Friday, September 21, 2007

Golden Leaf Restaurant - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Golden Leaf Restaurant is a Chinese buffet located in Williamsburg, Virginia that we found looking through a free tourist magazine advertising businesses in the area. We decided to give it a try. The ad stated that it is located next to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It is in a large building that is houses three businesses – this restaurant, a souvenir store that is actually part of this restaurant, and an Italian pizza restaurant (which was doing much more business than this buffet). The ad also stated that there are over one hundred items on the buffet every day. This a new recent – less than one year open.

We went into the restaurant to find a small, pleasantly decorated restaurant with two single buffet servers filling the middle with two small dining rooms on each side. We were shown to our table and our soft drink orders were taken. There were no prices visible anywhere – no sign of any kind near the cashier that was near the entrance door. We had a coupon for ten percent off from the tourist magazine. At the end of the meal we discovered that the adult price is $9.75. We asked about the other prices and learned that this is the price every day. Children under 3 are free and children to 10 are $5.95 and over ten are $6.95. We did not learn if there is a lower price at lunch. There may be. Soda with unlimited refills is $1.00 and is refillable. They also serve beer and wine – not refillable.

We went on a Wednesday night in the midst of a busy tourist area and this restaurant was almost empty. From 6pm to 7:30pm there were maybe five tables filled the entire time. Other restaurants including the pizza place next door were crowded judging by the parking lots that we drove past.

We went up to start with soup. There were the three usual, basic Chinese restaurant soups – wonton soup, egg drop soup, and hot and sour soup. There was just one wonton left in the wonton soup tray with plenty of broth left. I took the single wonton while my wife decided to move on to something else to start and come back for wonton soup when it was refilled. I also took a bit of the hot and sour soup to taste. The broth was light and pleasant – the wontons were light noodles with a very light meat filling. The soup was ok - the wontons could have been better. The hot and sour soup was very much on the hot spicy side. If you like your hot and sour real hot and spicy then you will like this soup.

The ads talked about the various types of sushi that was served and I went for sushi next. There were just two types of artificial crab meat rolls – one with the seaweed wrapped around the outside and one with the seaweed wrapped around the inside. There was also a cold steamed shrimp laid over a lump of rice. The ad had shown a whole assortment of rolls that were not on the server. The crab rolls were crunchy and a bit sweet – not bad, but I was expecting sushi and this was not what I had in mind. There were also raw muscles and cold steamed shrimp. The shrimp were nicely sized and properly cold served over a thick bed of ice. I took some of the thick cocktail sauce that was in a small bowl next to the shrimp. The shrimp were good. The cocktail sauce was too thick and heavy on the tomato with an odd seasoning that I did not expect in the taste. It was ok.

There was a small salad bar that was just lettuce with dressings and very few toppings. It was somewhat lost in the cold dessert server and could easily be missed unless you went looking for salad.

The next things that I tried were the two types of dumplings that they had. Both were the same – one pan fried and one steamed. There was what I thought was the usual dumpling sauce. After I covered my dumplings and got back to the table I discovered that the dumpling sauce was full of bits of hot red peppers and pepper oil. The sauce was very spicy and hot and not what I have encountered in other restaurants. Again, if you love hot then you will like this sauce. The dumplings, both types, were good. They were light noodles and tasty filling.

The egg rolls were good. They were much better than the average Chinese buffet egg rolls. The filling was good and the outside was crispy. There were spring rolls. There was crab Rangoon – little pockets of dough fried with a mixture of crab and cream cheese inside. There was barbecued chicken on a stick that was covered in the sweet red sauce that seems to be the favorite of Chinese buffets everywhere. There were spare ribs but they were in a very wet brown sauce and I did not try them for that reason.

It was time to try the entrees and there were not many. There are hot, steamed king crab leg clusters of a nice size, but if you take these from the buffet server you will be charged $5.00 more on your meal price. There was a baked crab dish with a yellow cheese baked on top. This was very good and similar to some of the local crab dishes served in some of the seafood restaurants in the Chesapeake area. There were four or five chicken dishes – the majority of them spicy. There was General Tso Chicken and Sesame Chicken – both the same but the sesame chicken is not spicy. There was black pepper chicken that was mildly spicy. Missing were the usual beef and peppers and chicken and broccoli. There was a shrimp dish of shrimp tossed with fake crab legs in a light buttery sauce. These shrimp were very good. There was egg foo young with the sauce on the side. There were boneless fried chicken pieces with sweet and sour sauce on the side. There was broiled chicken on the bone and there were fried shrimp. There was a Mongolian beef dish that had beef in a dark sauce, but the thin sliced beef was too chewy. There was a dish of shrimp with walnuts that had a thick white sweet, mayonnaise based sauce. There were Chinese string beans, French fries, and chunks of potatoes. There was lo mein and fried rice. It does not sound like it here but the entrees were actually sparse compared to many Chinese buffets. It was a bit difficult to find something and then go back and try something else. Don’t get me wrong, I was not hungry when I left but I kept looking for something to take that I really wanted to try - and wound up taking more of the shrimp and baked crab. There was also pizza that despite looking like Chinese buffet pizza was pretty good.

Dessert was less than usually found but there were a number of nice choices. There was a try of chocolate chip cookies, one tray of the usual Little Debbie type cake – a different chocolate cake than is usually seen, small cream puffs, pudding, jello, melon, watermelon, orange wedges, and soft serve ice cream. There were two hot desserts mixed into the hot buffet table. These were a hot apple filled pastry roll and a hot strawberry filled pastry roll. These were very good and the best dessert choice. The soft ice cream had a custard taste making this a bit different than the usual soft serve.

My wife counted the items on all of the buffet servers and came up with only seventy – not the hundred as advertised – and she was being generous in her count including condiments, sauces, and counting vanilla soft serve separate from the chocolate soft serve. Was there enough to eat – sure, but if you say 100 items there should be 100 items – and there was no more room on any server to put anything else out.

Service was very good. Young Chinese women came around to clear dishes from tables and refill sodas. The room was clean – table, floors, buffet server. There were knives out for the taking. Serving trays were quickly refilled as they got near empty and everything was kept stirred. The d├ęcor was simple and very pleasant. It was a light airy room. This is a nice quiet restaurant where dinner conversation is easy to hear. They have a take out menu and they will do take out buffet by the pound.

This would be a good small neighborhood Chinese buffet. Unfortunately, it is located in a prime tourist area where there are restaurants every hundred yards and in the way of other buffets there is strong competition and better choices in both Chinese buffets and standard American fare buffets. If this was located somewhere else I would say definitely go there – it is inexpensive and we had a pleasant dinner. The food is not GREAT but it is good. If this were near home I would go back – but here in Williamsburg it is competing with what is perhaps the best Chinese buffet that I have ever eaten in and that is Peking Buffet located just down the road from Golden Leaf. The meal there is a little more expensive but the food is better and it is far more extensive. (Look for my review in the archives.) The Golden Leaf is much better than the Shanghai Buffet also in this area – see my review in the archives and the comments that have been left about that restaurant.

But I want to be fair to this restaurant. It is nice. It is simple. It is a good value. I would recommend it – but not as a first Chinese buffet choice in this area. We both felt fine after eating here - no MSG headaches or sour stomachs. (Hey, that could be the most important recommendation for any restaurant!)

The Golden Leaf is located at 1665 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185 in the same building with Chanellos Pizza. The telephone number is (757) 220-5862. We did not get the hours but they are open seven days a week. Call for the closing time if it is late. There are ten percent off coupons in the local tourist magazines that are free all over town and seniors over 65 get a ten percent discount all of the time. There is no website. If you want to try another Chinese buffet in the Williamsburg area this is one to try.


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