Friday, November 24, 2006

The Worst Old Country Buffet

The worst Old Country Buffet restaurant has to be the one in Levittown, New York.

We have been visiting this restaurant since it opened a number of years ago. It has had its ups and downs - mostly downs. The problems all seem to come down to management - and not just the on the spot supervisors (who have their problems) but the general manager of the restaurant. Since they have opened there have been several general managers. Some have been better than others, but none seem to get the idea of anticipating the number of guests that they are likely to have on any one particular day - especially days on or before holidays. These are days and nights that I (if I were the restaurant manager) would expect a larger than usual crowd and make the necessary arrangements to have enough of the day's menu on hand. The managers here never anticipate the crowd.

We have frequently gone to the restaurant on Sunday nights. There is always a crowd and the crowd stretches into the later part of the evening. People are still coming in at 8 and 8:30. They close at 9. By 7 to 7:30 pm most items are gone, especially the carvings, which are the main feature of the Sunday menu. Many of the trays are empty and they are either not refilled or they are refilled with a non-comparable item. For example, pork chops are gone and they are replaced with a vegetable.

Now, here is an interesting twist. A few weeks ago, on a Sunday night, trays remained empty through the entire time that we were dining. Carvings were gone as well. By 8:30 no one new had come into the restaurant. At 8:45 pm the employees began to set up tables for themselves to prepare to eat. Suddenly, as most of the guests were leaving, trays started to come out and be restocked. Carvings made their first appearance in over an hour. Now, who was going to be eating all this - you guessed it - the employees. They all ran up to the buffet tables and began filling plates of all of the menu items that had not been out for hours. We may be inclined to blame these employees, but you really need to blame their supervisor. Why wasn't the manager on duty that night actively making sure that all trays and carvings were available for the guests all night? It was not because they were out of them - as they all were brought out as the guests were leaving. This is not a one time happening. We have observed it again since that night. If it has happened twice - it happens a lot.

Often there will be no one at the carving station to carve. Guest will line up waiting for an employee to come over and carve - no one comes. The line disappears as no one wants to wait when nothing is going to happen.

There are nights when no one picks up dirty dishes from the tables until the guests are leaving Stacks of dishes pile up and the server is cleaning empty tables. (I must say that there are two very good servers working here, a man and a woman, who both make sure that every dish is picked up as soon as they can get to it - but this is just two, of many.)

The restaurant floors are also not kept clean throughout the day and night. Anything that falls pretty much remains there in the dining area until the end of the night. No one ever seems to clean under that tables until closing. I once was there with my four year old neice who told me that the restaurant was dirty. Well, if a four year old can make this determination, how come the restaurant manager is unaware (or does not care).

It is not just late night that problems occur. We have been in at early dinner hour and we have been in for lunch. It is never much better.

So why do we return? The next nearest buffet restaurant (other than Chinese buffet) is more than twenty five miles away. So if we want to eat buffet there is no alternative.

So what does one do? We have made complaints to the central office via their website. Know what? You get no response - ever! We have gone to the manager on duty - you sometimes get an apology and an attempt to fix the problem - but there get to be oh, so many problems.

So I get to complain to you all! I am sure there are stories about other buffets that you can relate - post a comment and tell us. I know from previous comments that there are some regular or semi-regular readers who have been to this particular restaurant - some often. If they have a comment or would like to disagree, post a comment. The best thing would be if someone from this Old Country Buffet or better yet, the central office would read this and post a response. Let's see.

Friday, November 17, 2006

East Buffet - Huntington, NY

When you do an Internet search for Chinese buffets on Long Island only one name comes up - East Buffet. It is known to be one of the best Chinese buffet restaurants in New York and perhaps it might be considered to be "the best" any where. East is located on Route 110 in Huntington, NY.

I have been to East a number of times over a number of years. I have not been there in over one year - until this Wednesday night. We have not gone because the price has gone beyond what a usual night out should be for us. A week ago the newspaper ran an ad for the restaurant and there at the bottom of the page was a coupon for ten percent off the bill for up to twenty persons at lunch or dinner from Monday to Friday. We decided to go to East mid-week - figuring that the price would be somewhere around $15 to $18 less the coupon.

East is a very good restaurant. The food is very good. The variety is extensive. The price is very, very expensive. What you get is well worth what you are paying, but it is expensive. The weekday dinner price is $21.99. Children are $10.99. Beverages are extra. A lobster brought to your table is an additional $4.99. Lunch prices are about half at $11.99 each with children at $6.99. The weekend prices were not posted on the wipeboard in the lobby, but from past experience I could safely say that they are about $6.00 or higher more per person.

What you get is a very interesting mix of authentic Chinese dishes with a mix of Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, American and Italian. The center of one of the dining rooms and the entire rear of the restaurant are buffet servers and grills. There are two double-sided, half, buffet tables in the dining area and one long double-sided buffet server in the rear. Along the entire rear wall are grills, carving stations, and a sushi bar. Along the wall next to the half buffets is a dessert buffet.

On one of the two half buffets are fruit and salad - the salad being just lettuce, toppings, and dressings - along with a variety of cold Oriental dishes, many very exotic and some recognizable such as cold noodles with sesame sauce. There is also cold peel and eat shrimp here. The fresh fruit included papaya, kiwi, a variety of melons, etc. The website says that there are 11 types of jello - and there are. The other half buffet has hot dishes including fettucini alfredo, chicken marsala, baked ziti, eggplant Parmesan (which was oddly made with chunks of eggplant rather than the usual stacked slices), spare ribs, braised short ribs, two kinds of fried rice, boneless ribs, and a variety of unusual Chinese meat and appetizer dishes. There was a crispy shrimp roll that was a whole shrimp wrapped in a thin wrapper and fried.

The long buffet server in the back has four types of soups - wonton, hot and sour, miso, and seafood soup. There were several types of dumplings, all fully stuffed and each set out in steamers. There was a steamed shrimp dumpling that was bulging with several full size shrimp in each one. The shrimp were very flavorful. There are crab legs - whole, large clusters. The rest of the table is filled with Chinese dishes - some familiar, many unusual. In between the hot trays set into the table, they set out serving platters of more entrees. There were crabs in ginger sauce, scallops in black pepper sauce, very jumbo shrimp made into salt and pepper shrimp, salmon, shrimp and lobster sauce (made like a real Chinese restaurant makes it- full of pork, egg, and only large shrimp (not mixed with fake crab), Chinese Fillet Mignon, and other excellent dishes.

Along the back wall they are carving real Prime Rib, Peking Duck - carved off the duck in front of you and placed into the pancake, and leg of lamb. The grills are cooking appetizers from all over the Orient. These come off the grill and into hot pans set along the top of the counter. They are constantly refilled. Here were pan fried pork dumplings and scallion dumplings. There is Thai sate chicken and beef served on skewers with a sate peanut sauce on the side. There is Korean short ribs, grilled pork loin, a rolled beef grilled with chopped greens. There is tempura. There are scallion pancakes. There was an unusual French Seafood Roll that was a thin wrapper filled with fish and pork - it had the taste of the seasonings of Italian pork sausage. There are several seafood dishes and appetizers coming off the grill. The sushi bar is more extensive than the usual buffet offering. It is continually made at the counter and there are a mix of raw fish and vegetable offerings. There are a lot of different raw salmon sushi offered. One really nice thing is that there is low sodium soy sauce out for the sushi.

There are so many dishes on the various buffet tables that it is impossible to list them all (as I am able to do at other buffets). They do change night to night - and during the night. The web site claims 250 dishes - and I would doubt that, as it seems like more.

Dessert will not disappoint. There is a lot more besides the fruit and 11 jellos already mentioned. There is a variety of little cakes, cookies, and pastries - a step above the usual Little Debbie type cakes. There are a number of Oriental desserts - puddings and custards. There are fried bananas. There is even a Chinese dessert sweet soup. Of course, there is a soft serve machine with creamy ice cream.

There is a mix of Asian and American in the customer-base of this restaurant. On some nights the dining rooms are filled with Asian-Americans. They know what many of the exotic dishes are and that is what you see them eating. One night here I ran into the owner of our local take out restaurant dining here with his wife. (East is about a 15 mile drive from our home.) Asian people take the private room here for parties. An excellent indication that the food here is authentic and good.

Service is as good as the food. Dishes were taken up from the table as soon as they were empty. We did not order sodas (to keep the price more affordable, even with the ten percent off coupon), but the water glasses were refilled when they were half empty. There are extra napkins on the table and knives with every place setting. Often at Chinese buffets as soon as you take dessert, the bill is plopped down on your table. Here you ask for it when you are ready. The servers were all friendly.

When the bill comes it comes with a 12 and one half percent tip automatically added on. This is fair for the quality of service. But when you get the bill, with the tax and tip included dinner for two is running about $54.00. That is a lot of money for a weeknight. We usually reserve this restaurant for a special occasion - and never on the weekend.

The restaurant closes every night around 9:00 pm and I mean they close - not just stop seating. It is always best to get here no later than 7:00 pm and even that can be too late if there is a crowd. You can wait here on a Saturday night over an hour to get in. There have been waits on other nights as well. The wait and the closing time can be a problem.

The restaurant is located at 179 Walt Whitman Road (yes, that Walt Whitman - his home was just around the corner from the restaurant) in Huntington Station, New York. The phone number is 631-385-0800. There is a web site and it is listed at the side of our page.

If you can afford it and you want a Chinese food extravaganza try East. There are many who say so - the Internet has many reviews about this restaurant. And that is unusual for any buffet.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Heelies at the Buffet

Have you seen kids rolling around on the heels of their shoes? These are called "heelies" and they have found their way to the feet of children at buffet restaurants. The children scooting around on these things are enough of a hazard, but how about these kids rolling around the buffet servers?!?

We have experienced this several times since this past summer. One night we had a child wheeling his way through the buffet line trying to balance and hold his plate at the same time. Of course, in the process he had no awareness that there were people walking around him trying to carry their plates.

We have spoken before about children at buffets and their treating the restaurant as one large playgound. With the addition of these shoe roller skates,they have become a hazard. So where are the parents? Right there along side or at their table with no concern that the kid is cruising along in a crowded restaurant.

So... a new rule. One that should never have had to been stated. Common sense apparently means nothing. So here goes...

No heelies in buffet restaurants. Parents do not permit your child to wear heelies at the buffet.

How ridiculous!

>Spot any heelies at a buffet? Let us know.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ming Gourmet Buffet - Lancaster, PA

The Ming Gourmet Buffet is located in Lancaster, PA in a strip mall next to a K-Mart on the Fruitville Pike. The restaurant has recently opened. It takes up the space of three storefronts. Inside the restaurant is nicely decorated and is typical of the larger Chinese buffets. There are three large dining rooms with booths and tables. One of the dining rooms can be used as a private party room - though it is glass-walled and in full view of the rest of the dining rooms. The buffet tables are located in the center of the dining rooms and there are three large buffet servers.

Price is moderate - not cheap but not excessive for what is offered. Dinner on the weekends from Friday through Sunday is $12.15. The weekday dinner price is $10.35. Lunch is $6.25 every day except Sunday. Sunday is dinner prices all day. Children's prices are weekend dinner - $6.05, weekday dinner - $5.25, and lunch - $3.85. Soft drinks are $1.29 and are refillable.

There is one buffet table with salads, desserts, and sushi. The other two tables have appetizers and entrees. There was a lot of seafood offered on the Sunday night that I went. There were large cluster crab legs. There were crabs in ginger sauce. There is peel and eat cold shrimp and they were a nice size. These shrimp were on the mushy side and that means they were over cooked. The sushi was salmon, shrimp, and crab. There was also a variety of vegetable sushi rolls. It was replenished throughout the night. Also in the seafood offerings were flounder steamed in ginger (not refilled while we were dining), frogs legs, crayfish, and several shrimp dishes. A number of the dishes had octopus and squid. This is not my thing so I passed these by.

There were three soups - wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour. The usual appetizers were there but there were no egg rolls (but there were spring rolls). There were few meat dishes. There was beef and mushrooms, chicken and broccoli, and an interesting pork meatball. Carved ham was on the end of one of the buffet tables.

Dessert was sparse. There were a few types of "Little Debbie"-type cakes. There was jello and pudding as well as fruit. There is a soft serve machine and the ice cream was very good and creamy - not icy.

The food was tasty. I would have preferred more meat offerings and less seafood, but if you enjoy seafood this was an excellent buffet. If you enjoy crablegs they were large and properly cooked. The broke open easily and the crab came right out of the shell. (One lesson that I have learned about crab legs over the years is not to take too many at once. As they cool down they get harder to take from the shell and the meat tends to stick to the inside. When they are hot they break easy and come out without a struggle.) For the money you got a lot of seafood. Many of the seafood entrees were in some form of butter sauce.

Service was excellent and the buffet tables were well tended. Serving trays were refilled regularly (except for the flounder). Dishes were cleaned away quickly and the server made sure that the drinks were refilled.

Ming Gourmet Buffet is a good restaurant. I would recommend the neighboring Star Buffet (see review) before this one but that may just be my preference for the variety there (less seafood and more meat).

There is no website. The address is 1858 Fruitville Pike, Lancaster, PA. The phone number is (717) 560-0998. They are open until 10pm on Sundays to Thursday and until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. They open at 11 am every day except Sunday when they open at 11:30 am. There are 10% off coupons in local newspapers and there are little advertising cards found in hotel lobbies that offer the same discount. If you are looking for all the seafood that you can eat and are in this area, try it.