Friday, September 19, 2008

D.J.'s International Buffet, Garden City, NY -REVISITED

Eight months ago in January, I reviewed the re-opening of the International Buffet restaurant in Garden City on Long Island in New York. With the reopening the name had a slight variation to D.J.'s International Buffet. At that time I was disappointed in the changes that were made to this restaurant that had been a favorite of many on Long Island. I had not been back until now.

The price of this Asian buffet is high and that more than anything else has kept me from going back for a second try. With a coupon for $3.00 per adult dinner we decided to go back to dinner mid-week. We went on a Wednesday night in mid-August and the restaurant was busy. This was surprising because other Chinese buffets are not that busy right now in this general area even on the weekends. The price from Monday to Friday for dinner is $16.95 - much higher than other local Chinese buffets. Friady to Sunday dinner is $23.95. They do serve lunch Monday to Friday for $8.95. Children's prices are determined by age and for under ten years old are $1 per year Monday to Thursday and $1.25 per year Friday to Sunday. Children at lunch under ten are sixty cents per year. On Saturday and Sunday they also serve Brunch which they say includes "Traditional American Breakfast items".

This is not an inexpensive buffet. It is not as high as some of the sushi buffets - but considerably more than most of the Chinese buffets. Find a coupon - for this restaurant. They sometimes appear in local newspapers.

I decided when I went that I would review the restaurant not as a replacement for what once was - before the restauant closed for renovations a year ago - but for what it is now - as if there never was another restaurant here. Unfortunately, the former restauarant was so good that it is hard to seperate it for comparison and comparisons still do come to mind.

The layout is the same as I described in my article on January 8, 2008 so I will not describe all of that again. Read that first article for the description and also to see what has changed from then to now.

I will focus on the food - after all that is what is primary. There is a great deal of variety here. This is now more Asian and Chinese than International, but there is plenty to find. There is an extensive sushi bar with sushi and sashimi selections that are not found in most other similar buffets. The sushi is not labeled and while some is recognizable, many is not - though perhaps someone more familiar with varieties of sushi would recognize them while I do not. This night there were two sushi chefs behind the counter refilling the sushi and sashimi. Next to the sushi bar was iced seafood and this included cold crab legs, peel and eat large shrimp, raw clams on the half shell, and raw oysters on the half shell. This was all on a thick bed of ice that kept the seafood properly cold and fresh.

There is a soup bar with a large assortment of soups including wonton, miso, egg drop, hot and sour, clam chowder, and lobster bisque. The lobster bisque was a favorite at this buffet - before the renovation. The soup has improved considerably since my last visit here in January, but it was just missing. It is again thick and rich - as it should be. There was a slight taste of lobster but not enough. The soup needed more flavor. The wontons are now large and full of meat.

There is a dumplings section with a number of steamers. There were shrimp dumplings and pork shumai. The other dumplings were a variety bean paste dumplings and an interesting custard bun that was a large dough ball full of a custard paste. Pan fried dumplings are on one of the other hot servers. The shrimp dumplings tasted of too much pepper. The pan fried dumplings were tasty. The custard bun was good.

There is a small grill area with thin sliced grilled beef on skewers, shrimp and "krab" on skewers, overly sweet spareribs and a two other items that were not recognizable and unlabeled. In this area there was also an over done roast beef being carved and a Peking Duck being carved and assembled to order.

The buffet servers in the middle of the room had an abundance of meat and seafood dishes. Many of the dishes were deep fried and the other dishes were sauteed in a lot of oil. There were large, steamed crab legs (not clusters). There were whole crabs in ginger sauce. There were not many of the usual Chinese dishes though there was pepper steak and chicken with brocolli, which have become a staple at all Chinese buffets. Frankly, when I went to take the "main" course, I had a hard time picking things that appealed to me. While there were labels over most dishes some of the dishes were clearly mis-labeled. What was labeled "Baked Ziti" were potato patties. This is the area that the "International" dishes used to be found. Much of what could fall into that category is a variety of American seafood dishes, creamed spinich, corn on the cob, and collard greens. I hate to keep coming back to the "old" International Buffet, but there used to be things like carved ham, Italian dishes, and several items that someone who did not care for Asian cuisine would make happy. As my wife put it, "I can no longer bring my mother here - she would not find anything." Some of the things were just odd - a Philly Cheese Steak mixture rolled and baked in dough. The grease just oozed out across the pan. There was a Korean seafood pancake that looked interesting. I tried it to find that the seafood inside was ocotpus. While it did not have a bad taste, I did not like the chewy texture - and as I have never been a fan of octopus, I did not finish it.

On the weekends the BIG addition to the buffet is Lobster in Ginger Sauce. For many this is a big draw - one of my readers comes from several states away to this buffet just for this. (I am not sure why.) The problem in all Chinese buffets that serve lobster is that once the lobster is brought out to the buffet server a long line begins at the tray and the first few to get to it take all of the pieces with meat and a partially empty tray with leg sections is left for a long time until more edible lobster is brought out for the whole thing to start again. I have yet to find a Chinese buffet with lobster where a mad scramble does not occur once every hour when a small tray of lobster pieces is brought out.

There are two dessert servers - one a full cold buffet server and the other counter shelves on a wall. There is soft serve ice cream as well. The cakes and cookies on the counter are the usual assortment of "Little Debbie" style sheet cakes cut into little cubes. On the cold server is a variety of fresh and canned fruits, jello, pudding, a Chinese tapica soup, and back again - and missing on my last visit - Creme Caramel. I was excited to see the creme caramel - something I should not eat for so many reasons, but I had to have some. It was dissappointing. Like the lobster bisque soup it was just off from what it should be. Instead of smooth and sweet, it was pasty and bland.

Most of what we ate tasted good. Some things had more black pepper than they needed to have. Some dishes were spicy and should have been labeled as such. Overall the food was fine. (Please read to the end.)

The service was excellent and our plates were cleared as soon as we got up to get more food. Drink refills were offered. The table servers were all smiling and moved about the room taking care of thier tables.

The serving trays were replaced as they needed to be. Some of the dishes could have used some stirring as they sat.

The main dining room still has cameras all over the ceiling pointing at the tables. In the past there were signs that the room was "under video survallience for your protection" and there is still a bank of monitors above the cashier's desk. The signs are gone and the monitors were off. There also are no longer signs on each table with a time limit - stay longer than X and be charged double.

When I paid our check using the coupon that I had there was no problem and when my receipt was brought there was a new set of coupons to use the next time. We left happy and felt that we had a good meal - perhaps for a bit more than it should have cost - especially for mid-week, but with the amount and variety, it certainly was a step above most other Chinese buffets.

NOW, when I got home I felt a need to head for the bathroom. Perhaps it was the choices that I made - because my wife feels fine, but I have rarely had a gasto-reaction to a buffet - this one was one of those rare occassions. I will advise all those dining here to be weary of the oily dishes. Choose wisely - yet, for this kind of money you should be able to choose it all and be fine. I was not as fine as I would have liked to be.

That said - D.J.'s International Buffet is located at 1100 Stewart Avenue in Garden City, New York. Their phone number is 516-227-2472. They no longer have a website. If you search the Internet for this restaurant you will most likely come back to this and other articles that I have written and not much else. The hours of the restaurant are Lunch Monday to Friday, 11:00am to 3:00pm;Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30am to 3:00pm; Dinner Monday to Thursday, 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Friday to Sunday, 4:00pm to 11:00pm.


Anonymous said...

i think it would be a fun idea for you to take pictures of the food and atmosphere for your reviews so we can get a better idea of what you are talking about

Robert A said...

I have often thought of taking photos but many of the restaurants would be upset by this and it may give me away.

Maybe I will try to sneak a few with the cell phone camera.