Friday, September 26, 2008

A Nice Little Buffet - Dienners Country Restaurant

On July 4, 2008 I published an article about a buffet in Lancaster County, Pa called Dienners Country Restaurant. In the article I stated that I had dined from the menu in the restaurant but had never tried the buffet. The food is the same so I could easily recommend the buffet. Well, for the record, I was right. I have just had the dinner buffet and it was all that I expected.

Dienners, as you know if you read the article has unusual hours. It is open from Monday to Saturday but closes at 6:00 PM every night except Friday - which recently started to be open until 8:00 PM. I don't dine early enough to go before 6:00 - which means arriving at no later than 4:30 PM because there is always a wait to get in. When I discovered the Friday night "late" hours I decided that when I could I would get there on a Friday and have the dinner buffet. This was it.

We arrived at 6:10 PM and , yes, there was a wait to get in. The wait was short - just ten minutes. This is a Friday in early September - not Labor Day weekend. The restaurant was full. This is a small restaurant - two small dining rooms with one sharing the buffet serving area.

The dinner price on Friday and Saturday nights has gone up fifty cents in the past two months - along with the prices at every buffet that I have been to. This brings the price for an adult dinner to a whopping $10.75! This is incredible for what you get! It is no wonder that this restaurant is always busy. The restaurant attracts not only tourists but many locals including Old Order Amish - this area is the center of a religious, farm community of people who live much as they did in the 1800's - no electricity, no cars, horse transportation, and a specific form of dress. The kitchen staff appear to be all Amish women and this night when I dined there I had a view inside the kitchen and the women doing the cooking were Amish. The serving staff are not Amish, though the young lady at the cashier desk was.

Why am I tell you this? 1) Local color and 2) you know that the recipes and cooking are going to be authentic to this area. One of the things that I said in that first article in July was that the recipes used were going to be the same as those used at another local buffet run by relatives of the owners of this buffet. Many of the items served on the buffet here are the same, but the recipes are not. While the food at the other restaurant is excellent, the food here - the same items - taste a bit more authentic. I have been eating Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) cooking for over 40 years. The recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant but over time many have been seasoned for and made toward the tourist's taste. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you come to Dienners you are going to experience Pennsylvania Dutch cooking as it should be.

The buffet servers are a larger than double-sided single buffets but smaller than full double length buffet servers. There are three of them. Less serving area than the buffet servers at the relatives' restaurant (Family Cupboard) and fewer dishes. The decrease is primarily in the entrees offered, though if you are not comparing you would never know - because there are plenty of choices and plenty of good food to eat.

The middle buffet server is a salad and soup bar. There are two soups - on this night there was chicken corn soup and clam chowder. Chicken corn soup is one of my favorites and I will always choose that before all others. This one was a bit different - it was a cream based soup, usually it is a thin or thick but not cream. The soup was loaded with noodles, kernels of corn and large chunks of chicken. It was good.

The salad bar had the usual assorment of lettuce, salad toppings, and prepared salads. There were sliced tomatoes that were deep red and ripe. This is the season for tomatoes and these were fresh from the farm. I am sure that you will not find such tomatoes at any other time of the year. On the salad bar were local favorites such as Chow Chow - sweet pickled vegetables - and red beat eggs. These are common in restaurants and buffets in this area.
On the two sides of the salad and soup server are an entree and side dish server and a dessert server. The entree buffet server had the main dishes together on one end and then went along with side dishes. The entrees included nicely cooked rotisserie chicken, sliced baked ham, fried chicken, fried shrimp, chunks of fried codfish, a local dish that I have mentioned before - pork with sauerkraut, and large cubes of beef in brown gravy. The shrimp and cod are features of the Friday and Saturday dinner buffet. I very much enjoyed the fried cod. It was moist and lightly fried in a batter. There was a thin tartar sauce for the fish. The rotisserie chicken was very good, as well. It was all good. These were my preferences this night.

The side dishes followed along on the server. There were mashed potatoes made from potatoes and not from flakes, kernal corn, string beans, carrots, broccoli, rice, beets, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, bread filling (what they call stuffing in this area - but actually better with a sweeter taste and more pancake like in consistency) and brown butter noodles. Brown butter noodles is another local dish. It is a cardiologist's nightmare. Take whole butter and put it in a pan over heat. Keep cooking until the butter burns and dark brown pieces form from the burned butter fat. Take all of the mixture of burned butter fat and clarified butter and pour it over cooked noodles so that the noodles soak up all of the butter and are now colored light brown with dark brown spots. The noodles are freshly made, narrow egg noodles and soak up the butter and all of the flavor well. This was one of the dishes that you could tell was made by the Amish and was deeper in flavor than others that I have had in the past several years at other restaurants. At the end of this buffet server were chicken and beef gravy - two of each. Mixed into the middle of the gravy serving trays was a small tray of the stewed tomatoes. If you did not look at the gravies you would not have noticed the stewed tomatoes. That would be unfortunate because they were good. If you are a bread eater there were very good rolls - both white flour and whole wheat.

There is a nice assortment of desserts and they fill an entire buffet server, a refrigerator case, and a soft ice cream machine and sundae bar. There were puddings, tapioca, egg custard, carrot cake, and and something quite different - a chocolate applesauce cake, along with other desserts including hot chocolate fudge dessert and a hot fruit cobbler. In the refrigerator case were an assortment of pies - fruit, custard, shoo fly, and cream. There were two sugarfree fruit pies. The baking (at least the pies) seem to come from one of the local bakeries - one that is quite well known in this area and has been featured on food and travel television shows. I could not resist the blueberry pie and it was wonderful. I had a hard time deciding between that and a blueberry covered slice of angel food cake with whipped cream on top. If I was not feeling already full I could have had both - but I let reason prevale. I did try some of the egg custard before the pie - good- and after the pie, after tasing a spoon of the soft serve ice cream that my wife took, I had to go and get a small serving for myself. There is only vanilla ice cream but it was creamy and good. Not the icy soft serve that many buffets offer. There was chocolate and caramel syrups and other ice cream toppings. My wife took a piece of the chocolate applesauce cake and I tried a spoon of that too. This was very different. It tasted like a chocolate fruit cake. It very much reminded me in taste of fruit cake but not as dense in texture, but then under the fruit cake flavor was chocolate.

This buffet does what the best of buffets do and what all buffets should do - they put a card on your table that shows that the table is occupied and you are still eating. While you are dining you keep the card face up. When you are leaving you turn the card over and it says "We're Finished". With this there are no server errors of thinking that you have left while you are away from the table and up at the buffet server - and clearing your table away of everything. This has happened too often at other buffets. I love it when buffets have this system in place - it makes for a much more relaxing evening.

Service was excellent. The server came regularly when we emptied a plate and took it away. Drink refills were offered, refilled, and offered again. The restaurant is very clean. The rest rooms were very clean.

I said in July that this is a great restaurant. I will say it again - this is a great restaurant. You could even order from a menu and they will allow some at the table to buffet while others menu -which many restaurants will not do.

I very much recommend Dienners Country Restaurant. If you are an early diner go any night (never on a Sunday). If you eat later like me then make sure to get here on a Friday.

Dienner's Family Restaurant is located at 2855 Lincoln Highway East in East Ronks, Pennsylvania (This is US Route 30). Their phone number is 717-687-9571. There is a website and that is listed at the side of this page.

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.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Visit to Ryan's During the Controversy

With all of the controversy going on at the Ryan's chain - see my articles in the past several weeks - I wanted to try a Ryan's restaurant to see for myself what is happening at the restaurant level. I was able to get to a Fire Mountain - these are Ryan's restaurants under a different name - also owned by Buffets, Inc. and also caught up in the bankruptcy fiasco. There are actually few Fire Mountain named restaurants remaining in the chain. A number of them were renamed to Ryan's. I could not pass up the opportunity to dine at this buffet and report my findings to you.

I have been to this particular location before - and I have written and reviewed this location on this site. (August 31, 2007 - Fire Mountain in Mechanicsburg, PA) I am looking at the buffet from a different point of view now and that is to sse how the bankruptcy and some of the struggles that Ryan's managers have reported to us in comments on my recent Ryan's articles.

My article in 2007 was written after the Buffets, Inc. takeover of the chain had taken place. I had, at that time said that there were many food offerings usually found at Ryan's missing from this location. At the time I thought that it was due to the difference in identity, but perhaps it was due to the take over. On this visit there were not only menu items missing but also a distinct change in service for the worse. I do not know that we can blame the change in service on the bankruptcy and controversy, but perhaps some of it can be.

When we entered there was a manager at the cash register. We paid and were told to seat ourselves. This was a Saturday night at 6:45 pm the height of dinner time. There has always been a host person seating dinners at their tables. No one like that is here now. So the manager needs to work as cashier and no hostess. Could this be two employees less on salary?

I must say now that the waitperson who was assigned to our table was the worst server that we have ever had at any buffet. I do not attribute his lack of doing the job that he is supposed to do on anything but him. In the front of the section a young lady doing the same job was busting her butt making sure that her tables quickly got their first drinks, offered rolls, and speedily clearing dirty dishes. In our section tables of dinners were not getting service and dirty dishes were piling high on tables including ours. Perhaps if the manager were not at the cash register this guy would have received the supervision that he disparately needs. Many tables were complaining to little avail.

The bad server aside, how was the rest of the restaurant? I was not displeased with the food selections. There were less items than I have seen at my many visits to Ryans - pre and post take over. The items that there were, were for the most part good. I, again, can put the bulk of my negative findings to poor supervision and the staff. For example, I am used to empty food trays being left empty and not refilled at my local Old Country Buffet, but I have never encountered this in a Ryan's. Several main items remained empty throughout the time we were dining. Another example, was at the salad bar. A tray of grape and cherry tomatoes had an obviously rotten and moldy tomato at the top of the pile in the tray. No one tending that salad bar stopped to look and remove that tomato. Guests just seemed to pick around it - but this is not good.

The grill was as good as always - and the men working behind the grill were doing a good job keeping the food trays that adjoin the grill and carving staion full. The grill chef was doing a great job keeping up with how his customers wanted their steaks cooked - and I actually got a nicely red, but not raw rare steak that was nicely crunchy on the outside. This is supposed to be the same cut of meat that is used at Old Country Buffet, but there is no comparison - this is still much, much better (and properly cooked).

As we know from the comments written here by some of the Ryan's managers, gone are many of the signature items that Ryan's has been known for. There is no chicken pot pie. There used to be two types of mashed potatoes - plain and garlic. Here there was just plain - and that was one of the trays that remained empty for a long time. Managers have commented here that their signature dinner rolls are gone. It surprised us that this restaurant had the rolls. Some of the servers brought baskets of rolls out to their tables as their guests were seated. Ours, of course, did not. No one in his section got any rolls. One table complained and the manager brought a basket of rolls - I guess he left the register unattended while he did. Those who have been to a Ryan's or Fire Mountain before would notice a difference in offerings. Others would have no idea and there was plenty to choose from. I expected to find more similarities to Old Country Buffet but happily I did not see that - other than the promo posters around the entrance which are the same as those found at OCB.

The greatest change was at the dessert counter. Here there was a definite lack of many of the desserts that used to be found at Ryan's/ Fire Mountain. The dessert counter was sparse. At one point it looked like the young man behind the counter was preparing a chocolate cake to put out to serve. He was arranging it on a serving plate and it looked like any moment it would be put out to serve. But it never came out. One cake (different than the one he had) had two slices left. I took one. The serving dish remained with just the other last slice. Usually , there are two soft serve machines with creamy ice cream and yogurt. Here one of the machines was permanently closed down and covered over. The remaining machine was serving icy, ice milk soft serve. Nothing like I have had here or at any Ryan's before - and nothing as good as the soft serve at OCB.

So have there been changes that seem to be evidence of the Buffets, Inc/Ryan's bankruptcy controversy. The answer is a definite yes. Should you not go to a Ryan's because of this - absolutely, NO. PLEASE DO GO. The support of the long standing - and new customers is important to this chain's survival.

Hopefully you wil have a better server than we had - as I said the young lady in the front of the section was terrific to her tables. We had to practically trip this young man to get him to look our way so we could ask for a refill of our soft drinks. And then he never paid any attention to the high stack of dirty dishes that I purposely piled higher and higher, in hopes that he would take notice. Later on I was tempted to stack the empty drink classes on top of the pile as well, but I was good. But again, this was not a reflection on the chain but an employee who has obviously slipped through the supervision cracks.

So go to a Ryan's when you can. It may not be all the same, but it is still good.

Friday, September 05, 2008

La Piazza - Buffet at Caesars Casino in Atlantic City, NJ

The second day that we were in Atlantic City we spent part of the day checking out the buffets in each casino to decide which we would have dinner in that evening - the quest is a story in itself, and perhaps in the future I will tell it. The buffet that we did decide on is called La Piazza located at Caesars Casino on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

La Piazza goes along with the theme of the rest of Caesars hotel and casino - ancient Rome. The menu only partially reflects this them but the decor puts you in a Roman courtyard. To start out I want to say that the food was excellent, but I wish I could say that the rest of the experience was the same.

The wait on a Monday night in early August was one hour of standing on line to get in. This buffet has three lines to get in. The long line is for us common people - those who are paying cash or have a "gold card", the lowest of the casino's promotions and comp cards. With that card you can earn points by gambling (for an excessive amount of time) and you can use those points for a free buffet (or whatever else is offered). There is a much shorter line for "platinum" card holders. This is the same as the gold card, but these cards are earned by gambling a lot and for this you wait on line much shorter. Both of these lines fed into the same seating line after you paid and the platinum folks and the common folks were taken to tables from the same line. There was also the "diamond" card holders line which was very short and these people were taken to their own short, seating line and were seated first.

While we were waiting they temporarily closed the gold and platinum cashiers to allow the seating line to get shorter - and to allow the "diamond" people to all get to their tables as quickly as possible. Wasn't that nice! In about ten minutes the cashiers were opened again and we continued to advance up the line. We paid and went to the seating line which had about four tables ahead of us. When we were finally taken in to the dining room we were walked through the quaintly Roman decor dining room with columns and a fountain and brought into a dining room that looked lime a catering hall dining room - plain cream color walls and plain decor. This room adjoined the main dining room but it clearly was an overflow room. We were seated and our soft drink orders were taken. Later we found that walking past that pretty fountain was a problem if more than one person wanted to get through - and when someone in a wheelchair came through they could barely pass around it.

Ah yes, let me get the details out of the way before I continue. The price for the buffet is $23.99. (The website lists the price at a dollar less.) With sales tax dinner for two comes to just about $52. Add a tip to that and you come out to $60 or more. This includes soft drinks. There is also a breakfast buffet and a lunch buffet. This price is for weeknights. Saturday and Sunday the price is higher. If you are a gambler, get one of the gold promotions cards and play all day at Caesars and you will probably eat for free. Either way you are giving your money to Caesar.

So... we went up to the buffet to start our meal. The buffet is laid out in a long continuous line. At the far end the line breaks to two stations. What this means is that people interpret this to be a cafeteria. They start a line (a long line) at the salad end and work their way across filling plates to the brim. (No one this night had read the "Rules".) If you made an attempt to reach in and grab a plate and then move around you were met with angry and dangerous looks. This line snaked all along the buffet server. It was such that it was impossible to just walk around and see what there was to offer. Not only this but there was an atmosphere of confusion and tension throughout. This dining experience was far from relaxing as a result - and at theses prices this is not good. We got on the end of the line and moved along slowly until it was our turns at the salad area. One thing that I can not speak about this buffet in terms of section by section or area by area because as we later learned things were scattered all over the place with no reasoning to their placement. There were mixed salad greens and the fixings for Chicken Caesar salad along with other salad toppings and dressings at the start of the serving counter and moving past that there were several prepared Italian salads. The best of these was grape tomatoes with balls of fresh mozzarella cheese in an oil and vinegar dressing and a salad of olives, peppers and other vegetables in an oil dressing. At this point there were no other salads, but three quarters of the way down the counter there were more salads and at the seafood station there were other salads. As you could not walk down the line, look, and choose without waiting for everyone to get what they were taking along the way you would not know about these other salads. After the Italian prepared salads there was a soup server - just one. It had Creme of Broccoli soup - not my favorite choice, but I took some to try and it was very good. Later I found another soup server - half way down the counter - next to a variety of carafes of cold juices. This soup was a spicy Mexican chicken and noodle. I wound up trying this mid-meal. It was tasty but you have to like spice. We returned to our table with salads - and I took the broccoli soup so as not to get back on line. Back at the table my wife commented that some of the serving dishes were so far back in the server that they were almost impossible to reach if you are short.

I had ordered an ice tea and it came to the table with a large sprig of mint in it. It made a nice presentation and was very refreshing. The second glass that I received had smaller sprig of mint. After that there was no more mint in my glasses of tea (they were not large glasses) - yet others were getting ice tea with mint.

Going back up after soup and salad, we decided to forget the line, ignore the stares and attitude and make our way along the outside of the line of people and try to see what there was to offer. I made my way over to the end of the buffet area where there is a pasta station and a seafood station. At the seafood station I tried the seafood salad and the large peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp were big and good. Larger and nicer than most most peel and eat shrimp that you get a buffets. The seafood salad looked like crab, but it was not real crab. I tried it but it was not worth finishing. It was a disappointment - looks are deceiving.

I next went to the Pasta Station. Here there were small meatballs Parmesan, pasta Bolognese (pasta in oil and garlic with finely chopped broccoli and peppers, small cap shaped pasta in tomato sauce backed with mozzarella cheese, and mussels cooked in tomato sauce. There was also small whole sausages and peppers. I took the two pasta dishes and a sausage. All were very good. The pastas were excellent.

I was ready to find the entrees. I got a plate and walked away from the line of people and explored as best as I could for the choices. As the side dishes were mixed in to the entrees I will present them to you as I came upon them. There was a rice pilaf (that my wife thought was Chinese fried rice and was not very much pilaf). There was zucchini grilled with mushrooms that were too salty. The first of the entrees came next - fried chicken. There was mashed potatoes with the skins mashed in. This was good. They had a thin brown gravy to go on top of the potatoes. Finally, I came to the meats. There was slices of turkey that had been grilled - perhaps patties of boneless turkey breast. These looked dry with heavy charred grill marks. My wife, who was looking for turkey, did not take any. I passed it by. Next there was pieces of sirloin steak, also grilled. Next to the sirloin there was a chef slicing flank steak. I opted for the flank steak over the sirloin (I could have had both) because it seemed to me that it had not been sitting and was inclined to be juicier. The flank steak was good. It would have been better rarer, but that is just my taste. Between the two kinds of steak there were carrots in a sweet glaze. There was also a large leg of pork- they called it a steamship round of pork with a leg sticking straight up above the area that a chef was carving. At first glance I though it was a whole turkey with one leg - but it was pork. I took a slice of the pork and was offered pork gravy. The gravy was very good. The pork was good, but had more of ham flavor than a fresh pork flavor. The meat was white like roast pork and not pink like ham. Following the pork was a tray of bluefish in a sauce. Mixed in between there was steamed broccoli (they like broccoli at this buffet). The meats ended here and the counter turned a corner, and then there was a server of red potatoes which led to where there were three or four oriental dishes. One was a chicken in spicy orange sauce, dumplings, Thai pineapple rice (which was pleasantly not spicy and not overly pineapple tasting), and a dish of spicy pork with peppers.

The counter made another turn and here we found the other soup - the Mexican chicken soup. There were bowls here for the soup but no soup spoons. It was necessary to go back to the beginning of the counter where the other soup was to get a spoon. (There was no container for the spoons so it was not that they had all been taken.) As I said earlier, next to the soup were a number of cold carafes of fruit juices including tomato, orange, cranberry, grapefruit, apple, V-8, and others. It would have been nice to have these as an appetizer if you knew they were all the way down the line. The counter took another turn and you come upon fresh fruit - whole oranges, apples, prune, canned peaches, mandarin orange slices and cut up melons. There were also containers of yogurt. You have to wonder if this is a hold over from the breakfast buffet. Here in the fruit section there was also the only butter and margarine. Rolls had been mixed along before and after this.

What followed in two separate counters was the seafood station and the pasta station. I have not yet mentioned a dessert area. This took some looking for. Tucked into the corner of the room behind a short partition was the dessert counter. The dessert counter was an L. The short leg of the L had some very tempting cakes - which were all labeled sugar free. There was also pound cake mixed in with a hot fudge sauce and another hot sauce to put on top. This was not labeled sugar free - BUT it led off the sugar free section. All of the sugar desserts were around the corner of the L. The dessert server was labeled as to what each cake that was out should be - BUT no cake matched its label. The carrot cake was under the cheese cake label. I am not sure which one was the actual cheesecake. There was no label for Tiramisu but one of the cakes looked like it - and they were supposed to have it somewhere. There were two hot desserts - one a chocolate cake (which was very good) and the other was Danish bread pudding. There were tiny cream puffs in a bowl (labeled eclairs). Usually these are accompanied by a dipping sauce - maybe chocolate. These were not, but despite no sauce they were very good. At the end of the counter was an ice cream sundae area, but this was not a make it yourself sundae. There were two people making soft serve sundaes to your order. This sounds like a good idea, but you have not control really of your portion. I would have liked a small amount of ice cream but watching them they were filling the bowls with more ice cream that you really want after a full buffet meal - plus you were again waiting on a line to take your turn to get your sundae - a line at the pace of these two people together making them one at a time.

So how was the service? Service was JUST fair. Dishes were cleared away by the three people moving about this dining room. Drink refills took a long time to arrive. And the ultimate buffet serving problem occured. When we went up to get our dessert we came back to find our table completely cleaned off. Now, we both had caps with us that we had worn while we were out walking around this day. We put the hats on the table - right in the middle at the side. When the server came and cleared off the table of our silverware and half finished drinks, and saw no evidence of dessert having been eaten, what was he thinking when he cleaned off the table. We arrived back at the table - there were our caps where we left them and nothing else. I stood next to the table until the server saw me. He came over surprised. "Oh, not a problem. What do you want?" is what he said. Not a problem for him maybe but a nuisance for me - especially with all of the rest of confusion that this buffet exuded. I looked at him and said that we needed drinks and silverware. Again it took the drinks a while to arrive - as it did the silverware. Also to note, my wife watched an employee refill a serving dish at the buffet and just add the new on top of the old - leaving what is at the bottom to forever stay at the bottom if this continues to be done. The standard is to take take out the old, spoon in the new, and then add the old on top - so it is taken and does not go bad.

Overall, the food is good - some excellent. The set up of the buffet is the worst that I have ever encountered. As I said, it was confusing and tense. The layout seemed to have no forethought. In the world of buffets there are scatter buffets and there are cafeteria style buffets. I have been to both. This one is a cafeteria-style with no organization. There is no problem bringing children here. It is located away from the casino, but there is not much in kid food here. If your kids are picky eaters and fried chicken is not enough, this is not the place to come.

Would I go back? I was hoping for a new favorite. If you have read my recent article on the Virginia City Buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino, you know that it was my favorite, but has changed slightly - not for the worse, but it has changed. After La Piazza at Caesars Casino, the Virginia City Buffet remains my first choice. It is in the casino next door - go there instead.

The casino has a website and there is a short write up about the buffet. There is a link to there at the side of this article.