Friday, January 26, 2007

More New Rules

I find that I must add a few more new rules to the list of Rules of the Buffet. Sadly, I would never have believed that I would have to add something so obvious and disgusting as this first new rule.

RULE 23. Never bring an animal into the buffet.

Now, I am not talking about a service dog.
I had the misfortune to experience someone bringing their new PET HAMSTER into the buffet. Here is how it went. A woman was sitting at a table alone. She was joined by her two daughters, one of whom was carrying a Petco box with holes in it. She put the box DOWN ON THE TABLE and shortly later opened the box to play with the hamster inside. They remained at the table with the animal for over an hour. Then she got up with the box to walk through the dining room and placed it on several more tables to show what was inside. She showed it to an employee who screamed, but the employee did nothing and said nothing to her. An animal in a restaurant (especially a rodent) is a health code violation. I have seen how these restaurants clean their tables and there was nothing that they were going to wash those tables down with that was going to disinfect whatever that animal could be carrying.

A comment was made from a table behind me when they noticed the box, but that they thought that the box was, at least, sealed. I informed them that it wasn't. Many vocal comments were made then by them loud enough for the people with the animal to hear, but these were ignored. With no manager to be found, it crossed my mind to make a call to the Board of Health. Just for the record, this was at an OCB.

I never thought that I would see an animal brought into a restaurant. A buffet restaurant with all of the food out and exposed with this animal being carried around the room is the ultimate.

RULE 24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

Rule 25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

Believe it or not, in a recent poll of buffet owners they were asked what they most would like and they all answered that they wanted parents to teach their children not put their hands into the serving trays - ignoring the serving spoons and just reaching on in.

This is true of some adults as well.

They would also appreciate it if parents had their children wash their hands before coming up to the serving tables.

RULE 26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

People seem to think that dining at a buffet is a community experience. Some think nothing of turning to the people at the next table or tables and starting a conversation that becomes loud enough for the room to hear and goes on for the entire meal. Friendly is one thing - a multi-table discussion?

So for now, four more rules added to the growing list. At some point in the future I am going to write an article about the informality of buffet restaurants - and how that is not such a good thing. Out of that informality some of these rules have sprung!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Someone from Corporate Must be Paying Attention

A short while ago I wrote about what I consider to be the worst Old Country Buffet. The location is Levittown, New York. Well, someone from OCB must be reading and paying attention as recently there has been a dramatic change in the Levittown OCB, and it is a change for the better.

About three weeks ago we went in and saw a gentleman walking around the restaurant very attentively and dressed in a shirt that said "Buffets Inc.". Now all of the store manager shirts may say this but this was the first one shirt like this that I noticed. I immediately said to my wife that something is up. Looking around things looked better. His arrival coincided with the change in the restaurant - and I should add an increase in price of a dollar per meal. This past week we were there again and the same gentleman in the same shirt now had an ID tag on and it said "Food Bar Manager". Well, this OCB never had one of those before.

There were several points that I made in the article that have been addressed. Food is now refilled regularly and even at 9:00 pm on a Sunday night new carvings were coming out and food trays were kept full. And things were not just coming out for the employees to eat while the diners looked at empty trays for an hour before. The chicken noodle soup now has noodles in it. It had been chicken soup with carrots and celery and nothing else before (I guess a generic chicken soup). The cleanliness has improved also (not great, but better). They also seem to be able to anticipate the crowds now. As I had noted previously, nights that the restaurant should expect a larger than normal number of diners - for example, the night before a school holiday - they would run out of everything early and not replace food items. One of the nights that we just went was the night before a school holiday, and everything was out that should be.

This is good. I would like to think that someone read my article and made some noise at corporate headquarters -maybe not, but remarkably the problems that I noted are starting to be addressed and corrected. Hopefully, this will continue. Hopefully, the "Food Bar Manager" will remain and keep this restaurant on track.

I do wonder if the dollar increase is chain wide. Overhearing regular customers, they are not happy at paying $11.49 for dinner now. Many people seem to eat here regularly; some every night. They apparently budgeted these meals out for themselves and now the increase is pinching some. The better conditions should not warrant an increase in price. Though I am not sure there is any relation between the two. There is nothing on the website about price. It will be interesting to see if they lose the frequent business of the regulars.

Another observation, just from the website (as I do not recall seeing a change on the door), is that the hours of this restaurant used to be until 9:00 pm Sunday to Thursday and until 9:30 pm on Friday and Saturday. Now the hours are until 8:30 pm Sunday to Thursday and until 9:00 on Friday and Saturday. Hmm... Increased price and shorter hours. For the average family who eats between 5 and 6, it makes no difference. But for those of us night owls who eat after 7:30, sometimes 8:00 depending on how the day goes, this is not so good.

They have just started the "Three from the Sea" special feature. Let's hope this one is better than "Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp". This offers several seafoods and, of course, shrimp. I have not tried it yet. I will let you know when I do. This is offered Thursday, Friday, and Saturday only.

There was also a sign with featured carvings every night - and these seem to have changed from what they had been. Some looked for the better. There was no indication that there still is steak every night except Sundays. There was one sign still remaining in a window that mentioned steak, but no where on the website does it now mention steak. Not much of a loss considering the steak that they serve (served? - Maybe, at Corporate, it went "Robert doesn't like the steak. Let's get rid of it! - Maybe not?)

But I should not be negative in an article about the improvements that have been made - at least in Old Country Buffet, Levittown, New York. Corporate, if you are reading this, "thank you!" Also Corporate, let us know that you are out there and post a comment - let us know what you are thinking. That goes for everyone else! And if you have seen improvements at your OCB (or things that have gotten worse) let us know.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Little Bit of Fame

Just by chance and nothing much more important to do, I was following up on sites with links to this site. I saw one that said CBS News. I clicked and there before me appeared the CBS News Website and an article in the Blogophile section from March 1, 2006. (I just found this - better late than never.) The article is about Food Blogs and reading through, what do I find? Nothing less than this humble website - and not just a one line mention, but a paragraph. According to the author, we are one of the "fun" sites! I am impressed!

With the ten billion blogs in the Internet Universe, I am often amazed that anyone ever finds this one. I know that we have readers because my counter often impresses me week after week. I also get a good number of comments and responses to articles. To find out that a national news organization found the site - and then included it in a story - WOW!

So I shall reveille in my brief moment of glory. If you would like to see the story, here is the link.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Super Grand Buffet - Baldwin, New York

The Super Grand Buffet is located at 1874-1878 Grand Avenue in Baldwin, New York on Long Island. This Chinese buffet has been in business for a number of years. This is a large restaurant filling the space of four store fronts in a busy commercial town area. Surprisingly, for such a large restaurant there is not a large amount of seating. The restaurant has a large buffet area including four large, double-sided buffet tables and an L-shaped counter spread along two walls. There is a large, private party room seating over 150 that takes up a considerable amount of the restaurant's space. Seating consists of booths and tables in the front of the restaurant. Unlike many buffet restaurants, there is a liquor bar that takes up part of the L-shaped counter on the side wall in the buffet serving area.

We went to the restaurant on a Saturday night and the restaurant was crowded. The price of dinner on the weekends and holidays is $11.49 with children at $6.99. A good price in this region. Weekdays the price is $10.49 with children at $5.99. Children are 10 and under. There are lunch prices until 3:30 except on Sundays. Lunch is $5.99 (children $3.99) Monday through Friday and $7.59 (children $4.99) on Saturdays and holidays. Children under 2 are free. There are unlimited soft drinks for an additional $1.00 per person. Hours are 11 to 10:00 pm Monday to Thursday, 11 to 11 on Friday and Saturday, and 12 to 10 pm on Sunday. They list something called "Break Hour" from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday. I am not sure what this means, so avoid the restaurant during that hour on weekdays.

Let me start out by saying that this Chinese buffet is just average. That is not a bad thing, but there was nothing really outstanding or special here, except perhaps the price. The food is average. Not bad, not great. Nothing wrong with it, but I can't find anything to say was so good you have to run over there to try it. There was plenty to find to eat. They claim that there are over 200 dishes offered every day. With that said, please keep reading, and I will tell you what they had.

On one of the large, double-sided buffet tables there were cold offerings. There was a salad bar area with basic greens, dressing, and toppings. There were cold, peel and eat shrimp. Now, I must say that these shrimp were large for a Chinese buffet and they were properly kept on ice. There were also cold muscles. This buffet table also had a variety of prepared salads. To the side of this table was part of the L-shaped counter that was a Sushi bar. There actually was a Sushi chef, but he was making one or two pieces at a time and placing them out. Perhaps the crowd that frequents this restaurant is not a Sushi-eating crowd. There was salmon and tuna, and later some spiced salmon was put out. There were vegetable rolls and California rolls. It was there, but it was hard not to take the three pieces of salmon that were there and leave any out for anyone else. With the Sushi chef there most of the evening, I guess, he keeps putting a few more pieces out. It is certainly fresher this way - but unusual.

There were four soups. They had the usual wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour soup. They also had chicken soup with large bow-tie noodles. I tried the hot and sour soup. It was on the edge of being too spicy hot, but not so much that it was not comfortable to eat. It was thinner than most hot and sour soups.

The two buffet tables in the middle had hot entrees, appetizers, and vegetables. There were non-Chinese dishes out including a carve it yourself roast beef (they call it Prime Rib - it wasn't), salmon, and beef ribs that were not very appetizing looking steamed and loose. There was a mix of seafood and meat dishes. There was a Bangkok Chicken that was stir fried chicken with green peppers. There was shrimp in garlic. There was pepper steak and there were the usual fried rice and lo mein. There was a seafood chow mei fun (thin, stringy noodles with egg, vegetables, and shreds of seafood (mostly sealegs). Appetizers included only one type of dumpling (pan fried dumplings), egg rolls that were just fair (but typical of Chinese buffet egg rolls), fried shrimp in several forms. There were crab legs on Saturday night (you may not find these other than on weekends). The crab legs were individual legs and not clusters. There were spare ribs coated in sweet red sugar sauce. The take out menu has a very nice assortment of dishes - too bad more of these were not offered on the buffet, as it would have boosted my rating from average to very good. But alas...

The last buffet table was filled with Little Debbie-type squares of cakes and pastries. There was also dried ginger in sugar and what looked like Rice Krispy squares but were made with Chinese noodles. Next to that table was a freezer chest with six or more commercial tubs of hard ice cream. This is actually a step above the usual buffet soft serve.

There was a "Mongolian Grill" area on the leg of the L-shaped counter, but no one seemed to be 1) going up to this and 2) working behind it (though the Sushi chef was adjacent). It also was not well lit. The serving trays were full of meats and vegetables (all covered in plastic wrap) and there were two regular Chinese woks behind the counter - no traditional grill. Like me, a few people walked over to it and looked, but then walked away wondering perhaps, as I did, as to whether it was open or not. I was tempted to test it out and start to fill a dish to have it cooked, but when I looked at the meat it was not frozen (as this meat usually is and should be) and looked too red to chance. Perhaps Mongolian Grills have lost popularity, but if it is there, why not make it a feature and openly available, rather than have it look closed or not maintained.

Service was good. There were plenty of napkins on the table. The servers kept coming over to clear away dishes, ask if all is fine, and ask if the soda should be refilled. The restaurant was clean. There were no knives - so I am not sure how you would eat the roast beef. A knife may have been brought to you if you asked. Items on the buffet were labeled.

There was an obnoxious couple next to us - that is NO reflection on the restaurant. He asked for regular hot tea and green tea. This totally confused the serving girl. She told him that there was only green tea. She brought it and it turned out to be regular Chinese tea. He could not stop talking about this to his wife (girlfriend?, probably wife). Then they each filled their plates and also filled serving dishes for the two of them and covered their table in them. Like most "grabbers" there were full plates still on the table when they went for dessert.

So price makes this restaurant. It is a good value, but has just average food. I would not say do not eat here. I would say not to go out of your way to eat here. If I am in that area I might go back. There is no website for this restaurant. The telephone number is 516-868-2888 or 516-868-1582. They do regular take out and also take out buffet in addition to the sit down buffet.