Friday, March 30, 2007

All Over a Turkey

I had another article ready for publication tonight and then we went out to a buffet for dinner.

We were at one of the Chinese buffets that I like. It was mid-meal and there was a lot of loud and angry talking at a table about fifteen feet away. Everyone turned to look. There was a man, alone, sitting at a table speaking loudly to the restaurant manager. At first only a few words were coming through clearly. Then the story began to unfold.

The man at the table was talking about turkey! This Chinese buffet offers carved roast turkey on the buffet. I had noticed earlier that where the sign for the turkey is, was not turkey but stuffed crab shells. We now could hear the man saying louder and more angrily that if he knew that there was no turkey he would not have paid for the buffet. Since this is a buffet that you pay for at the end of the meal and not before, he had no argument there - but this was not a guy or the moment to interfere with and point this out.

But the story unfolds further - leading those who were following this encounter ( aka yours truly) to agree that this man had a right to his annoyance - if not his anger and his actions. It seems that when he first went up to the buffet table and saw no turkey he went to one of the women (girls, as he put it) and asked for the turkey. He was told - he claims - that it would be out shortly. A while later he went back to look for the turkey - and still, no turkey! He asked the "girl" again. And he was told again that it would be out shortly. This guy must really like turkey because he went up again a while later and still no turkey. He found the "girl" and asked AGAIN for the turkey. Now he was told that there would be NO MORE TURKEY TONIGHT and that it would be out tomorrow. The kicker was that she also told him - he claims - that he should come tomorrow for turkey. He told her - he claims - that he is eating there tonight - he would not be there tomorrow and he was told that there would be TURKEY and he wanted TURKEY NOW! He expressed all of this angrily to the manager. At one point in his boisterous expression he stood up - he was significantly larger than the Chinese manager. Now, I should add (if for nothing more than the drama) that this guy looked like he should play the role of one of the characters in "The Sopranos". He had the look and the mannerisms - and he was definately a tough looking guy. The manager held his own in the discussion, never raising his voice - apologizing and denying what some of what the guy was saying. Which, of course, fed this guys anger even more.

Then the excitement grew with a little mystery. He was up on his feet and started walking away from the table. He stopped, turned around, looked the manager in the eye and told him to come with him. He was not heading out the door but toward the buffet area. But that is not where he was going either. He went to where the empty private party room entrance is. He told the manager again to "Come here!" The manager smiled (to all of us in the room) and followed him. The room was abuzz. Was he going to punch him out?!? They both disappeared inside the dark room, through the door where no one from the regular dining room could see inside. We listened for screams - crying out -but nothing. One of the chefs saw what was taking place - perhaps gotten by one of the servers- and he went inside the room too. No sounds came out - at least from what we could hear. Perhaps this guy was going to threaten the manager. Or perhaps he realized that he was making a scene and wanted to take it out of the public eye and ear.

Eventually, they came out of the private party room each in one piece, the manager, the chef, and the angry man. The man went up to the buffet tables and filled a plate full of fresh cut fruit and returned to his table. When he got there he felt it necessary to tell the people at the table behind him that he is really a "nice guy". He also told them the story that everyone knew already, and, for whatever reason, he identified his cultural background - which fit exactly with the "Sopranos" persona that I had already attributed to him. He went on for some time explaining and re-explaining to these poor bystanders. At one point the manager approached again, but rather than be drawn in again, perhaps, this time further than he wished, he smiled and walked away.

Eventually, he ate his fruit and faded into the room of diners.

You never do know what is going to happen at a buffet. That is one of the reasons we love 'em!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Super Grand Buffet, Baldwin, NY - REVISITED

I first reviewed this Chinese buffet on January 5, 2007. At that time I called the restaurant "average". Tonight we went back to give this restaurant another try. Tonight I was a little more impressed.

I will not describe the restaurant again. You can read the original article in the archives here. Most, if not all, of the description remains the same.

There were some positive differences tonight. The most important of which is that tonight all of the food was good - not just average. If you ask me why, I cannot really say it is because of this or that. If I had not been there before and I was reviewing this restaurant for the first time I would say that the food here is good.

I was more impressed tonight with the sushi bar. The sushi chef was there all night and continued to make sushi that he placed out on the serving cold table to the side of him. There was a nice assortment including salmon and tuna in various forms and combinations and a spicy salmon roll. There were also several non-fish sushi rolls. There was plenty out so that one did not feel that taking any was going to empty the tray - something I found wrong on my first visit.

There is plenty out to eat - but most of it is in the form of fried Asian appetizer items. There is a lack of variety of Chinese meat entrees aside from the standard chicken and broccoli, beef and peppers, and General Taos chicken. There was a lot of shrimp and chicken, but it was pieces of fried shrimp and fried chicken with and without sauces. The cold, peel and eat shrimp are still big!

I must still say that I avoided the Mongolian grill again for the same reason that I did not have it the first time. The meats were not frozen. They were in pans in a cold table, but the meats were limp in their own raw juices - and again, this concerned me. There was activity at the grill this time and people were having plates of food cooked. There is no large grill or wok, but two fry pans on a burners behind the serving table. The Sushi chef seems to double as the cook. It might be good to try having vegetables cooked here and then add cooked meat or shrimp from the buffet.

I had a closer look at the ice cream freezer tonight and there is an excellent variety of hard ice creams that you serve yourself. There were a number of good flavors including sherbet. This is all real container ice cream and not the sometimes disappointing soft serves that are really ice milk.

The service was excellent. The server came several times without our asking - and still half full glasses of soda - to refill our drinks. This time we asked for knives and without hesitation they were brought to us. Dishes were cleared from the table immediately. The service staff clearly speak and understand English - with no offense intended, this is not always the case in a Chinese buffet. Everyone is friendly and seemed to go out of their way to make one's visit pleasant.

So - if you are in Baldwin, New York in Nassau County on Long Island give the Super Grand Buffet a try. I know that I will be going back again!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Current Buffet Chain Features

The large chain buffets often have a promotional feature menu. These are special items that are added to the general buffet menu and features for a limited period of time. Currently two of the chains - Old Country Buffet (which is also Hometown Buffet and Old Town Buffet) and Golden Corral have special feature menus.

We have written about the current Old Country Buffet feature before. I have tried this one and as OCB features go, this one is not bad. The current feature is called Three from the Sea and includes Butter Crumb Alaska Pollock, Orange Shrimp and Crab Cakes. They also have included fried clam strips and fried shrimp. This feature is only available on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. I like the crumb pollock. It is one of the better fish dishes that OCB has served. It is moist and has a good texture and flavor. The crab cakes are tasty, but are not like other crab cakes as they are flat and more like crab pancakes. The orange shrimp was too sweet - what works for their orange chicken does not work with shrimp.

The current feature at Golden Corral is called Applewood Grill. Unlike Old Country Buffet it is offered EVERY night on the dinner menu. The Applewood Grill includes grilled bacon wrapped chicken breast, grilled bacon wrapped sirlion fillet, carved salmon, and grilled bacon wrapped pork loin. The bacon used is called "Applewood" bacon - and evidently, thus the name of the feature. Now, somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory, I want to say that I have had this feature at the Golden Corral - but I cannot recall when. I have checked my articles from the past year to see if I wrote about it - I think I would have. I did not mention it at the Winchester, VA Golden Corral in June. So perhaps not. But I do remember those bacon wrapped steaks - and this would have had to be before my cholesterol encounter with my physician. Anyway, I don't see a reference to it so perhaps I dreamed it. (Do I dream about buffets? I did not think so.) Regardless, Golden Corral steaks vary- they are better than OCB steaks, can be very good, and have been not so great. I did some searching about Applewood bacon to find out what makes it so special as to name a feature around it. Applewood bacon does not seem to be a "brand name" but rather a type of bacon smoked over - you guessed it... apple wood. It is supposed to be the best tasting bacon. The Golden Corral website photos make it look very appealing - take a look at the bacon wrapped around the chicken breasts. Part of this feature is also adding the bacon to a variety of sides including escalloped apples with bacon crumbles and several potato dishes. It all sounds good - even if I am not supposed to eat the bacon.

The feature menus do not show up on either restaurant's nutritional listing. So let the eater beware if fat or calorie counts are important to you.

There is no current feature listed for Ryan's. Their website is not as extensive as the other two chains and tends to remain the same -so there may very well be a feature there - but it is not on the website.

Cactus Willies lists no current feature. Though, like the other chains there are daily features, which tend to stay consistent (unless the menu changes). (I plan to give them a try again the next time I am near one - just to give this chain a second chance.)

Saturday is St. Patrick's Day and you can get your all you care to eat Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner at OCB - it is a one day special included with the regular features.

So there you have it. The chains are all over the United States and you can find one near you by going to the web link for each chain at the side of this site.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Grand Buffet - South Plainfield, New Jersey

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had tried to find this restaurant that evening on a trip to New Jersey. I have known about this restaurant for a few years, passing it on the road while driving through. Tonight, I was back in the area and I finally got to dine at the Grand Buffet in South Plainfield, New Jersey. Was it worth the long wait? Sadly, no.

Let me start off by saying that the restaurant and the food was not bad - it was just fair to OK. I would like to say good, but not spectacular, but I honestly can't.

This Chinese buffet is located at 101 New World Way in South Plainfield, NJ. The restaurant is connected to, but not part of a Best Western hotel and they share a parking lot. You enter the lot by way of the hotel driveway. The restaurant is in a large building. In the interior is a room for the buffet serving tables, two dining rooms, and a large ballroom (maybe once part of the hotel). The sign outside says Since 1995 and it bills itself as Chinese, Italian, and Japanese - in that order.

You pay for all meals as you enter - much like the chain buffets. The prices are both reasonable and not. You decide - dinner from Monday to Thursday nights is $11.99 per person. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday dinner is $13.75. Lunch Monday to Thursday is $8.99. From Friday to Saturday (Sunday was unclear as to a lunch price or dinner price all day) the lunch is $10.99. Now, children's prices are high - under 2 1/2 is free (ok), from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 is half price, over 4 1/2 is full price. I guess that some five year olds can eat a lot, but charging full price is a bit much. All prices include refillable soft drinks - not bad! They automatically add a tip to your bill when you pay (as you enter) of 9.5% which is fair and probably less than one might leave on their own.

As to hours - the restaurant is open from 11:30 every day and closes at 9:30 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday. We were there on a Saturday night and at 9:00 the restaurant was emptying out. It had been crowded earlier when we entered. You should be aware that the "Ballroom" adjacent to the dining room is used as a night club on Friday nights - and happened also to be on this particular Saturday night (though it might have been a large, private party- but I do not think so. They call it a "Ballroom Dancing Social" at $20. per person which includes dinner. Nice, but the music was very loud and very evident in the dining room. It was nothing unpleasant so it was ok, but at times the music was intrusive.

A good sign in a Chinese restaurant is when many of the guests are Oriental - and that was the case here. Perhaps things were more to their tastes than mine, but I had higher hopes when I walked in.

So to the buffet... There are five double sided buffet tables in a separate room. Along half a wall is a sushi serving area and along a full wall are two buffet serving counters. There is no particular logic to the order that the serving stations are laid out. Soup is along the full wall and also mixed into two other buffet servers. There were six soups, but without looking around the whole room first you see only four soups together. There was a variety in the soups - hot and sour, egg drop, clam chowder, a sweet Chinese soup, wonton soup on another server, and a chicken and pork special soup that was meat with large pieces of vegetables. Real Chinese dinners include sweet soups for dessert and that is why the sweet bean curd soup. The hot and sour soup was on the oily side and I was a little concerned as I was eating it as to how it was going to sit.

There was a cold buffet server with some of the most unusual things that I have ever seen in a buffet. There was cold pork tripe and cold beef tripe. For those who do not know - tripe is stomach. Not to my taste. There was also cuttle fish on the cold buffet along with two cold chicken dishes. The more standard peel and eat shrimp, COLD (on ice) crab legs, and raw shell fish of clams and oysters on the half shell. At one end was lettuce with several dressings. There were tomato salads, and other prepared salads, as well.

Appetizers were scattered all over. There were some unusual and promising appetizers. There were bean curd rolls - thin bean curd rolled around vegetables, a chicken roll - a spring roll with chicken, and fried squares of bean curd among other dishes. There were no traditional egg rolls and no spare ribs (but there were boneless spareribs in a thick, red, sweet sauce). The chicken roll was ok. The fried bean curd was good. The bean curd rolls were fair. Many things that I tried including the bean curd roll were dry when they should have been moist. Fried dumplings were dry, tough, and chewy. Steamed shrimp dumplings had little flavor. When I went up for Sushi there was little out - and all of it were vegetable rolls and California rolls. A while later the whole bar was refilled and raw salmon on rice was added.The salmon was good, but the pieces were sliced much too thick for Sushi.

There were some unusual entrees as well including cooked pigs feet. There was a dish that looked like chicken with a thick GREEN sauce over it - and no sign as to what it was. I have no idea what that might have been and have not seen any food like it before in that shade of green. There were broiled short ribs that were thinly sliced and not bad. There was a steak in a brown sauce that looked too dry and over done (skipped on that). There was Beef in Oyster Sauce that was ok. Stuffed egg plant was good (small slices of small egg plant with a breading stuffed on top and broiled. Some of the usuals like chicken and broccoli were there as well. Pieces of broiled duck looked good but there was little to no meat on the pieces served. Bourbon Chicken was ok but tasted just like terriaki chicken. There were cooked muscles and there was broiled salmon.

There were several non-Oriental dishes that were not bad - actually they were good. My wife tried the Chicken Marsalla and said it was good. I tried the Veal Cacciatore and it was good. It was small tender chunks of veal in a light tomato sauce with peppers and mushrooms. There were stuffed portobello mushrooms that were good - small portobello caps filled with a slice of roasted red pepper and covered with mozzarella cheese all backed together. There was a dish labeled Eggplant Parmesan. I love Eggplant Parmesan. I was disappointed in this one because what it was when I tried it was eggplant rolled around ricotta cheese - which is not Eggplant Parmesan. A ziti with a tomato cheese sauce looked good, but I did not try it. There also was spaghetti with tomato sauce served separately for you to take. The Italian part of this buffet was better than the rest except for the pizza that looked too dried out.

There were several American side dishes including mashed potatoes with brown gravy, corn on the cob, broiled asparagus, and french fries. On the side of the room, next to the soups was a carving station - with no one there. On it was a whole roast turkey. Part of the turkey had been carved into earlier but there were no slices to take. There was no heat lamp over it and it sat that way all night with no one ever being served any. I am sure one could ask - but I am not sure how good it would have been under those conditions. It did look good - BUT...

Overall food could have been hotter. The buffet was "well tended", meaning that dishes were stirred and replaced,but many of the dishes were just warm and not hot. Even items in steamers were not hot, as they should have been.

Desserts - believe it or not, they did not have the usual assortment of Chinese buffet "Little Debbie" cakes. They did have tiny squares of cakes very similar but they were cut into smaller pieces than the usual "Little Debbie's", as if you can get much smaller than that. There was soft serve ice cream but it was in a serving hallway that the dining room accessed, but if you did not notice it - which we didn't until it was too late - you would leave with no ice cream (as we did).

Now, all of that said - the restaurant was clean. The service was good. The staff was friendly. Dishes were removed regularly. Soft drinks were refilled.

I really wanted this one to be good. There is a convention center that hosts trade and retail shows in the area that we have been getting to more often and this would have been a great place to dine afterward. Ah well - not so. It is four hours since dinner and the meal is still repeating on me. (Burp... Arrrp...) There is a diner down the road that was much better and if I pick a diner over a buffet... well, that says something about the buffet. We will have to do some searching. There must be other buffets in this part of New Jersey.

After several hours, I was still reacting to dinner - I must say that this has never happened to me from a buffet before- and I have been to a lot of buffets - Chinese and otherwise.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Buffets Around the World

I have written about "International" buffets in the United States, but what about real international buffets - buffets around the world. Is buffet dining an American phenomenon? Absolutely not. With just a little searching I have found buffets all over the world. I have not been to any of them but this is what I found.

From the number of buffets that I found in Japan, I would say that buffets in that country are very popular. There are Chinese buffets, Japanese buffets, and "International" buffets. I found several buffets in Tokyo. In Utama, Japan, one of the buffets that I have come across is Shogun Japanese Buffet Restaurant. You see that name and expect it to be on some street in the US. Well it is in Japan at 1 Utama in a shopping complex. The buffet is very popular and often crowded. Reservations were required days in advance according to the review that I read. It is a large restaurant that can seat 300. The cuisine is Japanese but items like Seafood Fettuccine are also served. Sushi lovers can get their fill at a large sushi bar that is part of the buffet. Some items - like a special oyster dish - is served to you at your table at one per person. You can see this interesting buffet here -

In the United Kingdom there are many buffets. The cuisine seems to reflect the mixture of cultures immigrating to the UK and in London I found buffets that serve Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian all on one buffet. Take a look at Red Hot Buffet Shacks -
There is even a video to watch about this restaurant. The look is a bit different than what we see here in the US and the food seems to be prepared at "live" stations. Very interesting. This one is located in Nottingham. Also in Nottingham and in Birmingham and Lincoln are Big Wok Chinese Buffet Restaurants. This oriental chain includes Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines on the buffet. Here is a link to their website - the music reminds me of cheesy movies in the 1960's -

Let's move east again to New Zealand. Here I found a few buffets. There is a buffet chain in New Zealand called Valentine's Licensed Buffet Restaurants. The one in Wellington got great reviews. The food is good, the people are friendly... what else could you ask for? For kids they have birthday balloons and "crazy" cocktails (?). The decor is peppermint green and pink. They serve 120 different hot and cold dishes including salads, seafood, "a carvery", cheeses, and desserts. The one is Wellington is rated 26th of all restaurants in that city. Not bad. Another buffet in Wellington called the Skyline got poor reviews for being expensive and unfriendly.

How about the Philippines? How about a buffet restaurant called Dad's that serves Turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, roast beef, baby back ribs, lamb, salmon and of course with all this American fare - sushi. The restaurant is popular and has long lines. The description says reasonable prices but one reviewer called it expensive. This is located in Mandaluyong.

The one that surprised me was in St. Petersburg, Russia. Not sure why I was surprised but I grew up during the Cold War. Any way, if you are in St. Petersburg you have to try Sadko. It is Russian cuisine and very popular. The description says that this is the place to try tasting traditional Russian cooking. Sounds good to me.

If I start writing about Sweden, the home of the Smorgasbord, and perhaps the originator of buffet dining, I could be writing for another hour and a half. So I will leave Sweden for its own article at some later date. In Sweden, smorgasbord is both part of the culture and an art. But that is for another time.

So if you are a world traveler and hankering for a buffet just look around most corners and you are likely to find one.