Friday, March 28, 2008

New Grand Buffet, Islandia, New York

I must begin by saying that I ate at this buffet restaurant twice before I published this article. I had some concerns after my first meal there. I discovered, shortly thereafter, that I had a cold coming in and my taste buds were being affected. I had come to certain conclusions about this restaurant after that first meal that I could not trust if I was not tasting things correctly. About six weeks later we went back. This article is a combination of my experience during those two visits. I am glad that I went back because my original article would have been unfair to this restaurant.

I first learned about this Chinese buffet from an email from a reader who kindly shared a few buffets for me to try. This buffet is a distance from me, but close to my sister-in-law. I mentioned the name to my brother-in-law and he told me that they have been to this restaurant numerous times. I asked him how it was and his answer was "Just OK", but he added that it is my 17 year old nephew's favorite restaurant. With that I was somewhat encouraged - somewhat.

I had to head out east on Long Island so I got directions to this restaurant and made plans to end my day there (twice). The New China Grand Buffet is in Islandia, New York. It is located in mid-Suffolk County on Long Island. The restaurant is situated at the end of a very large, strip mall shopping center that includes a Wal-Mart at the opposite end. The restaurant exterior is very stylized architecturally.

We went on a Thursday night, coincidently, and arrived about 6:30 pm both times - which is usual dinner time for a mid-week evening. We were seated right away and noticed that the restaurant was quite busy for a mid-weeknight on both occassions. The interior of the restaurant consists of several dining rooms that angle off the center of the restaurant which holds the buffet servers. Each of the dining rooms has a different and pleasing decor - though not exactly what you might expect in a Chinese or Oriental restaurant. As we were dining, my wife suggested that the restaurant may have been another type of restaurant once before, because the decor of the dining room that we were in was cabin, wood - rustic including a canoe sitting upside down on rafters along one wall. I know that this restaurant has been the New Grand Buffet since at least 2003, but it is very possible that it once was a barbecue or steak house. The various dining rooms had tables and booths. Some rooms had tables for four. The smallest table in the first room that we ate in was for eight. On the second time around we were seated in another dining room and this had tables for four. The second room that we were in was bright and airy. The first room was, according to my wife, more elegant.

On the first visit, this was the first buffet that I have gone to where it was obvious that children pay by height - as per the recent article that I wrote here about a controversy over this same idea. Since then we have encountered others - all Chinese buffets. Adult prices every day are $12.99 for dinner and $7.50 for lunch. Children's prices are $6.99 for dinner for children between two and a half feet tall and four and a half feet tall. Over four and a half feet (seems to be the magic height - see my other article) pay adult price. Children under two and a half feet eat free. Children pay $3.99 for lunch - same height rules. Two signs in the lobby were very clear about children's pricing - though I did not see any ruler on a wall to measure. As with most Chinese buffets you pay when you leave. Soda is unlimited and you pay $1.25 per person extra for soda. Soda are Coke products. They also have a wine and beer license (in NY this is separate from a liquor license) and they serve bottles of wine and beer. There is a wine list on every table along with a beer selection. There were signs on the wall for Sangria. Prices here are high compared to other local buffets for weeknights, but as this is the price seven nights per week, the price is good for weekends.

There were two long, double-sided buffet tables, a long, single-sided cold buffet table, a single-sided dessert buffet table, a single-sided hot server with barbecued items, and a long single-sided server in front of a round Mongolian barbecue griddle. As usual, I started with soup. There were four soups to choose from - the usual three Chinese standards - wonton soup, egg drop soup, and hot and sour soup. There was also French onion soup. I tried the wonton. The wontons sit next to the hot broth in a serving tray in hot water. You select your wontons and put them into the broth - standard, really, but I mention this because it has a bearing on what I must tell you next. The wontons tasted like water. Now, you may say, "Water has no taste." Exactly - the wontons had no taste and they were waterlogged. On my first visit this was an indication of the lack of taste that things seemed to have - and what lead me to the second visit. On the second visit the wontons were still the same. The broth ,however, was flavorful (on my second visit). The wontons were big and doughy. They looked great, but they were bland. On our first visit I asked my wife, "do the wontons have no taste or is it me?" She agreed and without my saying so, she told me that they tasted like water. I decided to taste the Hot and Sour Soup. It was good but it was not very spicy. I prefer it mild and it was the better soup choice.

Ok, so maybe they can't make a good wonton. Eat on.

From here on I will base my opinion on my second visit because things got better. I next went for the sushi. There were a few choices, all either salmon, vegetable, or California Rolls. I took salmon on rice, a salmon roll with a squirt of pink sauce on top, and what I thought was a spicy salmon role but turned out not to be (not sure what it was!). The salmon on rice was standard, the salmon roll was a basic salmon roll but the sauce on top was the sauce usually put on spicy salmon or tuna rolls and was spicy. The other roll was just a shmear (NY term for minor spread) of some chopped up fish on rice and rolled in seaweed. It had the taste of seafood salad - but I am not certain as to what it was. It was not bad. I also took some cold peal and eat shrimp with cocktail sauce. The shrimp were nice and large.

Next came the dumplings - there were fried dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, and dim sum. The dim sum was very dark. The meat was very deep brown in what seemed to be soy sauce. On our first visit, I was not sure that I would take it, but my wife tried it first and said that it ok - and certainly did not taste like how it looked. I tried some and it was ok - just ok. The shrimp dumplings on our first visit were dry in the steamer and stuck to the bottom. They were tough and dried out - and the inside had no appearance resemblance to shrimp, but rather, perhaps, chopped shrimp paste. A new tray of shrimp dumplings were brought out later in the evening and to be fair, I took another one to try again. The new ones were moist and not dried out. They were still tough and bland. On our second visit these same shrimp dumplings were labeled "Vegetable Dumplings" but they were the same shrimp dumplings - this time with larger pieces of shrimp to be found. Now, the incorrect labeling of these dumplings as vegetable and not shrimp could be quite dangerous to anyone who has a shell fish allegy. The fried dumplings were the best of the selection and were standard in taste and consistency.

I moved next to the small barbecue selection that was coming off a grill in the back - this consisted of sliced chicken meat grilled on a stick and sliced beef grilled the same way. Each was nicely charred and looked promising. The chicken was fine and the beef was a bit chewy - but it was sliced thin and well-cooked and that is to be expected.

I like to look for dishes that I have not seen before and here there was a tray of something that they called Coconut Chicken. I have had Coconut Shrimp so I assumed that this would be something similar. There were small rectangles of chicken wrapped in a very thin dough membrane. Inside, when I took a bite, there was no coconut to be found or tasted, but rather tiny bits of broccoli and a sliver of chicken in s moist cream like substance. Perhaps it should have been called Chicken and Broccoli Pie rather than Coconut Chicken. It was not bad.

There was Chicken and Broccoli and my wife tried it reluctantly, because in the server it was very dark and sitting in a thick black soy sauce based sauce. She need not have been concerned though because it was bland. She observed that many entrees were over-sauced (perhaps to give them flavor) but nothing tasted as flavorful as it looked. Many dishes were heavy on soy sauce though they did not taste of it - but it did put a lot of salt into the dish. I tried a stuffed mushroom that was sitting in a red oil in the tray. It dripped this red oil as I cut into it and I figured that this must be spicy chili based oil. I looked right but there was no chili taste. It was fine, but not spicy as it looked. There were pieces of cut up broiled chicken in the skin. I did not try this on either visit. It looked good.

Another different entree was Basil Beef. This was slices of beef with tiny corn on the cob and mushrooms in a brown sauce with a bit of basil added. This all looked good and it did have flavor.

I tried some of the standard Chinese buffet items. The egg roll was oily and had too much wrapping and little filling. There were large Chinese spareribs - covered in the sticky, red sweet sauce that Chinese Buffets find a need to add. The spare rib that I took was meaty. We both tried a shrimp ball - a small ball of fried shrimp and filler. It looked right. It had little flavor and had the consistency of a solid rubber ball (during both visits). We also both tried the lo mein noodles and the fried rice and they were standard. There were several of the usual dishes that generally are very spicy. They were tasty but they were not very spicy. For me that was fine. If you like your General Tso's Chicken extra hot you will be disappointed.

If you like seafood there were several dishes to be found. There were hot mussels, there was salt and pepper shrimp, there was broiled salmon, there was stuffed flounder, and there was fried fish pieces that had bones. They also had a broiled stone crab claw in ginger sauce. There was one nut cracker on every table. I did try the stuffed flounder and the fried fish. The stuffed flounder was a very thin slice of flounder rolled around a stuffing mixture. It was good. The fried fish was ok, but as warned on the sign above the tray, it was fried fish with bones and the bones were small and plentiful. It was not worth the effort to pick out all of the bones or retrieve them from my mouth before I swallowed them. The best dish dish that I had - and one that should be tried, if you come here, is Pepper Shrimp. On our first visit this was called salt and pepper shrimp. On our second visit it was just Pepper Shrimp. It still had some salt but not crusted as salt and pepper shrimp is. These shrimp were very good and very flavorful. These shrimp are cooked and seasoned in the shell - as salt and pepper shrimp are also. They are not easy to eat - unless you pick up each one in its seasonings and peel them. I have heard that these are to be eaten shell and all. I don't know - I can't bring myself to eat shrimp shells. I cut into them and peel them with my fork and knife. The taste was worth the effort. If anyone out there knows, tell me if you are supposed to eat them shell, tiny legs, and all.

Many people at this restaurant seem to be here for the crab legs - and this restaurant was busy the whole time that we were there. I must say that the crab legs were probably the best of any of the local Chinese buffets at this price range. They were individual legs or small clusters - not whole clusters. They were large legs. They were cooked just right and not over steamed so that they drip with water. These were moist but properly dry on the shell. The shells were not water logged and snapped open easily. Most legs had the cluster tops still attached and these were full of crab meat. Most of the tables had dishes full of crab legs. It was no wonder. For $12.99 for the full buffet, you can enjoy a meal of crab legs if you like nothing else.

This restaurant also has a Mongolian Barbecue. You select your meat, vegetables, and noodles, cover them with sauce and give them to a chef to cook in front of you on a large, round griddle. With this I was more hopeful. There were three meats - beef, chicken, and pork. Usually at Mongolian grills these meats are frozen and kept frozen so that they stay fresh as they sit out on the server. Here the meats were not frozen and I was a little uncertain about taking the chicken or pork for that reason. The beef was still slightly frozen and I took that. There was also shrimp and these, happily, were sitting on ice. There was a nice assortment of vegetables to choose from and to my delight there was something that I had not seen on a Mongolian BBQ server before - dry, rice noodles that you took up in a large dry clump and placed on top of your meat and vegetables. They also had lo mein noodles to add. The sauces are labeled on th side of the counter and not as you look at them when you come to them at the end of the server. At first I thought that you had to guess, and then I saw the signs. I choose brown sauce and Oriental wine. The chef stepped up to the counter and greeted me with a polite, "How are you?" I relied, "Fine, thank you!" (This was my first visit - I did not get the greeting on my second visit.) I handed the dish to the chef and he put it on the grill moving it around the circular grill with a large stick. Then he took a tea pot and poured water on top. He moved the food some more and then he poured more water - and again, and again... and again! He let the food sit and cook for awhile and then scooped it into a plate and handed it to me. I returned to the table and waited for my wife to join me. As I left the grill, I heard the chef greet her with the same "How are you?" - even on our second trip. The seasoning at the Mongolian Grill is up to you and you can make yours as spicy as you would like. This grill could be the central focus of your meal here and will satisfy most tastes.

Dessert is the usual Chinese buffet selection of "Little Debbie-style" cakes. The cold server did have an assortment of puddings and fruit including fresh orange wedges. There was a soft serve ice cream machine.

The service was fine. On our first visit there was one person in our dining room and she got around to cleaning away plates on a fairly regular basis. On our second visit there were several servers in our dining room and dishes were cleared away as soon as you left the table to get more. The staff were pleasant but quite. On our first visit, barely three words were spoken to us by the staff from the time that we entered until we left. Oh -that is not counting the "How are you?" from the BBQ chef. The staff were very pleasant and when you could got their attention they brought you whatever you needed. On both visits, no one came to offer us refills on the soda, but the soda fountain was out on the side of the buffet servers and we took our glasses up to the machine and refilled them with no comment from any of the staff.

Trays on the buffet were filled regularly. I did witness one employee who took some chicken in sauce that had earlier fallen onto the counter, pick it up with the serving spoon, and return it to the serving tray. This is probably a lot more common in many buffets than one might like - but perhaps that piece should not have been returned to the tray.

The buffet area was clean. Some of the dishes were coming from the dishwasher with some food spots and some were chipped on the bottoms or slightly on the sides. The tables and the floors were clean. The walls - well, here is an oddity. In that first dining room that we were in - the elegant one - the walls were covered in a beige, close pile carpet. Many of the walls - mid-height and toward top were stained with broad grey/black marks. I am not certain how this would be, and it was not an intentional design. It looked like this was a stained floor carpet that was put up on the walls. It was subtle - we tried to see if it was just shadows from the lighting - but no these definately were not shadows. Each booth in that room had a lamp connected to the wall with a small lamp shade. The shades were dingy and the lamps under the shades were dusty. My wife checked out the Ladies Room and she reports that it was ok but the floors were not cleaned well at the edges. The second dining room that we ate in was much better in its condition and had I only been in this room I would never have known about the condition of the other room.

To conclude my first meal I opened my fortune cookie. It said "You may be hungry soon: order a takeout now." Not exactly what you should read after eating at a buffet. Ha. Ha.

After my second visit - and I am very happy that I went back - I can say that this buffet is good. It is not great - though the crab legs were very good - as was that Pepper Shrimp. I would have no problem taking friends here. And my nephew does recommend it. The location is 704 Veteran's Highway in Islandia, New York. It is just south of US 495 at exit 57 in the Islandia Shopping Center. The phone number is (631) 582-3888. There is no website. The hours are from 11 am to 10 pm, Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday, and 12 Noon to 10 pm on Sundays.

Give it a try!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Sad Need for Another New Rule

Ah, the rules. If you have read this site you know about the rules. The Rules of Buffet Dining. So far we have had 26 of them. Look out because here comes 27!

This rule is very necessary. I have witnessed the need for this rule and one of our readers, Brett - our friend from Erie, PA, also witnessed the need for this rule and shared what he saw with me.

Rule #27 is a two part rule. I will state the rule and then go into the sightings that have led to it.

#27 - Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

Now, we already have Rule #9 that says, "If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray." And we have Rule #24 that says, "Never put your hands into a serving tray. " With these clearly stated, would you not feel that picking food up from the counter with your fingers and dropping it back into the middle of the serving tray is a "No, NO!" Evidently not. Of course, perhaps we are preaching to the choir and all of you experienced and considerate buffet goers would never do this - but there is an awful lot of people out that who have not read the rules - and would not care if they did.

I witnessed a child do it. Brett witnessed an adult. I saw a child take a shrimp that had dropped from his plate onto the counter, pick it up and then drop it into the serving tray. Brett told me that he saw an adult woman do the same thing with macaroni and cheese. Some mac and cheese spilled onto the counter and the woman picked it up with her hands and plopped it back into the serving tray. In this instance, the staff saw this and sprung into action, pulling that tray and immediately replacing it with a fresh one. (Again, the wonderful Erie, PA OCB)

Yuck! So now we have Rule 27. I hate to think what Rule 28 might be!

Just in case you don't know Rules 1 to 26, here they are (again) -

1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4.Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

7.For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In th buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet.

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

We should print them on a card and hand the cards out at restaurants. (If you do, please just credit "The Art of the Buffet" as the source with this web url. - Thanks!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Good Old Country Buffet

A number of those who read my articles think that I do not like Old Country Buffet. That is not true. I have been to a number of Old Country Buffets that I have enjoyed. Unfortunately - for me - my local OCB is not good and it is this location that gets much of my attention. I have recently been contacted by a reader who had a great experience at an Old Country Buffet and he has given me permission to pass his experience along to all of you.

Before I begin his tale, I would like to make some OCB news known. It is not relevant to the review of this restaurant but it is important to know about OCB. The parent company of Old Country Buffets (and Hometown Buffets, Ryans, and Fire Mountain) has filed Chapter 11 for bankruptcy. It is just about a year or so since the take over by this company of the Ryans restaurants group and now has filed bankruptcy. I am told that the move has been to avoid debts to its creditors and that the chains will not go out of business. I have been told that some local restaurants have held back on payment to vendors and creditors. It has also been said that over 50 restaurants will be closed in the reorganization. I am told that some have closed already. I have been told that effects have already been seen on changes in middle management and restaurant management. Locations that do good business will remain open. All of this is hearsay and I do not claim these statements as fact - with the exception of the fact that Buffets, Inc. has filed for bankruptcy. Some readers have spoken to their local restaurants and have told me that those restaurants are expected to remain in business because they do good busines for the company. All Old Country Buffets are company owned. The Hometown Buffet restaurants are franchised.

Now, let me let one of our readers, Brett, tell you about a great experience that he had at an Old Country Buffet in Erie, Pennsylvania -

"We normally buffet for lunch (opposite for you) but tonight I found myself at OCB around 8:15pm for dinner.

I was expecting to pay the $12.49 for dinner as I had seen on the blog as the new weekend price, but it was only $10.59, the normal dinner price,which was a pleasant surprise.

Throughout the evening, items were constantly replenished with the same item, with nothing running out. There was lots of seafood, and the fried
popcorn shrimp were nothing short of delicious.

Tonight at the grill they had steak, plus the usual carved ham, beef roast, and the BBQ beef ribs. The grill chef, who constantly grills steak and cuts and serves them to order a la Golden Corral, was (as always)
attentive with the carved items.

The steak I had was medium rare, thick, and juicy. I enjoy the spices of the Ranchers Select steak, and the Erie OCB steak always pleases.

They also had a feature I had never seen, which was the standard baked fish with a breadcrumb crust on top - very tasty.

Even as I departed at 9:15, everything was still hot and fresh. Half-sized batches of items began appearing, which I appreciate as it avoids
unnecessary waste. But, as always, the food was fresh and tasty, and the staff was great. Without a doubt, this is one of the, if not the best OCB out there."

Not too long after Brett went back to the Erie OCB and had this to say -

"Ended up going back to OCB tonight on my way home from work. I do not
remember the last time I visited OCB on a Sunday, it has been several
years, and I have never visited the Erie OCB on a Sunday. I remember
the Sunday horrors of the Hometown Buffet back in Ohio I used to
frequent, but the Erie location has blown me away so many times with
excellence, I figured I was safe.

Sure enough - the Erie PA OCB still delivers on an overflowing Sunday
dinner crowd! Not once was any item empty, save for one of the soups
which was replenished within 5 minutes. Contrary to your location,
our OCB serves steak on Sunday evenings, as well as several specials
from the week. Not sure if it was leftovers or if they purposely do
it for Sundays, but there were specials from several weeknights
available this evening."

As I told Brett, I am envious. I would love to try an OCB with a grill out on the serving floor. My local OCB recently got a grill but it is in the kitchen and nothing is cooked to order. The steak still comes out over done and then is plopped inside a steamer tray in the server, covered, to continue to cook. I am not near Erie, but if I ever get there I will certainly give this OCB a try. I recall a comment from a reader that there is an OCB in or near Alexandria, VA or Fairfax, VA with a grill in the serving area. I am going to find that OCB. (If anyone has the exact location, comment or email me.)

So you see, there are good OCBs. I have always like the OCB in Fredericksburg, Va. I was at a nice OCB near Monmouth, New Jersey. I know that there are many of them that are good. IN Erie there is a very good one!

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.