Friday, March 07, 2008

KAM CHINA BUFFET, Somerset, New Jersey

I was back in New Jersey and had to make the decision to return for a second trip to Makkoli (see two weeks ago) or go to a buffet that I have never been to. I opted for the latter, just so that I could tell you about someplace new. As I had mentioned in my article about Makkoli I go to New Jersey on business for the day every so often and have looked - I guess not too well - for buffet restaurants to try and had little luck in finding them. A few readers helped out with suggestions and the one who also suggested Makkoli (Hi Al!) also told me about this restaurant, Kam China Buffet. He did say that he had never tried it, but it was just three miles from where I spent the day so I was hoping that it was going to be a good find - and it is!

Kam China Buffet is located in Somerset, New Jersey. It is in a outdoor strip mall shopping center - The Somerset Village Shopping Center. The restaurant is large taking up about four store fronts. It is odd though because on the Saturday night that I went there I thought at first that the restaurant was half the size than it actually is. How can that be? Half of the restaurant was dark - and from the outside it did not look like there was anything but an empty store next door to Kam China Buffet. Once inside, about halfway through the meal, I realized that next to one of the buffet servers in the front of the restaurant there was an entire other dining room - empty of customers and dark. Entering the restaurant there is a dining room partioned with low partitions from the buffet serving area. This dining room is about one third the size of the room with the remainder of the room as serving area. This dining room is primarily booths with a few tables at the rear. The second dining room, which was closed, doubled the size of the entire restaurant. We came on a Saturday night at about 7:00 pm which on a Saturday should be prime dinner time. The restaurant was not crowded but the open dining room was busy. While we were dining there was a continual turn over of tables so they were doing business - just not enough to fill the two dining rooms of the restaurant - which after dining there seems strange to me because this was quite a find.

Price is very reasonable. Dinner all nights is $10.99 for adults. Children at dinner are charged by height (since that news story and my article I am finding this more and more). Children under 4' 6" are charged $5.95 at dinner. Children between 4' 6" and 5' are $8.95. There is also a senior citizens discount (age 65) pay $9.95. (My wife is 5' 1", if she was one foot taller I could have said she was my kid and saved a few bucks - not really.) Lunch prices are lower with adults paying $6.95. Children's prices are $4.50 and $5.50 respectively. Seniors at lunch pay $6.50. Unlimited sodas are $1.00 at all times. Coke products are served. As I say, prices are great. The restaurant is open for lunch from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm and dinner from 4:00 pm to 9:30 pm, Sunday to Thursday, and to 10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday.

The buffet servers fill the two thirds of the restaurant half. There were two long double sided buffet servers - one hot and one cold. There was a single length double sided hot server and there were two more long single sided servers along walls. Lots of food will be found here.

As always, we start with soup and there were four soups offered - the three standard Chinese restaurant soups - wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour - and also chicken noodle soup which was chicken broth with elbow macaroni and vegetables. The soup was good. The wontons were served from a steamer next to the broth and were large and full of meat. They were tasty. Also on this buffet server was a steamer of dim sum.

One section of the cold server was a salad bar and this was greens with a variety of salad toppings. There were also several prepared salads as well. If you like ice cold shellfish raw on the half shell you will be very happy here. There were very nice looking raw oysters and raw clams - all looking very fresh and moist sitting high on ice just as they should be. There were also large cocktail shrimp in the shell. They were nicely iced and the cocktail sauce that was served on the side had a nice spiced zing. There were two types of sushi rolls - the usual California Rolls and Shrimp Tempura Rolls (which I had never seen before until two weeks ago when I went to Makkoli in New Jersey (maybe they are a NJ thing?)). Both were good, but the tempura rolls were very good. Some are a section of fried shrimp tempura wrapped in seaweed and then rolled in rice and some were the section with the tail sticking up out of the roll like a little handle. I really enjoyed the tempura rolls and went back for more.

On the hot bars there were two types of dumplings - the steamed dim sum and lightly fried pork dumplings. The pork pork dumplings were good. The dim sum was a little darker than it should be on the top and looked a bit strange, but "picky" wife tried it anyway and says that it tasted very good.

They also had the usual assortment of Chinese appetizers. Egg rolls, spring rolls. cheese fried wontons, spare ribs, boneless spareribs, large fried butterfly shrimp, and many others were there to be found. The spare ribs were much better than the average Chinese buffet spare ribs - as were the boneless spare ribs. Both were not drowning in the overly sweet red sugar sauce that most Chinese buffets server their spare ribs in. These were very much like the spare ribs that I remember having in Chinese restaurants when I was a kid - nicely broiled and red on the edges from the cooking with charmarks on the top. They were meaty and tasted good. I must say that these are not the best Chinese buffet spare ribs that I have ever had (one day I may write an article just about those), but they were up there. The egg rolls were a cut above the usual Chinese buffet egg rolls as well. They were on the small side, but they were full of vegetables and not doughy as many Chinese buffet egg rolls are.

If you are out for King Crab Legs you will find them here. Yes, for the $10.99 dinner price with no extra charge! They are served hot and as individual legs, not clusters. The trays were refilled as needed. Nut crackers were brought to your table if you needed them. Of course, the required melted butter was there and kept hot.

There were a number of good Chinese meat dishes and vegetable dishes served on the hot servers. There was a very good fish in a lemon butter sauce - probably flounder with no bones. There were a number of shrimp dishes including more fried shrimp, unbreaded stirfried shrimp in the shell, a seafood combination - which had excellent shrimp in it along with other seafood and vegetables, beef with peppers, chicken with broccoli, a Mandarin chicken which was large pieces of stir fried chicken with scallions, pieces of broiled chicken cut up on the bone, egg foo young (minus the sauce for some reason), salt and pepper squid, nice stuffed shrimp, stir fried sting beans, mushrooms in oyster sauce (no oysters are in oyster sauce), fried rice, vegetable lo mien, and a number of other dishes. If you kids do not like Chinese food there was chicken nuggets, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.

So, after all of this you still expect dessert for $10.99? Of course you do! There was a nice selection for dessert - not overwhelming but fine. There was just one type of "Little Debbie" style cake. There were two types of sugar, light, crisp pasteries, macarons, several types of puddings, several types of fresh fruit including cut up apples that were bright red on the skin side and nicely white on the inside, two kinds of melon, and orange wedges, jello, a few dessert mixtures of cream and fruit, and soft serve ice cream. Plenty to keep everyone happy.

Service was very good. Plates were cleared regularly from the table. We were asked if we would like soda refills several times. The buffet serving trays were well tended and were refilled even before they were empty with the remainder of the tray before taken way. The restaurant was clean. The carpeted floor in the dining room showed the wear of the day, but was not dirty. Both the men's and ladies' rooms were clean, but both needed repair maintenance to really look nice. There was nothing not functioning properly and, as I say, they were clean.

About an hour into the meal - we do not rush through a meal and as you know, we do not fill plates to the brim but finish normal servings on our plates and go back for more (why do so many not know this and fill plates until they are an overflowing mixture from salad to dessert? - yes, I have seen this so many times). So, anyway, about half way through the meal and maybe our fourth plate (but not dessert) the server came and put the check and two fortune cookies on our table. She smiled and I smiled back. We were clearly still eating. This has happened a few times before - always in Chinese buffets - and we have wondered if this is a signal that we are supposed to be done. Perhaps we have overstayed our welcome? I have just learned to ignore this and keep on getting up to get more and continue eating. The server came by several times and looked to see if there was any money or credit card down with the check and when she saw there wasn't said nothing and kept on going about her business. She came and cleared our plates when we got up and even came over and asked if we would like another refill of soda. So perhaps this wasn't a signal but just a way to not forget to leave the check for us. I don't know but they were not unpleasant about it and in the end it meant nothing to my enjoyment of the meal. I have seen dinners in other buffets get vocally upset about this and get offensive with the staff. There really is no reason for the reaction - unless someone actually came over to say that it was time to be finished. I have never seen that happen. Here all of the staff smiled and did their jobs very pleasantly. I even tipped a little more than I would have for a buffet meal.

The restaurant is just three miles away from the Garden State Expo Center - a large exhibition center for trade shows, conventions, hobby shows, etc. This is where business takes me a few times each year. If you are there for any reason and are looking for a nice restaurant very nearby this is the one to try.

I recommend Kam China Buffet. If you are traveling through, live in the area, or at the Expo Center try it. You cannot beat it for the money and you are getting a good meal of a lot more than you might expect.

Kam China Buffet is located at 900 Easton Avenue, Somerset, New Jersey. This is south of US Route 287 at exit 10. It is in the Somerset Village Shopping Center - if you miss the entrance traveling south make the immediately next right down a street and there is a side entrance just a short way down. Exit from this side entrance also so that you can turn at the traffic light back onto the road.

Enjoy - now I have two great restaurants to go to when I am in the area of New Jersey. Oh yes, and the restaurant that I wrote about one year ago in New Jersey - another Chinese buffet that was not good at all - has since closed. I wonder if I had anything to do with that after I wrote about it.

1 comment:

Albany Jane said...

I've noticed the early bill leaving too. Sometimes it happens around the 2nd plate in.
I think it's more for you to have it, and pay it when you want. Some people are good after 2 plates, and it's easier to have it earlier than to wait around forever for a check. Doesn't mean I haven't wondered if I was getting rushed out sometimes, though :D