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!


Anonymous said...

Totally agree wtih your review! The "new" place is terrible. I understand it's the same owner, the older Chinese lady you see by the register all the time. Very disappointing to see this place go so far downhill

Anonymous said...

So happy I read the review now I know I have to eat before I go there . My mother in-law is having my sister in-laws baby shower there .

Robert A said...

You certainly do not have to eat before you go there- the food is fine. It is just not special as it once was - and certainly not a value at what is being charged for it. As I state in the article, this was once a very special buffet - now it is just no more than a "standard" Chineese buffet. Let me put it this way - you don't get what you pay for.

Robert A said...

The web link for the restaurant no longer works. They have either taken down their website or changed the URL - but there are no search results found on Google.

Robert A said...

The restaurant is still operating and open for business. They no longer have a website.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that you revisit. We were there for dinner on Thursday 9/4/08 and found that many of your complaints had been favorably addressed. The sushi had many upgraded items and the sashimi was great and very fresh. Grilled salmon was a plus as were the ribs. Peking duck is back. Seafood - clams & oysters - were very good.
On the regular buffet I found baby clams with black beans to be especially good. Did not bother with most items (had some string beans and mei fun noodles (which are back) but spent most of our time at the sushi & cooked dinner bar in the back where the sushi chef could not have been more helpful. Did not bother with the soup - so no comment. Desserts were pedestrian. Flan was so-so, but fruits were fresh. When this restaurant originally opened the desserts were outstanding - that's history. The standing roast beef is replaced by prime ribs on the week-end and lobster is also back on the week-end. If you want those items it is worth the premium. If not, stick with Mon- Thur dinner. Well worth the price and we would NOW recommend going there. Best in the area and better than many upscale Japanese buffets in Palm Beach County Florida.

Robert A said...

I returned to International Buffet a few weeks ago. There were some positive changes. The article will appear on this site in a few weeks. Keep a look out for it for an updated review.

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with your review. I've been going to this restaurant for several months -- I had never been there before the renovation though. I found the food really good and it really worths the price. $10.99 on weekdays and $13.99 on weekends? Are you kidding me? Do you still go to these crappy chinese buffets?
Have you ever been to Minato which is very close to the Roosevelt Field Mall? Do you know how much they charge there? $15.99 for lunch, $1.75 for hot green tea, and the charge the gratuity on the check too. I don't wanna know about the dinner prices.
When you go there, just for the sushis and sashimis, it's so much worth $16.99. Their selling point is the new SUSHI bar. I've never seen a "chinese buffet" would have such a classy sushi bar, not to mention Minato, because they are sushi buffets and they hardly have any hot foods.
One more thing you didn't notice is that, the crab legs that they use is way bigger than those crappy chinese buffets. Yeah, $10.99 will let you have (my kids)finger sized legs!

Anonymous said...

You never know that it's a super place for parties, right? They have this grand beautiful dance floor with more than 100 seatings. They have the disco lights and the sound systems, open bars, can you find that in "ordinary" buffets?

Robert A said...

If you had never been to this buffet BEFORE it closed and re-opened, and were able to magically go back in time to try it THEN you would have been WOWED by what was offered and the quality of the food, and maintenance of the serving trays.

There was no significant difference in the price from THEN to NOW, but THEN there was value in what you got for your money. What was once Special is now just a too high priced Chinese buffet. This had been a frequent and favorite spot for me THEN, it is not NOW.

As to Minado - watch for my review coming in the next few weeks - FABULOUS!