Saturday, October 28, 2006

CiCi's Pizza

There was an ad on cable television for this chain of restaurants. I quickly hit the Internet to find out where they were and discovered that this is a chain of over 600 restaurants primarily in the Southeastern United States. Looking on their locator map they are as far north in the east as Pennsylvania, and recently a restaurant opened in Chicago. Sadly, there is none near me, though there are several in areas that I travel through. I have not reviewed a restaurant that I have not eaten at, but I am going to tell you about what I have learned about this chain - and perhaps there is someone out there who has eaten at CiCi's Pizza who can post a comment and tell us all how it is.

Cici's Pizza is a pizza and pasta buffet. It is one of the cheapest buffet meals that I am aware of. The entire meal including pizza, pasta, salad, dessert, and soda is just $4.49. This seems to be the only price - lunch or dinner. There is no mention of a children's price. This is all you care to eat and there is a lot of variety.

They claim to have 16 different types of pizzas and "tons" of toppings. I am not sure what this means, but the implication is that you can add toppings to the pizzas that are on the buffet. The pizza's on the buffet are 12 inch pies cut into ten slices - it is all you want so the size does not really matter. There is pasta with two types of sauce - either marinara or alfredo. The claim is that the salad bar is "expansive". Desserts include chocolate and apple desserts and cinnamon rolls.

There are also take out pizzas which are larger, 15 inch pies. There is also dessert to go.

A pizza buffet is an interesting concept. Pizza Hut does a lunch buffet. It is not this cheap. The chain started in Texas in 1985, so the restaurant is long established. There are peel and win contests that make the price even cheaper and the website has a game page on which you play the games to win coupons and free meals. I would love to see one of these restaurants. If anyone has been to one please tell us about it!

There is a website which is posted at the side of the page. The website will tell you where the nearest restaurant is to you.

Friday, October 20, 2006

China Buffet Restaurant - East Meadow, NY

The China Buffet Restaurant is located on Merrick Avenue in East Meadow, New York. Years ago this was a neighborhood regular Chinese restaurant. A number of years ago they became a buffet that includes a Mongolian grill.

This restaurant is just a mile from my home. About two years back we had gone to this restaurant regularly, but then stopped. At the time the dinner was $8.99. The reason that we stopped was that it never seemed to be kept as clean as it should be. One of their problems is a carpeted dining room floor and anything that falls or spills is very obvious. Tonight, we were looking for some place different and this restaurant was brought up. My wife said that in two years things could be very different. So we decided to give it another chance.

There is a primary difference in two years - the price has gone up two dollars. The dinner price is now $10.99. The lunch price is $5.99. The prices are the same seven days a week. Children under two eat free and under seven are half price. Soda, RC products, is $1.20 with free refills. The price is low compared to other local Chinese buffet restaurants, but the variety offered is limited.

The restaurant is one large room. The seating area of booths and tables is divided down the middle by one long buffet server and the Mongolian grill behind it.

I must say that many of the things that diners look for in a Chinese buffet are here for the price. There are crab legs - single legs, not clusters. There is sushi - California Rolls and salmon on rice. There is the Mongolian grill. At the grill there is chicken, beef, shrimp, and pork. The meat should be frozen and kept that way - here it was not. There is an assortment of vegetables, but the usual chopped cabbage that should be the filler vegetable was missing. There were noodles. There were two sauces - both unlabeled and both looked the same (soy sauce?). There was hot pepper and garlic to spoon on top. In addition there was crab in ginger sauce, fried dumplings, cocktail shrimp, egg foo young, several chicken dishes, sweet and sour pork that was made up with vegetables (not the usual fried chicken pieces with red sauce to pour on top) shrimp with lobster sauce, and the usual beef and peppers and chicken with broccoli. The chicken with broccoli was made with a nice brown sauce and was better than most. There are also the usual fried appetizers. There are three soups - wonton (with the wontons on the side to add in), egg drop, and hot and sour.

Most other Chinese buffets offer more variety in the dishes served. The Mongolian grill can make up for that here, as you can make yourself almost any combination.

There are NO knives to be found in this restaurant. Several of the dishes need to be cut - unless you have a very large mouth or extremely strong teeth. This was a problem two years ago and it is still a problem now.

The desert selection is very limited. There is pudding, soft serve ice cream, jello, orange sections, a non-labeled pie that could have been like a cheese cake pie, and bananas in a red sauce. There were none of the little cakes usually found at these restaurants.

If the price were still $8.99 I might be inclined to go back sooner than later, but for a few dollars more there are better Chinese buffets to be found. The cleanliness issue is still marginal. The same carpet holds the dirt on the floor and unless you are there when they open for the day you are not going to see a clean floor; the carpet is not cleaned until they close. The dishes seemed clean,and the table seemed clean. The food was refilled regularly and there was someone maintaining what was out on the server - stirring, etc.

There is no website. In summary I will say that this is a coin toss - not great, but not bad.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Steakhouse Special at Old Country Buffet

Tonight we decided to try the new "Steakhouse" special at Old Country Buffet. The special menu is served from Thursday through Saturday nights. As many of OCB's special menus are, this one is disappointing.

The menu introduces several new items to the buffet. There are two types of "Steakhouse" steaks - garlic mushroom and peppercorn. There is rotissarie-"style" chicken. There is peel and eat shrimp. There is butterfly shrimp, and there is a "blooming" onion.

In actuality the two types of steak are just the same steak that OCB usually serves, fatty and overdone, with two different sauces served on the side. The garlic mushroom sauce is the same mushrooms with garlic that is always served at OCB with their steak. The peppercorn sauce tasted like a mushroom gravy with too much cracked pepper added. It was definitely not the French peppercorn sauce that I have had at restaurants before. Silly me, thinking that Old Country Buffet was actually going to serve steak au poivre.

The rotissarie-style chicken never came near a rotissarie. I guess that is why it is called "rotissarie-style". It was better than the usual OCB baked chicken. It was moister and had a good taste. Had it actually been a rotissarie chicken it would have been even better.

The picture at the door shows a "blooming" onion just like the one at Outback Steakhouse, a whole onion fried and open. The Outback has nothing to worry about. This was no where to be found on the buffet servers. What was there was breaded, fried onion sections and were called "onion chips" on the sign above them. The special sauce shown in the photo was also no where to be found.

The peel and eat shrimp, on first look, had promise. It was located on the salad bar and the shrimp were served in a large dish full of ice. The shrimp were nice sized, cocktail shrimp. Unfortunately, the shrimp mostly sat in the melted ice water and were soaked through with water. They had little taste. There was a serving dish of cocktail sauce next to the dish of shrimp, but it was empty. I asked one of the servers if it could be refilled and I was told that there was no more. This is Friday night - does this mean that tomorrow, at Saturday's dinner, there will be no cocktail sauce. And if there is, where will they get it? And if there is, why was it not put out tonight?

The butterfly shrimp were just small fried shrimp, butterflied and fried. Nothing special.

So overall, don't rush out for the steakhouse special. It is better than Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp - but, if they are going to do this - in obvious competiton with the steakhouse steaks now featured at The Golden Corral, why not do it right - serve steak that has in some similarity (other than that it is beef - I hope) to a steak that one would get in a steakhouse.

The Old Country Buffet that I go to most often - because of proximity - is the OCB in Levittown, NY. There is a continued problem at this location that has only to do with poor planning on the part of the management. They frequently run out of things or have long delays in refilling things. They never anticipate what the crowd might be - especially when the day is or is before a school holiday, when more families will go out to eat. A good manager would plan in advance that more needs to be on hand on those days. There is also inconsistency in the cooking at this location. I would think that things are precooked, heat and serve, but they do not seem to be. Some nights they are much more salty than other nights. Tonight was one of those salty nights.

When we arrived at the restaurant this evening we saw two large buses parked outside. With some regrets that we picked the wrong night to come, we went in to find that a college football team from Georgia was having dinner inside. A group this large must have made advanced arrangements - again, this was not planned into the preparation for the evening's business, and there was a lot empty at the buffet tables. They were a nice group of guys - all large and all hungry. The lines were long around the buffet servers. To top it all off, one of the two ice machines (that never have enough ice and are often quickly emptied) has been out of service for a week. So the line at the only ice machine went on and on. Usually the soda is cold on its own, but tonight it was warm out of the spout, perhaps related to the broken ice unit. When the team left things settled down and some (just some) of the trays got refilled. To go to the only other OCB on Long Island I would have to drive 30 miles. Not with gas prices as they still are. It is not so bad that I won't go there, but this location needs improving. So does the overall chain's special menu offerings.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Well, we are home again. We have been for a few weeks. The posts were written after dining at the restaurants and published one a week. It is time to start writing again.

Since returning we have been back to a few of the local buffets. Tonight we went back to the Good Taste Buffet in Commack, NY. (See July 22, 2006)Sometimes the second time around, things are different - or disappointing. The Good Taste Buffet was just as good this time. The food has a fresh taste - you can taste the shrimp as shrimp - not so in many restaurants, buffets or not. Sadly, this restaurant is not close by to us and we are not often in the area to dine there.

A few times in the past few weeks we have been back to the Old Country Buffet. I am very pleased to announce that Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp is GONE, GONE, GONE. That was one of the worst OCB specials that they have ever offered. The worst part was that it took the place of all of the regular offerings each night - despite the claim that it did not. The new special at OCB is Steak House Steak. This was something that Golden Corral did,and did well. I have not had the OCB special yet, but from the description on the signs and posters, it is not going to be great, why? - because the main center of attraction is OCB's poorly cooked steak. The other two major buffet chains cooked the steak to order on a flame grill. OCB's steak is broiled in an oven and served one way - tough and well done. There are a few things going along with the steak. There will be Outback-style blooming onions and peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp - if it is kept properly chilled - will be a nice feature. The steak is advertised in two styles - with garlic mushrooms or peppercorn. I will not comment until I try it - but..

One Saturday afternoon we needed a substantial lunch, anticipating a not so substantial dinner. We went to the OCB at about 3:00 pm. We were there in the midst of seniors having early dinners and Disabled group homes out for a meal field trip. There were a few odd guests - none of them part of the Disabled. There was one lady in flamboyant Sixties pants and top with hair to match. This was defiantly an aging hippy who was never told that the Sixties have been long gone. This was not someone in a fashion coming back - this was a lady who should not have been wearing this if it was 1968.

One good thing to know about showing up for lunch at OCB at about 3:00 pm. You pay lunch prices and for about 30 minutes the lunch menu is out on the buffet tables, but at 3:30 the buffet begins to change and the dinner features come out as the lunch features are taken away. So for less money you get both menus, lunch and dinner. Not bad. All of the carvings come out, as well as all of the dinner menu items.

One night at OCB we saw the largest man we have ever seen - not so much tall but round. I am not sure how he sat on the chair (but he did) or how he fit into a car. On another night we saw a family with two children - middle school age. The kids were eating ice cream and french fries - together on their plates. And they were dipping. Humm... Mom and Dad just watched without commenting. This is only topped by the lady that I told you about months ago at a Ryan's who had steak and shrimp on her plate topped with vanilla ice cream.

Enough rambling for now. If you have been to the OCB and had the new steakhouse special, let us know in the comments area how it is.