Friday, January 25, 2008

New Feature at Old Country Buffet

There is a new menu feature at the Old Country Buffet. The feature is "Surf and Turf". Now don't get excited. You are not going to suddenly find lobster on the buffet at Old Country Buffet (and Ryans and all of the other incarnations of this chain). No, the surf part of the OCB Surf and Turf is fish and shrimp. The Turf part is steak.

So, fish, shrimp, and steak... where is the feature? This is another of OCB's recent feature pheonomenon that I have been calling the "why bother?" features. They have put three things that are always on the menu on a feature sign and call it something cute. I am not sure why they are doing this lately. They used to have nice features in the not that long ago past - barbecue, tex-mex, etc. Now we get shrimp and the same awful steak that is there Monday to Saturday anyway.

The fish part of the Surf and Turf feature is Butter Crumb Alaskan Pollack. This is a return of this dish from one of the last fish features. This fish dish has made appearances on Friday nights - so it is not all that different either. One thing, though -it is good. It is one of the best fish entrees that OCB has served. This is a crusty broiled fish with a moist crust. It tastes good. (Yes, I can compliment OCB too.)

The feature is served from Monday night to Saturday night. OCB does not include features on Sundays - despite the new higher weekend price. The sign says that there are additions to the feature on Wednesday and Friday nights - baked salmon, butterfly shrimp (another fried shrimp?), and fried fish.

I went to OCB for the feature on a Tuesday night. Tuesday is Italian night on the buffet servers. There are a few good dishes to be found on Tuesday nights that have nothing to do with the new feature. One is a Chicken Parmesan dish. I have had this on two visits to OCB and it was different each time. The first time that I had this at OCB the chicken was cut into small cubes, battered and fried and cooked in tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese melted on top. The second time the chicken was cut into long strips and cooked the same way. The cubes were much better. They were moister and tastier.

Another good Tuesday night dish is a dish of ziti macaroni with Italian sausage, peppers, and onions mixed in with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Again, two visits and two variations. The first time had nice, large chunks of sausage. The next visit the sausage was hardly visible and what was found were small, thin slices.

The third good dish was rice risotto. This is a nicely seasoned, soft rice with mushrooms and a good seasoning. It has a good taste and even goes with the pasta dishes found on Tuesday night.

I would not run out to OCB just to have the Surf and Turf. You will not miss much if you miss this limited time feature. Basically, you can get this any night that you go (other than Sundays) as they always have steak (except Sundays) and the always have some form of fried shrimp. In fact, go on any Friday night and you will always find this whole feature including the fish. Again, I say "Why bother?" Who do they think they are fooling with a special feature that consists of regular menu items?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Snuffy's Pantagis Renaissance Restaurant, Scotch Plains, NJ

A number of years ago this restaurant would advertise on metropolitan New York radio stations with festive Greek music and shouts of "O-pah! O -pah!". It was a very effective commercial because many in this area will recall the commercial and remember the name of Snuffys in Scotch Plains, New Jersey - even though that is more than fifty miles away. "O-pah! O-pah!" In those days there was never any mention of a buffet - and then there probably was no buffet.

Many of you have probably noticed the Google ads at the side of these articles and the bottom of this page. I realized a short time ago that one of those advertisers is Snuffy's Restaurant - the same "O-pah, O-pah!" place. Now, I am not permitted to click on Google ads on my own site, but I could find the Snuffy's website on my own to find out why they were being associated with a site about buffets. Could they now be offering a buffet? When you look at Snuffy's website it seems to primarily feature its catering hall and the wonderful weddings that it can provide. If you look really close you will find that this caterer/restaurant offers buffets two nights a week.

Did you ever wish you could find an Italian buffet? Italian restaurants are as prevalent as Chinese restaurants - and there are many Chinese buffets, but you really don't find Italian buffets. Well, on Thursday night head on over to Pantagis Renaissance Restaurant because they have an Italian Buffet.

Now, as I have said before about some restaurants that I am writing about - I have not been to this restaurant. I am not reviewing the restaurant. I am letting you know about it and sharing that it looks good. Do I know that the food is good? No. When I can get there (it is not nearby, but not impossible either) I will write again. But for now, let's take a look at what looks good.

The Italian buffet is served for dinner on Thursday nights from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm. It is not inexpensive, but not unreasonable for what is being offered. Featured are Cavatelli with Broccoli, Beef Burgundy, Tortellini Alfredo, Chicken Marsala, Shrimp Scampi, Lobster Ravioli, Eggplant Rollatini, Fried Zucchini, Baked Haddock Sicilian Style,and Chicken and Sausage Italian Style. There are also carvings including Turkey, Fresh Ham (Pork Roast), Roast Beef, and Virginia Ham. There is a cold Anitipasto, and your choice of four soups - Pasta Fagioli, Minestrone, Potato Leek, and New England Clam Chowder. Still have room for dessert. They have Cannoli
Assorted Cheesecake, Tiramisu and more.

This is all served from table cloth covered buffet tables with the food hot in chafing dishes. The price for this buffet per adult is $17.95. Children eat for half price. This is high for mid-week, but when you look at what you are getting and think that you are only paying six dollars per person more than Old Country Buffet this is very good if you like Italian food. Many must think so as the restaurant recommends that reservations be made.

On Friday nights Snuffy's offers another buffet. On Friday's you will find a Seafood Buffet - Mediterranean Seafood Buffet! This one looks fabulous - and for the many readers who comment and write to me about unlimited lobster - on Friday night at this restaurant you will find Stuffed Lobster on the buffet! Time for the buffet is 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

The seafood buffet begins with a salad bar and bread selections. There is a large display of fresh fruit as well. Now, what should come next - the seafood or the rest? Let's start with the seafood. Ready? You are going to find Shrimp Cocktail, Clams, Mussels and Oysters, Stuffed Lobster, Grilled Sword Fish with Red Pepper Coulis, Mussles ala Marinara, Steamed Clams with Salsa Verde,Spicy Fried Calamari, Lobster Bisque, and Coconut Shrimp.

When you have had your fill of seafood you can move on to a Pasta Station, Eggplant Rollatini, and Swedish Meatballs. You will also find carvings of Prime Rib,
Steam Ship Roast, Virginia Ham, Roast Turkey, and
Whole Leg of Lamb.

Ready for dessert? There is a selection of Venetian and Greek style desserts.

Throughout your dinner you will be entertained with by a "live" piano player. How nice - and you so much better than a "dead" piano player.

So, lobster, hot and cold seafood a-plenty - how much is this going to cost? Price for adults is $32.95 per person. Children, again, are half price. For a buffet that includes lobster this is not a bad price. Yes, it is high for many of us - myself included. But for a special occasion or celebration dinner this is good for this bountiful meal. Again, Snuffy's says that they recommend that you make a reservation for the seafood buffet.

From how these buffets are shown as served, these are catering hall- style buffets. This seems pretty much a catering restaurants opportunity to offer to the public some of what they offer at their catered affairs. I suspect that the buffet meals are more bountiful than the catering meals judging from my dining experiences at catering halls - Remember, I have never been to Snuffy's so I am not talking about them - they may have great catered meals.

If I had a choice of either night, I am more intrigued by the Italian Buffet on Thursdays. Seafood is nice and lobster is great, but other than the lobster most of what is offered on the Seafood Buffet is found at other buffets at less cost. The Italian buffet, however, is unique. I know of no other.

So, if you are in New Jersey - or traveling through - and you can afford it, try Pantagis Renaissance Restaurant on either Thursday or Friday night. If you have been there, leave a comment and let us know how it is.

The restaurant is a large building and is located at Park and Mountain Avenue in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. The phone number is 908-322-7726. There is a website and it is linked at the side of this article. (If you see the Google ad on this site for this restaurant, visit it from that link - at least I earn about three cents.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Prime Sirloin and Other Tidbits

One of my readers told me about a buffet chain in the Southern US. It is called Prime Sirloin in most of its locations. I almost had an encounter with Prime Sirloin twice when I was in North Carolina this past summer. I didn't dine there because this chain, for some reason, seems to play down that they have a buffet in their local listings. I had been aware of a buffet chain with this name - but when I saw a listing for it, I could not be sure that I had actually found one. Looking at the Prime Sirloin website, this should not be a surprise because the website plays down the buffet just as much. The logo for this chain says "Steaks, Buffet, Bakery". Sounds like Ryans . But other than a few lines about the buffet on an extensive menu page, the focus of Prime Sirloin is to sell you a steak or chicken dinner from the menu. The focus of the website is to sell you a franchise.

My reader told me that he has been to the the Prime Sirloin location near Altoona, PA. This is the furthest location north of the chain, with the majority of locations in North Carolina. He describes the restaurant as "very Golden Corral-esque in both decor and menu". He said that though there is a menu to order from he has never seen anyone use the menu. He also said that you will find some non-traditional bufet offerings such as freshly grilled Panini sandwiches. Sounds good! He says that it is good and the food has "never been less than perfect". Well, that is a great recommendation - and is good enough for me to seek one of these out the next time that I am in North Carolina. (Keep an eye out for a review around August or September.)

The Prime Sirloin Family Steakhouse has ten locations in North Carolina, two locations in Virginia, and one location in Pennsylvania. The chain also goes under the name, Western Steer, and with that name there is a location in Georgia and one in Florida.

As I say, there is a website, but it is sparse and wants to tell you about how to open a franchise location more than it wants to get you to come in and dine. The website does have customer appreciation coupons. The one I saw was for a free beverage (they serve Pepsi products - which seems to be a North Carolina thing, because Pepsi was invented there).

If you have ever been at the Prime Sirloin, please leave a comment or contact me. I would love to get more opinions. Right now, I am taking the recommendation and will try it. I think that it is safe to say that you should try it too!


I have called this article "Prime Sirloin and Other Tidbits" because there did not seem to be enough to write about the Prime Sirloin buffet alone, especially since I cannot give you the usual detail that I try to give whenever I write about a buffet. I have been collecting a few buffet "tidbits" recently and I will use this opportunity to share them with you!

Tidbit -

Old Country Buffet has instituted a weekend price which is now higher than the weekday prices. The new price is for Friday, Saturday and Sunday diner and is $12.29. The reason for this price increase when I asked at the local OCB is because there are special features added to the buffet on those nights. What are they? Well, it is called Surf and Turf Special - which is different from the Surf and Turf Feature that OCB is listing as coming soon on its website. This weekend Surf and Turf is roast beef and fried butterfly shrimp. But, you might say, they always had roast beef on Sunday nights and fried shrimps shows up daily in one form or other on the buffet. You are right! This was just an excuse to raise the weekend price. This makes OCB the most expensive of any of the buffet chains on the weekends.

Tidbit -

Old Country Buffet ran an ad campaign just before Christmas to get more people to dine there. They blanketed local newspapers and bulk mailed discount coupons - buy one get one free. Are they seeing a decline in business? (I wonder why?, I ask facetiously.) From my observations people were using the coupons, but they did not look like there were any more diners than usual.

They also have instituted an "E-Club" which can be joined for free on their website or at the cashier of the restaurants. The e-club will email you coupons for money off and for free meals, as well as advertisements. By joining you get a free meal. Not bad! Take advantage - especially with the recent price increase.

Tidbit -

This story has been documented in the newspaper - two patrons dining together at a Chinese buffet in Louisiana were charged double and banned from the restaurant because they took and ate TOO much. Both diners were over 260 pounds. (Interesting how the newspaper had to list each person's exact weight - this goes along with the bad rep that buffets get.) One was a regular at the restaurant. The spokesman for the restaurant said the reason was that they were only eating the seafood. Evidently the police were called and the meal was made complimentary. There is no mention, though, if they are still banned from returning.

There are the tidbits! Check out Prime Sirloin. I have placed their web link at the side of this page.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"The New" International Buffet - Garden City, NY

In November 2005 I wrote a review of a Long Island, New York buffet called The International Buffet. It is a Chinese/Asian/Italian/American buffet with the emphasis on Chinese. The restaurant has been closed for a little over two months with signs on the building saying that they were closed for renovations. In late, mid-December 2007 they re-opened.

We went to the newly renovated International Buffet on a weeknight, a Wednesday, because this is an expensive buffet and we did not want to pay the $23.99 weekend per person dinner price. The restaurant on a Wednesday night has customers. They were not crowded. There were plenty of empty tables, but they did have people coming in throughout the night. This has been a well know buffet. I have been there many times before since they originally opened. At one time this restaurant was known for the unlimited half lobsters that were included on the buffet. Those lobsters have not been offered for some time now - and they are still not offered now.

We entered the restaurant wondering what the new renovations would be. The entrance is still the same with the exception of a canopy of green tiny lights between the inner and outer entrance door. The buffet server room at first glance looked the same but as you enter the restaurant you can see that there is a newly designed grill area that L's across the back of the buffet room - the buffet servers are in a separate room from the two dining rooms that make up this restaurant. Neon lights above the grill glow what is being served in each section - Sushi and Sashimi, Grill, Dumplings, and Hibachi. The buffet room is much brighter than it had been. The dining rooms are very much brighter as well with all of the walls now painted bright white. The dining room is actually a bit stark now and the walls are bare. Perhaps there are plans to decorate them in some way in the future. There is a small section with booths off to the side - as there had always been. These booths are now a bright and shiny lime green. The rest of the dining room and the second dining room are the same tables as there were. There is a private party area in the second dining room that is separated only by glass.

Looking around at the buffet servers it appeared that everything that was there before on the menu was there - as we actually got around the buffet servers we would learn that we were wrong. There are things missing.

The soup bar is in the same place as it was - opposite the grill. There seemed to be as many soup tureens out as there were, though there were not as many soups as there used to be. One of the best soups that they had was lobster bisque. It is still there but it is not what it used to be. This used to be a thick cream soup with lumps of lobster meat and a semi-sharp flavor, as a good bisque should have. The lobster bisque now is a thin, watery soup with a hint of lobster slivers and a few vegetables. The soup is more like Manhattan-style clam chowder - weak clam chowder, at that. In the past, wontons were served from a bamboo steamer. Now they are floating - sparingly - in broth. The wontons, if you can find one, are large and doughy - which I prefer over the small, thin skinned wontons that this restaurant used to serve.

The sushi and sashimi bar is now located at the opposite side of the room. The assortment of sushi is basic - a few varieties of tuna or salmon rolls. There was nothing fancy. There was no spicy tuna or salmon. There is a plate of sliced salmon and tuna - the sashimi. This had not been offered before. Over all the sushi bar is lacking - not only from what it had once been not so long ago before the renovations, but from what is offered at other sushi bars in Asian/Chinese buffets locally.

There always was a raw bar and that remains - though with some differences. The raw bar always had someone continually shucking oysters and clams. Now there was no one there - though someone did come and put out more shell fish when it was needed. In addition to the raw oysters and clams on the half shell, there were cold king crab legs, mussels, and peel and eat shrimp. Here I found another difference - and not for the better. The shrimp that used to be served was always shelled and cleaned. Now the shrimp is in the shell. There is cocktail sauce, hot sauce, and lemons on the ice at the side of the raw bar. The cocktail sauce is now a change for the better as it is a standard and good tasting cocktail sauce rather than the sweetened cocktail sauce that used to be served.

There is now a dumpling area, not here previously. There was an odd assortment of dumplings though and they were mislabeled. There were good pan fried dumplings on one of the hot buffet servers. There was nothing of the steamed dumplings to rave about. There was a shrimp and greens dumpling that was ok - but they were tough and in addition to being steamed seemed to have also been browned in some way.

The grill is also just a shadow of what it once was. There were spare ribs - cooked in an orange glaze and a bit too sweet, boneless ribs that had too much sweet red glaze on them, and whole shrimps with heads on a skewer. Gone are the grilled beef ribs, skewered beef, and grilled vegetables. There was a large rib roast or perhaps, prime rib sitting under a heat lamp waiting to be carved at your request. The exposed meat was pure red - definately undercooked - and well dried out. Not at all appetizing. There was also a tray of raw steaks, partially cooked ribs, and raw vegetables. Perhaps this was the hibachi (it was under the sign) but there was no indication that they were doing anything with this raw food and no one went up to that section the entire time we were in the restaurant. Also gone is the Peking Duck.

The regular buffet servers are sectioned into types of food. There is a salad bar that offers just a small selection of what it once had. There is a hot appetizer server with good spring rolls. Everything is the standard Chinese buffet appetizer selection, but no egg rolls. Two servers have Chinese dishes. Again, there is nothing really special from less expensive Chinese buffets. There are King crab legs (single legs - no clusters), stone crab in ginger sauce, broiled salmon, and one different than usual selection - steamed flounder in ginger. The flounder was very good. Beyond that there were the usual assorted chicken with broccoli, beef with peppers, General Tso Chicken, etc. There was Chicken with Black Pepper and Veal Chops with Black Pepper which were good. Gone is the excellent Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. Also gone is the Chow Mei Fun (thin noodles). There are fried rice, lo mein, and french fries - as there are at every Chinese buffet. At one end of one of the servers was a tray of pieces of roast duck - all spread out on a flat tray - and all dried out. There is a hot buffet server with American and Italian food. The American food consists of a you carve ham, creamed spinach, Chicken Marsala - which was not cut up and had nothing to cut it up with so it was impossible to take (though my wife had gotten some earlier), lamb shanks in tomato sauce, baked beef ribs that were dried out looking yet sitting in a tray of grease (this must be the replacement for the grilled beef ribs of the past) and a few other items. There were a few Italian dishes - ziti in sauce (which they always had but now there is no meat sauce on the pasta), eggplant Parmesan (which they also always had but this is cooked entirely differently), pizza, and whole clams in the shell cooked in tomato sauce.

The last cold buffet server is full of fruit and pudding. There is raw fruit and fresh fruit. Unusual here are fresh sliced mango and kiwi fruit. Gone from the puddings and cold desserts are the flan, tapioca, and rice pudding. This server leads you over to the dessert server that sits against the front wall. There used to be a vast assortment of cakes. Now you only find an abbreviated assortment of Chinese buffet "Little Debbie" cakes - two inch squares of commercial sheet cake with a thin icing coating. There are also cookies. Two soft serve machines have ice cream and sherbet. No more soft serve sugar free ice cream with a sign on the machine that says "Sugar Free for Diabetic Only - Too Expensive". (Thank goodness!) Anyway, this is not the dessert selection that this buffet was known for - before the "renovations".

How was the food? It was ok. There was nothing special. This buffet was always extra special. It is not any longer. When you came here you could see and taste why the price was more than other local Chinese buffets. NO LONGER! There is nothing that sets this buffet apart. All of the offerings can be found at the other Chinese buffets that charge almost half of what this buffet charges.

There seem to be different employees here - I suppose that when you close for two months you are going to lose your staff. All of the staff were prompt in clearing plates and in refilling soda. The restaurant was clean. My wife said that the ladies room looks like it has new tile, but she said that the fixtures are the same.

The buffet tables needed tending. This is what I say when I see serving trays drying out, needing stirring, and being kept appetizing. There were too many items that needed tending. There was a manager acting gentleman at the grill several times during the evening tell the cooks behind he counter reminding them to put out more oysters, etc. He never did seem to get around to the buffet servers, and if he did, he paid no attention to making sure that they were "tended". Food did not go without replacement. As some items got low - the crab legs, for instance - they were replaced. Items that were not taken often were left to sit.

About half way through the meal my wife asked me if they were under new ownership. I said that I was not sure because I thought that I saw the same lady at the cash register that had been here before. I also said that there certainly is a new chef and not one for the better. There were some signs though - one of which are the signs. There used to be signs on every table taped to the napkin dispensers (which are still on the tables) that warned you that leaving seafood on your plate would result in an addition charge and that you were expected to eat and be gone in a certain time period. These signs are gone. Good! When the check came I was not so sure that the restaurant was still run by the same owner. The cash register receipt clearly has "DJ's International Buffet" boldly printed across the top. This was not there before. This had always been just "International Buffet". That would explain it all. New owner or new management - new decor- and not so special buffet.

This had been intended as a special night out - a holiday celebration of sorts for just the two of us. We looked forward to the return of The International Buffet. We were both disappointed. If this was a buffet charging the local usual of $13.99 on the weekends and $10.99 or $11.99 on weeknights, it would be fine. It offers nothing that the buffets charging those prices offer - several of them do it better for that money in many ways. There is nothing wrong with this restaurant except the value. It simply is not worth $16.99 on weeknights and $23.99 on Friday to Sunday. Though an hour after the meal both my wife and I had MSG headaches - something that has not happened from other Chinese buffets.

The restaurant is located just off the Stewart Avenue exit of the Meadowbrook Parkway in Garden City, Long Island New York. They now have a website which is listed at the side of this page. The website is new and has lots of nice photos of the food - along with an extensive listing of dishes on the menu, many of which you will not see when you get to the restaurant. (At least I did not see most of them!) The panoramic photos of the dining room on the website were taken before the renovations. The walls do not look like that any more. The prices, as mentioned, are $16.99 Monday to Thursday nights starting at 4:00 pm, $23.99 Friday through Sunday nights, $7.99 for lunch Monday to Friday and $10.99 for "Brunch" Saturday and Sunday. There are fairly priced children's prices with an amount multiplied by age - $1.00 per year of age for weeknights and $1.25 for year of age on the weekend nights.

Should you go to the newly "renovated" International Buffet? Only if you do not care about the price. For myself, this is not a special place to look forward to any more. How sad!