's hotels. It was served on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a spectacular array of appetizers, seafoods, and entrees. This meal had been served for many years up until a several years ago. It one time was billed as the meal that was served to the Queen of England when she came for a visit. The buffet tables were presented with elegance. There was a raw bar with clams on the half shell and oysters. There were both hot and cold, large crab leg clusters. There were thick seafood and clam bisques. The was carved smoked ham and prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. The entrees included meat and seafood dishes that would make an impression on the menu of any fine restaurant. Vegetable offerings always included spoon bread - a hot, soft corn meal cake with plenty of butter. This is a Southern specialty. The appetizer table included caviar, pates, a variety of smoked fish, and prepared salads. There was a dessert table with a variety of cakes and pastries including local favorites such as sweet potato pie and pecan pie. This was a step beyond most buffets and would definitely be considered fine dining. Price was not out of bounds - around $25.00 per person. About ten years ago the dinner was discontinued to the chagrin of many visitors and diners. By demand, it was brought back. A few years ago the dinner was discontinued and did not return - despite comment and demand. The hotel is currently under renovation. No one has spoken of the restaurant and what may happen when it reopens - but it seems unlikely that we will see this smorgasbord again.

There are other restaurants in my past that offered good buffets and have passed with the years. I will write about them in future chapters of Gone but Not Forgotten.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Buffet in the News

One of the best Chinese buffets on Long Island, NY is in the news. East Buffet is a large Chinese, fancy buffet in the town of Huntington, NY. Their employees are walking a picket line around the restaurant on a major Long Island highway (Route 110) to protest the restaurants practice of paying way below minimum wage and establishing a no tips policy. When I have been there, there was no mention of no tipping. Apparently, the management is collecting the tips that are being left and keeping them. The price of dinner at this restaurant is high and tips are significant. News reports state that some workers are paid $1.00 per hour and work 68 hours in a week. Charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The restaurant owners have been ordered to appear at the end of February. The manager at the restaurant refused to talk with reporters.

A later print report stated that the restaurant claims that employees earn upwards of over $10 per hour. The restaurant states that they have placed a 12% gratuity on all checks and that is divided amongst servers. They also say that if a customer leaves an additional tip on the tip the server is free to take it. (Of course, I wonder, since I have never seen any mention of an imposed gratuitiy on the check - nor seen it added there - perhaps diners are leaving tips on the table because no one knows of this 12% add on.) The servers state that they get nothing of the tips or any added gratuity, and they are paid below minimum wage. The story continues on and the workers are still walking a picket line. The restaurant is open -who is working?

I have not reviewed East yet. I was last there in August '05 and do not go there often for two reasons - one is the price which is near $20 on week nights and more on weekends. The other reason is that the restaurant closes at 9:00 pm and they mean it. There is always a long wait - so you may arrive at 6:30 and not get in until 7:30 and you have a sense of rush to finish by 9, so it does not matter if you get there early - unless you want to get to the restaurant in the afternoon to eat dinner at dinner time. We save this restaurant for special occasions - like anniversaries and birthdays. The food is very good and there is always a crowd. The diners are mostly Oriental and the menu is a mix of Oriental dishes and a few Italian thrown in. Many of the Oriental dishes are unusual and authentic - as opposed to American Chinese cooking. At some point, if they resolve their troubles I will get back there and write about. It really is good.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Buffets in Orlando, Florida

Heading for Disney and want a buffet without Disney pricing - here is a website of buffet restaurants in Orlando.

Buffets in Las Vegas

I have just found these two websites that will give you ratings of the buffets in Las Vegas - if you are heading there this is something to check out before you go!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

News from OCB

The Old Country Buffet has announced that they will be serving Steak, Shrimp, and Salmon six nights a week - Monday through Saturday. The start is stated only as "coming soon". It looks like they are trying to keep up with Ryans and Golden Corral who both serve steak every night. Of course, unlike Ryans and Golden Corral, the steak at OCB comes from a broiler and is not cooked to order on a flame grill. Often the steak at OCB is overdone and tough.

The shrimp is fried, breaded shrimp and is good. The salmon is "grilled". As I am not a fan of salmon I can not say if it is good or not. It does look good, however.