Friday, December 25, 2009


The first time that I dined at Buffet Europa in North Brunswick, New Jersey back in March I knew that this restaurant was a serious contender for best buffet. When I returned in July I had no doubt that this buffet had to receive recognition this year. What I kept thinking, however, was the size of this two person operated buffet and how they compare to the large and lavish buffets that I have written about and been to. As I stated in my two articles about Buffet Europa - March and July - this is a simple restaurant, not much larger than a single store front and everything in this restaurant is done by a husband and wife. Is it fair to put this little gem up against a restaurant that can seat a thousand and more with a large staff? Size should not matter. One of the finest French restaurants that I ever ate in consisted of a single counter with about six stools and one woman cooking and running the whole restaurant that was only open for lunch. It was well known way back when but it could not get the recognition that the large French restaurants had in the same "big city". I feel that it is best to set the small buffets into their own category and that is why this year we are giving an award for Best Small Buffet.

I am very pleased to announce that THE BEST SMALL BUFFET 2009 is BUFFET EUROPA!

What sets this buffet apart from all others is the food! The food at Europa Buffet rivals the finest of menu restaurants. This is not the typical buffet cooking. This is true European cooking of fine quality served in a elegantly decorated dining room with table clothes on the tables and pre-set place settings at each chair. There is classical music or opera instrumentals playing in the background. The restaurant is nicely quiet. There are only sixteen (16) tables total in the dining room. The restaurant offers a buffet in the evenings only and at all times there is a menu to order from.

There is no question as to the quality of the food and the excellent taste of the cooking at this buffet. The food on the buffet is served fresh and is cooked by one of the two owners who do everything here from host to cashier to cooking, to serving to busing tables. When something needs replenishing on the buffet the food that is brought out has just been cooked.

The value of the meal is there to at just $15.99 per adult which includes the buffet and soft beverages. With increasing costs at many of the buffets, including the chains, and higher prices, this price is right there with most - and as I have said, those other buffets do not compare to what you are getting here.

The food here is unique to the usual American or Asian fare found at most buffets. Here the food served is European - Italian, Polish, French and more. Dishes that you may find on the buffet include chicken francaise, Swedish meatballs, pasta ala vodka, blintzes, perogies, kielbasa, poached fish, grilled vegetables, bbq ribs, stuffed cabbage, carved loin of pork, seafood bisque, along with more, and on the dessert table - tiramisu. Each prepared as if it were prepared for you to order, but there out on the buffet. This truly is home cooking - and not the home cooked style that other buffets boast about.

With only one person working in the dining room and one person in the kitchen, you might worry that things will not be kept up - but this is just not so. Dishes are replenished on the buffet when they need to be, everything on the buffet is properly tended, and when you get up to get more, your used dish will be gone when you return to your table. These people do a remarkable job keeping things moving smoothly - and as this is their restaurant they have a personal interest in keeping you pleased. If all buffets were run as Buffet Europa is run, buffets would not have the negative connotation that many have for them. There is a vast difference between "going out to eat" and "going out for dinner". Going to Buffet Europa is "going out for dinner".

All in all, an evening at Buffet Europa is an evening of enjoyable, fine dining. This is a buffet experience like no other. This is one of the buffets that I often think about. I get the urge that I need to go there. I only wish that it was closer (but I know that nothing like this could exist where I am).

Since my visits the restaurant is now closed on Mondays for dinner. They have always been closed on Sundays all day. Saturdays they are not open for lunch. My concern is always that this is such a small restaurant.

All of this and more, make Buffet Europa the Best Small Buffet of 2009. A certificate attesting to this will be sent to the restaurant which we hope that they will proudly display. When you go there look for it- and let them know that you read all about them here!

If you have an opportunity to be near North Brunswick, New Jersey you absolutely MUST plan your day to be at Buffet Europa for dinner. I say over and over, this is a GEM, this is a TREASURE.

Buffet Europa is located at 1000 Arron Road, North Brunswick, New Jersey 08902. Their telephone number is 732-940-1122. They do have a website and the link is listed at the side of this page. Remember that they close at 9:00 pm and they are not opened on Sundays (unless you want to book the whole restaurant for a party). and they are not open for dinner on Mondays. The buffet is only available at dinner and that starts at 4:00 pm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Washington D.C. Buffets

I get a lot of requests for buffets in different cities and areas. One of my most frequent areas has been one of the hardest requests that I have to answer and that is Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., the capitol of our nation, is as one might expect a very expensive city to dine out in. I learned this during my first trip there with my wife. I had been there as a child and on vacation with your family you don't quite pay all that much attention to the prices of things that your parents are paying for - but once you have to go out on your own and pay the bill, well, you certainly take notice. Of course, way back when I was a kid traveling with my parents, there were no buffet restaurants as we have now. On that first trip to D.C., my wife and I were not sure we were going to have much money left for anything else paying what we were in restaurants in the city. In the many years since then, this has not changed and in all of that time with prices going up, this is very true of dining in Washington, D.C. today.

On our second trip to Washington, D.C. we saw an advertisement in one of those explore the city magazines that are free in hotel lobbies. It was for a restaurant that was not only advertising Prime Rib for $6.99 - this was 1980 - but with that there was an all you can eat salad bar. The restaurant was located just across the bridge from the city in Rosslyn, Virginia just across from the Iwo Jima Memorial and it was called Tom Sarris Orleans House. If you search through this site you will find an article about Tom Sarris. But don't get your hopes up - it was knocked down about a year or two ago. We had continued to dine there each trip to the area until it was gone. The food was good and the price - while no where near $6.99 any longer, was still affordable compared to surrounding restaurants.

So my first recommendation when anyone asked about affordable dining in D.C. - much less a buffet - was Tom Sarris. With that gone - well, the search was on. I am know for certain that if you want an Asian/Chinese buffet there are several both in the city and in the not too distant suburbs. In fact there is a Chinese Buffet that I will recommend that I have written about before and I will get to that but what about other types of buffets? There are actually a few.

In Washington, D.C. itself - within the city - there is one that I have not been to myself, but I have been to another location in Maryland and I always enjoy eating at that buffet. The restaurant is Phillips Flagship Seafood Buffet. This location is both menu dining and buffet. The Baltimore, Maryland location that I have eaten at many times is buffet only. Phillips is a restaurant with several locations in Maryland. They are known for their crab and crab cakes and this is the area's specialty, This is the Chesapeake and crabs are king - but not king crabs - blue crabs. If you look in your supermarket fish area you will see Phillip's crab meat in cans and packages. They are are very well known. If you go to any of Phillips menu restaurants you are going to pay quite a bit for crabs, crab cakes or any of the local seafood specialties. Surprisingly, most of that seafood is found on the Phillips seafood buffets. The price when recently checked was around $25 per adult - not bad for what you are getting. When blue crabs are not in season, they replace them with snow crab legs- which they often have in addition to the blue crabs. If you want a buffet to go to in Washington, this is the one to try. It is located down near the Potomac River boat yards, not too far from the U.S. Navy Yard. You can find out more about Phillips Flagship in D.C. here. If you or someone in your party does not like shell fish, there are other selections that are not shellfish or fish - but not much.

I am sure there are probably other non-Asian buffets within the city - most likely in the many hotels, but I suspect they are not going to be very affordable. If any are noteworthy, they have not come up in my research or travels about the city.

Our search of buffets in this area takes us outside the city, primarily into Virginia. For those of you who are not familiar with how Washington, D.C. is located, this small city (actually it is a District) sits surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. Cross a bridge and you cross into one or the other of those states. The Capital Beltway is a parkway that travels in a circle around Washington, in and out of Maryland and Virginia. The roads around are good - except at rush hour when you can sit bumper to bumper for hours. So anyway, back to buffets. The other buffets that I have found are all in Virginia. There is one that I have discovered, but not gone to in Oxon Hill, Maryland which is just outside the District, called Pienza Italian Market Restaurant. It is located inside the Gaylord National Hotel. The price is around $32. So why have I not written about this buffet - after all it is an Italian buffet, and I am always looking for Italian buffets? The reason is that the reviews that I have seen about this restaurant have been mixed - some good, some bad - and not enough one way or the other to make me comfortable about it. Perhaps on a future trip to D.C. I will try it - and hope that the good reviews were the correct reviews. Until then, if you try it, let me know - and I make no recommendation to go or not to go.

So where do I go and where have I been?

I have written several articles about The Green Olive Buffet and there is and has been a link to the restaurant at the side of this page. Despite the Italian sounding name this is an Asian buffet. It is nice and the food has been good the several times that I have been there. It is on Richmond Highway in Alexandria/Arlington (but outside of the city of Alexandria on the highway heading toward Mount Vernon). The choices are not just Asian and there is seafood and American selections here enough to please even those who don't like Chinese/Asian cuisine. I have recommended it and I still would.

There is a chain of steak restaurants called Western Sizzlin' that is very similar to Ponderosa. They used to combine their order off the menu steak restaurants with small buffets (which were terrible for the one I was at many years ago) BUT they have since split their buffets off into their own chain - with few locations. One of those locations is just outside Washington, D.C., also in Alexandria called The Great American Buffet. I have eaten at this buffet. It was a number of years ago - the food was fine. The selections were much like those at Old Country Buffet - basically Southern US-style cooking. As I say, it was a number of years ago and it may have changed - either way, better or not so better. If I was in the area and was not going to any of the others to choose from I would go back again. As the economy has led to a lot of restaurants closing even before company websites are updated I would call first to check it out - (703) 329-1555 You can find it at 5902 Richmond Highway, Alexandria VA.

Beyond those we are left with the usual chains - there is an Old Country Buffet in Alexandria - again on Richmond Road (get a pattern where the action is here). There is a Ryans way down in Fredericksburg - which is my favorite Ryans. This is about forty miles south of D.C. and at least an hour's drive. There is also a Golden Corral in Fredericksburg. And there is another Asian buffet that I have written about in Fredericksburg called Kings Buffet which I can only assume is still open - always call first. I am not sure that I would drive all the way down to Fredericksburg for any of these - and I love this Ryans - but I do always plan a stop at this Ryans when I am traveling south. (Why do I love this Ryans? I am not really sure - and most of my experiences have been pre-Buffets, Inc. takeover - but it has always been good.)

I wish I had more to recommend in the Washington, D.C. area. As I said, throw a dart and you will probably hit a Chinese buffet - a bunch come up on a search. But for the ones that I go to and would recommend, you have them here.

If you know of a buffet in this area, please send me an email and tell me about it! Or leave a comment with this article!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Return to the New Grand Buffet, Islandia, NY

Sometimes you start out for the evening with one destination in mind and when you get there you find a not so great surprise. It was the night after Thanksgiving and we drove the distance to Good Taste Buffet in Commack, NY. When we pulled into the parking lot, my wife said to me that the restaurant looked dark. We drove across to the front of the restaurant and sure enough, it was closed, as was the Italian restaurant next door. The window of the Italian restaurant was boarded over. Both restaurants had signs stuck up - "Reopening Soon". We surmise that there was a fire in the Italian restaurant and it spread through the wall to Good Taste Buffet next door. Oh my! Good Taste has become my local favorite. My first thought was were are we heading right now - as it was getting close to 8:00 pm and my second thought was that I hoped that when it re-opens they don't decide to change anything. I thought this because around here when things change or are redone, it is rarely for the better. So anyway, we thought about what was not too far away and with the help of a cell phone Internet browser located the Wal-Mart in Islandia and got directions to get there - as in that same shopping plaza is New Grand Buffet.

I wrote about New Grand Buffet in March, 2008. At the time I liked the restaurant and have thought about going back again, but have not. At that time I recommended it. Read on as I have some reservations now.

We arrived just about 8:10 pm which in this area is not late for dinner out on a Friday night. There were people in the restaurant but it was not overwhelmingly crowded. My wife feels that many do not eat out on the night after Thanksgiving. I am not so sure, as many have had their fill of turkey and are saving the left overs (if there are any) for a night the following week. The layout of the buffet and restaurant have not changed. The prices have increased by $1.00 for both adults and children making the adult price now $13.99 every night and the children's price $7.99 for children up to five feet tall. (My wife commented that if she was just two inches shorter she could get in for the children's price - I told her that I didn't think so.) We were seated and went up to the buffet.

If I had known I was coming before I started out on this evening I would have read through my article on the restaurant to see what I should look for and what was especially good. As it was I was going on a distant memory. We started, as we always do, with soup. I was in the mood for Hot and Sour Soup and went to the tureen. The soup's color was redder than I expected and looked loaded with hot pepper. I decided not to take that and took the wonton soup instead. Last time around - I find out now - the Hot and Sour soup was on the mild side and the better of the two soups. I was not complimentary of the wontons last March - but I must say that tonight the wontons were fine.

There were several more sushi selections tonight than last year - but the salmon on rice did not look as it should. One piece I took was fine. I took two pieces and when I was back at the table with the dish and I could see better in the light, I saw that the second piece had a dark area on the front of one side. I cut this away before I tried it but the fish had a dry and off taste - and I did not eat it. Ok - so every so often an off piece can get through. With sushi it is always, the diner be careful. A piece of tuna on rice that I took was fine. Large peel and eat shrimp that were kept well cold on a bed of ice were good.

My next course was dumplings. My wife had take some before I did and warned me that the steamed shrimp dumplings were overdone, dried out, and tough. I took one to try and took two fried pork dumplings. She was right, of course, the steamed shrimp dumplings were just as she described. Had I not taken the fried pork dumplings, this review would have had a much different outcome. These dumplings looked great. I cut one in half and put it in my mouth. I started to chew and heard a crack. My thought was a piece of pork bone and I hope I did not break a tooth. I felt something sharp in my mouth. I quickly went in with my fingers and brought out this. It was too dark in the restaurant to really see what it is. It turns out to be pieces of shard of a shell - from the color, probably a clam shell. The pieces, as you can see are sharp and pointed. As they say, in time all things must pass, but if that thing is sharp and pointed it can do considerable damage as it makes its way out. This is not a good thing. This is the worse thing that I have encountered in any buffet. Some may say, lucky you, as it is not uncommon for things like bone and such found in food served in almost every restaurant. Had I been eating stuffed clams, I might expect a piece of wayward shell. This was pork dumplings - and no where near were there any clams. In fact, I looked around the buffet suspecting that it was some type of shell and saw no clams at all. I stopped and took check of myself - bleeding in my mouth - no, pain anywhere - no, feel cut in my throat - no. I pushed the dumplings aside and went on. Did I call over the waitress? I have found that unless there is some damage that you can show and prove, you are not going to get too far - and while these young ladies should all speak perfect English, you never get the impression that they understand what you are telling them, especially when it is a complaint. At best there is an apology, at worst it is taken and ignored. I am lucky that I caught this in my mouth before I swallowed. A child would have been in trouble. We had started out fairly well. This now put an edge to the rest of the dinner.

A number of the dishes on the hot buffet table and at the barbecue appetizer area were not hot. They were warm, but not at the serving temperature that they should be. There really is no reason or excuse for this. The buffet tables are steam tables and the temperature can be controlled. Heating elements heat water below the serving trays. This water should be boiling and the resultant steam and heat should keep every dish hot. This is wet heat through the steam and thus the food should remain fairly moist and not dry out. In addition, several dishes that I tried were overdone- kept out too long in the heat. As I said, this restaurant was far from empty. There were people in each of the dining areas and a steady flow of people up at the buffet servers. Despite the time, there were people still coming in right through the time that we were finished and left.

Dishes offered were pretty much the same as those that I wrote about in March and I will not repeat them here. While there are a lot of dishes out, there felt to be a limited selection. The best of what I tried this time was a stuffed flounder - a thin strip of flounder stuffed with a crab stuffing and baked. The stuffing was very good, the flounder was tough and dry. I had blue crabs in ginger sauce and they were tasty, though they could have been hotter. Mixed in with the blue crabs were a few snow crab cluster tops. This was better than than the blue crab as there is a considerable amount of meat over the limited meat found in the side of a small blue crab.

As I pointed out last March, crab legs are a big thing here and they did keep bringing out more and filling up the serving tray. I actually went up to get some and looked for something to put a bit of the butter sauce in, which was there near the tray of crab legs. There were not little dishes. That was the point that I passed the crab legs by and went for the ginger crab. Later, when I did not want any crab legs there was a stack of little dishes next to the tray. The crab legs now are not served as clusters, as they were a year ago, but now they are individual legs. Full cluster legs cook better and become less water-logged. Even if they are cooked as clustered and pulled apart when put out, while they are in the steam tray they take on more water than full cluster legs do.

My feeling of the limit of choice is overcome by a real Mongolian grill. There is a large selection of vegetables and noodles to add to chicken, pork, or beef. The meats at this type of server should be kept frozen, but here they were not - and I made this same observation last year. This is one of the real round heavy iron grills and the chef walks around the grill with a paddle moving your selections around on the grill as they cook. You choose what you want your dish to consist of and you, yourself, put the ingredients, as much as you would like, on a plate and then add sauces and seasonings to your liking. With this you can always create yourself a hot entree to your liking.

Service was fine. Dishes were picked up. Glasses for beverages are huge and there are refills on top of that. We were seated at a table next to one of the large glass window walls that looks out to the parking lot. The white metal framework of the window on the inside should have been much cleaner. Similar to my note last time about the walls.

I am now reluctant to recommend New Grand Buffet. Had the shell or whatever not been inside the dumpling I would say that the food needs to be warmer but it is ok. With my luck of getting that one in a thousand dumpling that had something inside, we need to be forewarned. Yes, it could happen anywhere. But unless it happens to you, you don't think about it. Now, here, I would be thinking and looking through what I am eating. So, maybe not, a good choice for a relaxing night out.

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 where the Wal-Mart is. The phone number is (631) 582-3888. There is no website.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Return to the Golden Buffet, Centereach, NY

In 2006 I wrote about a Chinese buffet in Suffolk County, New York in the town of Centereach called the Golden Buffet. I have not been back in the last three years only because the restaurant is located some distance from me and I am not in that area much any longer - at least not at dinner time. We found ourselves nearby on a Saturday night and it was a choice between this restaurant and another that I have not been back to in some time. We decided - as this was closer - that we would return to Golden Buffet.

I am not going to give a total description of the restaurant as I have already done that in the first article from 2006. Just click on the restaurant name at the start of the above paragraph and read that article first.

When I go back to a buffet restaurant that I have only been to once before I look at it as if I had not been there before and try to get a completely new impression. I then come back and before I write the re-review read what I had to say before to see how things compare. There have been some changes here at the Golden Buffet.

First, I am happy to report that the prices at the Golden Buffet have actually gone DOWN in the past three years. Prices were pretty good before and now they are even better. Weekend dinner is now only $12.99 - down a dollar. Monday to Thursday the price is down to $11.99 and again this is down dollar. These prices make this buffet one of the most reasonable on Long Island - especially for the type of foods and quantities offered.

I have often commented that when you go to an ethnic restaurant and you see a number of tables filled with people of that ethnic background you have a pretty good indication that the food is both authentic and good. On this night at this restaurant there were a number of tables of Asian people. All seemed to be enthusiastically eating. This was the first thing that I noticed when we were seated at our table.

The food was good three years ago and it is fine now. There were some disappointments adn had I not been there before I would be much more positive but there have been some changes here too. Was everything great? Well, no. Not because it should not have been, but because the trays of food out on the buffet servers needed tending. What do I mean by tending? A good buffet has staff going around the buffet tables stirring and checking that nothing is drying out. When food is found that has been out too long, it needs to be taken away and replaced with fresh trays. This was not happening on this particular Saturday night Now, we did arrive to the buffet later than we wanted to - about 8:00 pm. The restaurant is open to 10 pm. There were a number of tables filled and people in the restaurant eating and going back up to the buffet for food. Yet, there were too many trays of food that had dried out and items not edible any longer because of that.

Items that were fresher were very good. There is a lot of assortment here and more than the usual number of buffet servers that you find in these restaurants. There were some items that were very well served - and need to be. There were raw oysters and clams out. They were on a thick bed of ice and were not dried out by any means. I like raw oysters but will only eat them if I feel that they are properly cold and have not been sitting. Other than a bit more loose shell and sand in the oysters they were good. Whoever shucked them should have both rinsed them better and cut the oyster from the shell. Never the less, they were fine. The sushi was also good and there was a broad assortment of sushi for a buffet sushi bar at a restaurant with an $12.99 dinner price.

The variety was not what it was three years ago. While there are many dishes - there was a lack of Chinese entree dishes. What do I mean by that? Many of the entree dishes that were out were single item dishes - fried shrimp, fried fish, roast duck. There were not many dishes like X with Y in Z sauce - the types of entrees that you will find on a usual Chinese food menu.

One thing that I had stood out and that was steamed flounder in ginger sauce. When I have had this at other restaurants the fish is on the bone and is difficult to eat without getting a bone in a mouthful. Here the flounder is filleted and the thin sauce nicely seasoned the fish.

There were a few odd dishes such as a long thin roll that was filled with a mildly seasoned fine chopped meat. I am not sure what it was because while there were signs over most items not all of them matched was in the tray. There was something called Italian Tacos - filled taco shells of chopped meat that looked just like Mexican tacos. I was not bold enough to try that - and it was a bit dried out looking. My wife tried the boneless spareribs - a staple at these buffets. It looked as usual with the meat strips in the typical thick red gel. But she did not eat it after a bite, as she said that the sauce just did not taste right.

I had praised the egg rolls here in my last review - they must have changed considerably since then because now they are just your standard buffet egg roll - small with more roll than filling. There was nothing wrong with them but they are not praise-worthy now.

You know, when I started writing this article my thoughts were more positive than they are now as I see what has been coming out on the page. So we are coming down to a mixed review on this return visit - though three years later - that I had praised the first time around.

The restaurant was clean. The service was good. We were satisfied when we left. Not hungry by any means and we felt fine after the meal - the most important thing to know about any restaurant.

So, was the problem the time that we went? In some areas 8 pm is late for dinner but in metro-NY on a Saturday night - not late by any means. But still I would like to see this restaurant again earlier in the evening. By comparison to another Chinese buffet on Long Island was similar pricing - and as I said this is few and far between at this price - this restaurant is far better - cleaner and so much more in many ways.

For the Golden Buffet in Centereach on our return visit after three years we are left with a mixed review. Some good, some not so good - yet the good is still there. Would I go back again? Yes, absolutely, if only to see once more if it was the night, the time, or if this is how it is now.

Golden Buffet is located at 1973 Middle Country Road in Centereach, NY. This is in the same shopping center on Route 25 as Walmart so it is not hard to find. There is no website. The phone number is 631-588-5188.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tomokazu Japanese Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)

I came across this restaurant through a video and I am going to share that video with you as we go along. The Tomokazu Japanese Restaurant located in Vancouver, British Columbia on the west coast of Canada offers, in addition to menu offerings, an all you can eat or should I say all you care to eat menu. The uniqueness of this is that it is served to you by waitresses who - as you will see - bring a large variety and quantity of Japanese foods - with an emphasis on sushi - to your table.

Now, as always when I have not been to a restaurant myself - and it is unlikely that I am ever going to get to British Columbia - I am writing without first hand experience of the restaurant, but I have been able to get a number of opinions about this restaurant and I will share those also as we go along.

The restaurant offers the all you can eat meal from Monday through Sunday for lunch from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm and for dinner from 5:00 pm to Midnight. The price is what is most notable here. Dinner for adults is $22.95 (CD) and lunch for adults is $9.95 (CD). Weekends and holidays add another dollar to the price. Now, if you like to eat late night go after 9:30 pm and the adult price drops to $12.95. There are children's prices as well. Now, these prices are exceptionally good for a Japanese all you can eat restaurant. Please be aware that the late night offerings and the lunch offerings are much limited from the dinner offerings. The price is less, but so is the selection.

Ordering is done off a menu and by number. You tell the server what you want and she brings it. The only soup is Miso soup and there are a few salads to select, but you are not coming here for the soup or the salad. You are coming here for the sushi, sashimi, cones, rolls and maki. Again, you select the what you would like the waitress to bring and it is brought to you. In addition to the raw fish, there is also udon, teriyaki, tempura, dumplings, fried rolls, bbq, and motoyaki. Desert is limited to jello and mango pudding.

The best way to know what you will get at this restaurant is to see it and for the first time I offer this video, courtesy of you-tube. Hopefully, this link will survive. You can see first hand the layout of the restaurant, the appearance of the food and what some of the selections are. There does not look like there is enough room on the table for all that is brought and keeps on coming.

So how is the food? The majority of opinions on the food here is that it is very good. Many say that they go regularly and first-timers say that they cannot wait to go back.

There are a few complaints that need noting. Not all of the waitresses speak English well and communication with some can be a problem - though this seems to be managed. Some say that the service is slow and I must say that if that is the case in an all you can eat situation where the servers bring your food that can be a problem - and again, others say no problem getting what they wanted. Cleanliness of the restrooms was questionable for some, but no comments that there was any problem in the dining room.

This looks really interesting. While I have been to Japanese buffets where the food is served traditional buffet-style, I would like to try one where the food is brought out like this. Another Japanese restaurant that I have written about in Hawaii does this type of serving as well. It always looks intriguing. But as I have said a number of times in the past - the experience is only as good as the serving staff who must be attentive to your wants and needs in this type of restaurant.

There is a second location of this restaurant in Richmond, British Columbia. At this location only there is a lite all you can eat menu called the Hot Pot. There is a note at the Richmond location that all food ordered must be eaten or menu prices will be charged for each dish that is left over. I am not certain that this applies to both locations - but it would not surprise me. There is also a note that there is a two hour dinner time limit per table.

The Tomokazu Japanese Restaurant is located at #201-1128 West Broadway, Vancouver BC V6H 1G5. Their phone number is (604) 677-0434. They do take reservations. There is also a website and that is linked at the side of this page.

If you have been to Tomokazu please leave a comment and share how you liked it and help out our readers! Thanks!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Wild Night at a Buffet

There was no full moon out, but there should have been. It was just wild on this particular night at the buffet. I am not going to say what buffet. The restaurant, itself, had nothing to do with what was going on. It was the customers.

This was a night that I wished I had the "Rules" written out and could just hand them around. It started at the beginning of dinner with a woman walking around the buffet servers putting food in her plate and then as she walked around from server to server was eating with a fork from her plate as if she was at a cocktail party. This went on for a while. I thought to myself to go over to her and say, "Excuse me, madame, but didn't you get a table. You know they have tables here to sit at while you eat." Deciding not to get into a fracas, I just shook my head and went back to my table - watching her as she continued this until she has put all that she wanted on her plate and went off.

A little latter a group of six came in - two men, three older teen boys and a teen girl. At first they were going to squeeze around a table for four until one of them decided that they actually could put two tables together and fit. Ok. This is fine. It happens all of the time and putting two tables together when possible is always the better alternative. What happened later was the problem. This was an entire table of people who did not know or did not care that you need to take a new plate each time you go up. They would just pick up their plates with sides still on them and walk back to the buffet servers to refill, with serving spoons from the trays plunking down into their dirty dishes.

I had figured I had seen it all for the night, but no these were only the beginning. Over at the carving station a man decides not to wait for the woman who was carving and serving and sticks his own fork into a piece of meat and takes it. The serving fork was right there - but no, he had a fork in his hand and he was going to use it - not to mention that there were others waiting in a line for the woman to come over to carve and serve.

Looking back over toward the buffet servers from our table, now there were several people walking around with forks and plates of food eating from their plates - also as if they were at a party. Strolling and eating. I couldn't believe I had seen one earlier. Now there was a group - and seemingly having nothing to do with the first one.

So what more - well, there were two ladies who had to be having the take out buffet - though they had three styrofoam bowls rather than the usual styrofoam clam-shell box that is usually given out for take out here. I wondered if these were bowls given for the salad bar take out. They had filled each to the brim - and not with salad but with food from the buffet servers. The lid of the last bowl would not go down. This woman kept pushing and compressing, but the bowl was simply just two full. The second woman - perhaps her daughter came over. I though that she was going to try - but no, she picked up the bowl and went with it back to the buffet server. She took several servings of salmon and plopped them on the top of the bowl that already would not close. She put the bowl back down on the counter where the other woman was standing and then they together squeezed everything inside beyond recognition to force the cover on. Off they went out the door with their meal. I actually was surprised that they did not go over to the dessert bar to spoon on some cake or pudding over their dinner.

That was not too different from another woman who continued to spoon items one on top of the other on her plate. What I could see - but there was more underneath was a mound of cabbage, spoonful after spoonful of macaroni and cheese mounded next to that. At this point the plate was filled over six inches high. And just when you would think this was enough until the next trip up, she went over to the serving tray of pot roast. She spooned a mound of pot roast and gravy on top of what was already on her plate. But now the worst part. This plate was so overfull with wet items that when she hovered the plate over the pot roast serving tray, she spilled a large quantity of liquid from the bottom of her plate into the pot roast's serving tray and all over the pot roast. This was her cue to go back to her table - without saying anything ab0ut her spill into the food to anyone.

What a night! At last there had to be one more - this one not so bad. This one was a dangler. He served himself spaghetti from the serving tray and there were two long strands of spaghetti hanging down from his plate - maybe eight or nine inches down. We watched to see if he noticed. He actually did scoop up one of the strands, but for some reason left the other to dangle, as he continued his way around the buffet server.

So there you have it - mostly for your amusement - all true. As I have said before you could not make this stuff up and have anyone find it plausible. My wife said to me that I really should have cards to leave on tables that would direct people to this site and the rules. For the most part, I hope, that those who read this site have the common sense and the manners that would not require "Rules of the Buffet". But oh, there are so many other that need them desperately.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Custy's International, North Stoneington, CT - Another LOBSTER Buffet

Custy's International restaurant has in its logo that it is "The World's Most Famous Buffet". Well, I had not heard of them and I am only a state away- actually by water I am only about forty five minutes away - but as there is no bridge or tunnel, that forty five minutes by highway becomes almost three hours. Anyway. I just learned about Crusty's International. My first thought was that this was an absolute trip to be taken - until I saw the details about Crusty's.

Now I am not saying anything against this restaurant. It looks wonderful and I am sure that the food is as good as the presentation. But this is one of the most expensive buffet restaurants that I have encountered. When I looked first at their website, my attention was caught by the Children's Price list which is prominently displayed. The top price is for children 10 years old to 12 years old and it is $39.99. I looked again, thinking that there obviously is a mistake and this must also be the adult price. Next to the children's prices is a description of pricing - in small text and there in the description is the adult price - $69.99!

For what you are getting this may be a fair price. Primarily what you are getting is what most buffet goers are seeking - ALL THE LOBSTER YOU CAN EAT. At Crusty's International that is exactly what you are going to get and you are going to get boiled live lobsters, baked stuffed lobsters, lobster thermidor, and lobster newburg. This is all served from the "Lobster Pit" and you are going to get all you want and as much as you want.

Lobster, as I have written before, seems to be the Holy Grail of buffet diners. They seek wheere to get all they can eat of this ugly, but succulent creature. I have heard from readers that travel six hundred miles just for cut up lobster in ginger sauce served at a buffet. Here at Crusty's (as at several New Jersey restaurants) you will get all that you desire.

So, we proceed on the understanding that I have not been to Crusty's and I have not heard yet from anyone who has been to Crusty's. I have searched for reviews and did find that two who had dined there felt that the food was excellent and the buffet was more than one could hope for. (Both commented on the expensive price.)

So if you go to Crusty's what will you find? This is a buffet and menu service restaurant. The appearance is that of a typical seafood house on the outside. The hours of the restaurant are a bit unusual - the restaurant is only opened three days per week, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They are also open on Valentine's Day. They are closed all other days and on Christmas eve and Christmas day - weekend or not. The hours change in the summer - so the summer hours are Friday: 5pm - 10pm, Saturday: 3pm - 10pm, and Sunday: 1pm - 7pm. Summer here is from June 29, 2009 - Sept 6, 2009. All other times of the year they are open Friday: 5pm - 9pm, Saturday: 4pm - 9pm, and Sunday: 1pm - 7pm. They will open for private parties, bus tours of 85 to 150 people, or events on any day. There is mention of reservations, so if you are planning on dining at Crusty's call to see if you need to make a reservation in advance.

If you are eating at Crusty's everyone at your table must be eating either the buffet or from the menu - not both. So if you decide that you want the buffet and others in your party want to order from the somewhat less expensive menu, you are out of luck - unless you convince everyone else to buffet it.

When you dine on the buffet there are three specialty sections. There is the Lobster Pit which serves boiled live lobsters, baked stuffed lobsters, lobster thermidor, lobster newburg, lobster bisque, New England Clam Chowder, and a Soup of The Day. There is the Steak Pit where you will get cooked to order New York Sirloin, Marinated Filet Mignon Tips or Boneless Prime Rib. Steaks are served with your choice of peppers, mushrooms, onions, or any combination of those. There is also an elaborate seafood display which includes Colossal Ocean Tiger Cocktail Shrimp, which they claim are a trademark of the restaurant. In this serving area you will also find Giant snow crab legs fom New Foundland, steamed or chilled, baked stuffed shrimp, Cajun shrimp on a skewer, Coconut Shrimp and jumbo Fried Shrimp, Steamers, Shrip Scampi, Baked Stuffed Clams, Baked Southern-style Spare Ribs, Baked Stuffed Mushrooms, Fried Calamari, Custys Sweet Wings, Crispy Chicken Tenders, Fried Chicken ,Chef Specialty Chicken Roll Ups, Fish of the Day - baked or fried, Spaghetti & Meatballs, and Baked Italian Specialties.

There is also a sixty foot serving line that includes salads and appetizers including steamers, sweet corn, boiled potatoes, baked stuffed clams, baked stuffed mushrooms, chicken fingers, fried shrimp, coconut shrimp, cajun shrimp, scallops and bacon, Custy's own sweet wings, Italian-style calamari in a spicy marinara sauce and awesome barbequed ribs.

Entrees include baked chicken, barbequed chicken, baked Italian specialties such as Veal Marsala with freshly sautéed mushrooms, manicotti, meatballs, etc. There are also fresh baked grouper and baked stuffed shrimp with lobster meat stuffing.

Of course, for a buffet of this magnitude there has got to be a dessert bar to compliment it and there seems to be just that. Desserts include New York Style Cheesecake Chocolate Cheesecake Turtle Cheesecake, Tiramisu, fresh baked pies, assorted pastries, fudge and cookies, sugar-free desserts, Creme Brulee, seasonal fresh fruits including strawberries, pineapples, watermelons, honey dews, cantaloups, peaches, plums and more. In another section of the buffet you will find strawberries bananas, pineapples and cherries dipped in milk or white chocolate with or without coconut.

Beverages are included in the buffet price and you can get coffee, tea, soda, juice and milk.

I must say this is A LOT to eat and A LOT to get. There is no doubt that the price is high. It all sounds wonderful. Sadly, though it is within my traveling distance, I cannot fit a meal for two at $140.00 plus tax and gratuity into my budget. I am sure that there are many who can, and if you are seeking lobster - and steak cooked to order - this is the place to go.

Crusty's International is located at 138 Norwich - Westerly Road, North Stonington, CT 06359. The phone number is 860-599-1551. You can email them at They are located six and a half miles past Foxwoods Casino, so after dinner you might want to do a some gambling. There is a website and that is listed on the side of this page.

If you have ever been to Crusty's please leave a comment with this article and let us know how it was!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Spy Story

It is the early 1990's. The Cold War has come to an end; the Berlin Wall is no more. But espionage still lurks at a most unlikely place - a buffet!

This is an old story - not recent news by any means, but I just came across it. It is unusual and will be of interest to you all. Back in the early 1990's, a couple in Spokane, Washington decided to go into the buffet business. They wanted to guarantee their success so they infiltrated Old Country Buffet. They went into this big time. They found an unscrupulous secretary who worked for the chain and paid the secretary to transcribe all of the Old Country Buffet recipes. Recipes in a restaurant are considered trade secrets. In a successful restaurant those recipes are the heart of the restaurant's business. These recipes had been developed and tested by Old Country Buffet's founders. Fifty two recipes were taken.

Now it did not end there. The couple had a son. They sent this son to apply for and receive a job in Old Country Buffet management. They were going all out to get every secret possible. It was his job to work "undercover" and report back all of Old Country Buffet's unique management procedures - also developed by the Old Country Buffet founders.

The new buffet restaurant opened as Granny's Buffets in Washington state. Eventually a chain of Granny's Buffets developed and were located in Washington state, Montana, and Idaho. And with OCB's recipes and management processes in place.

Eventually, this was all discovered. It had to be obvious to anyone who dined at this new restaurant. Buffets, Inc., the owner of Old Country Buffet, brought legal proceedings against Granny's Buffets in 1992 to shut the location down and to stop a second location from opening. They also sought compensation in taking all of Granny's Buffets' profits of $3.8 million in the first year of operation. The court battle went on for two years and in 1994 a Federal Court judge rules AGAINST Buffets, Inc. stating that recipes as "lists of ingredients" cannot be copyrighted - different from a published cookbook where the recipes published in the cookbook are held under the book's copyright. It was also found that Buffets, Inc. and Old Country Buffet did not take the legal steps necessary to protect themselves by having employees sign confidentiality agreements, printing their recipes in a book with clear copyright notices on each recipe, and issuing management materials on a "need to know" basis only.

So Buffets, Inc. and Old Country Buffet lost the fight. BUT, in the end they had the last laugh. In December 1999, Buffets, Inc. bought out all of the six Granny's Buffet locations. Some were closed when the bankruptcy occurred a few years back. Some remain - some have had there name changed to Granny's Old Country Buffet. Searching for a current review or comment on a Granny's I find nothing more recent than 2008. I can only assume they are still out there - there is no mention of Granny's on the Buffets, Inc. website.

James Bond at the buffet... quietly in and out with the secrets!

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Managers at Old Country Buffet, Levittown, NY

For those of you who have been reading this site for a while or who have gone through past articles, you know that I have labeled the Levittown, New York Old Country Buffet as the worst OCB in the chain. It is not that I have been to every OCB to determine this, but any other OCB would have had to go far to get worse. Comments to those past articles from others who have experienced this OCB location have pretty much agreed.

There has been a recent change at the Levittown OCB. There are new managers - at least two. And they have made a great attempt at changing things at this restaurant. The most important and significant thing that they are doing is that they are continually visible throughout the dining room and making sure that things are running the way they are supposed to.

Yes, things are better. Not all is great, but things are better. One difference is that when trays are empty, there is someone - the manager - to make sure that the service staff are making sure it is refilled or replaced. Now, things sometimes get replaced with unlike - and non-equivalent things (rolls for side dishes or entrees). But, someone is on top of things.

One night that we were there an announcement was made throughout the dining room by the manager over the public address system. "There is no running in this restaurant!" Hooray! because there were kids running across the dining room at the time. No one has ever made an effort to stop this before.

This is still an OCB without a grill at the buffet servers. Steak is brought out and placed in a heated section of the steam table to remain hot until served, but also to continue cooking to wellest of well done. I love steak. I don't eat the steak at this OCB unless I see it come out from the kitchen grill, still at least pink and moist in the middle and served right then - and this is not often (I was going to say "rare" instead of "not often" but it certainly is rarely rare.)

Other things are still hit and miss. Pizza often comes out of the kitchen so over cooked an dried out that even the serving staff have trouble cutting it to serve it. At other times it is moist and nicely dripping with sauce and cheese. In a buffet like this there should be consistency in the cooking.

If they would just get on top of the floors being kept clean, things would get even better. Tables are cleaned nicely, but the carpeted floor in this OCB collects a lot of trash under the tables and it mostly remains until closing. As I have commented before, carpeted floors in other buffets (and other OCB's) seem to be kept clean despite the crowd. I have stopped bringing guests to this OCB because more than one has commented on the cleanliness - based only on the floors under and around the tables.

Another change has taken place at this OCB that should be noted and that is the price. There has been a price increase. I am not certain that there has been an increase in all locations, but this increase is bringing this OCB a bit beyond the chain buffet "going" rate. The new prices are $12.69 per adult at dinner on Monday to Thursday and $13.19 on Friday through Sunday. This is high.

I must say that this may be higher than OCB's elsewhere. A recent Zagat's restaurant survey revealed that restaurant prices on Long Island in New York are higher than restaurant prices anywhere else in the United States including higher than restaurants in Manhattan. This is evident from diners through the "better places". There are diners on Long Island where it will easily cost $50 for dinner for two - no alcohol - and not necessarily complete dinners. Compared to that this OCB price is still good, but this new price increase is a bit much. It closes the gap between some of the fancier buffets in the area - which are higher, but now not that much higher.

So, if you are on Long Island and you are in Nassau County and want to go to OCB, the new managers are making it better - and I can say now, that you could give it a try. Something that I would not have said before.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Expanding Our Locales

Recently you may have noticed that I have been writing about buffets in parts of the country that I am not able to get to. It is important to expand the scope of this site beyond the East Coast US and inform people across the country - and around the world about buffets that they could try when they are traveling or where they live. Some will say, well if he has not been there why should we read this and why does he bother writing about it. My answer to that is if I had not written about it you may not have ever known about that buffet, and if it is one that you may be near or at some time travel to be near, perhaps you will try it. This site can be a resource for all to find and discover new buffets where they live or where they plan to travel.

I would like to continue writing about these buffets that I have not yet found or may not be able to get to, but I would like your help. I would like you to share buffets that you have been to or know about in your area or areas you have traveled through. I will then write articles - give you credit, if you wish - and share these restaurants with all of our readers.

How do you do this? If you want to share a buffet restaurant use the contact link at the side of this page to send an email to me and tell me all about the restaurant. Please be sure to include the name and location of the buffet, the website (if there is one), your experience there (if you have been there) and anything else you can tell me about the buffet - prices, hours, food, etc. Don't use the Comments at the end of this article - I will not publish those comments. I will use the comment's content to find the restaurant, but it is easier to just use the email link at the side.

If I can get enough information to write a useful article about the buffet, it will appear at some point on this site. If I only can get scant information, there may be articles that will just mention names and locations of several of these buffets.

Does this mean I am not going to buffets anymore? Of course, NOT! I just want to expand our horizons a bit!

JUST A SIDE NOTE - Every so often I learn about a buffet restaurant that when I search customer reviews turns out to not be so good. I hesitate to write about a restaurant that is not good, yet, I wonder if I should be telling you places to avoid - even if I have not been there. I do not want to harm any buffet's business because of negative reviews that are not mine and therefore may or may not be accurate. I would like your opinions on this and what I should do - write about them with a remark that they may or may not be good OR skip them all together. Send me emails about this too!

Thanks to all for continuing to read this site and thanks to all who already have and will email buffets to me!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cafe Fleuri at the Langham Hotel, Boston - A Chocolate Buffet

So many feel that dessert is the best part of the meal and that the best dessert is a chocolate dessert. At the Cafe Fleuri in the five star Langham Hotel located in Boston, Massachusetts there is a buffet that is only deserts and the all star feature is chocolate in oh so many ways.

As always, I will tell you right now and up front that this is one of those restaurants that I have not personally eaten at, but this buffet comes with raves from many. It was voted as "Best Indulgence" by Boston Magazine.

The dessert buffet is appropriately called "The Chocolate Bar" and is only served on Saturdays between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. At other times this is an upscale hotel restaurant with a regular menu. A special presentation like this is not without its price. The buffet prince for adults is $38, children 5-12 years old is $25, and children 4 years and under are free. This is not an unusual price for an upscale hotel buffet, but keep in mind that the only food you will be eating are desserts. There is no meal to accompany them.

So what can you expect to find? There are 125 different desserts presented at once on a variety of elegant display and serving tables. Most of these desserts are based around chocolate, but there are other desserts served as well. A chocolate fountain allows you to go up and dip a variety of fruit, rice crispy treats, pretzels, and more into hot flowing chocolate. There are made to order chocolate crepes that are filled with your choices. There is chocolate mousse. How about chocolate soup? Yes, you will find that too. There is homemade ice cream to top. How does chocolate cotton candy spun up before you sound? That is there too. There are fresh baked cookies, milk chocolate passion fruit tarts, miniature s'more cups, delicate truffles, our signature chocolate break pudding and more. And, of course, it is all you care to eat.

The desserts are arranged by a theme chosen for the season. Items are grouped to go along with that theme.

Everything used is of the highest quality and a variety of chocolate from around the world goes into the desserts. This is very much an indulgence and not like any other buffet. There are other buffets that will permit you to just order the dessert portion of the buffet, but what you will get is nothing to the extensive offerings that you will find at Cafe Fleuri.

One source told me that this buffet is offered only from September to June - not July and August, however, the website for this buffet has no month restrictions. Again, it is only on Saturdays in the afternoon and this is a buffet that does close down at the ending time of 3:00 pm so it is not one that you want to come late to and expect it to stay up until you are finished. Reservations are accepted and from what I can see they are likely required if you want to get in. There is an easy to use reservation service on the website page for this restaurant.

Would I go to The Chocolate Bar? I would love to and Boston is a possibility, however, I know that for health reasons I could not eat an entire meal only of desserts - not that I would not want to. But there are so many that can enjoy this true indulgence. The restaurant will also arrange parties for the buffet.

I would love to hear from anyone who has had this amazing treat. Please leave a comment and tell us all about it.

There is a website and that site is listed at the side of this page. The Cafe Fleuri Chocolate Bar is located inside the Langham Hotel, 250 Franklin Street Boston, Massachusettes 02110, and the telephone number is (617) 451 1900.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rule Number 7

One of the rules of buffet dining on this site has raised some question from one of my readers and it is significant enough to share with you all. The rule is number 7:

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.

The problem that has been raised with this rule is the problem of leaving the table unattended. And I do agree that this can be a problem at some buffets. In August of this year I wrote an article about this problem at Cici's - which has been a problem at two different Cici's locations. When everyone gets up to get more, the person cleaning the table who pays little attention to what may be on the table or what part of the meal it appears one is at, clears the table away - completely and ready for a new customer to come and be seated.

This has happened at other buffets as well. It has rarely happened to us, if at all (as I am recalling) at any buffet that has used a table occupied system - a simple slip from the cashier that indicates the table is occupied that you prominently display on your table OR a sign that the server will put on your table to show that it is occupied. It has happened to us at buffets where this simple system is used. Generally, when it has happened it has been with a server who is not paying attention to the table or us - usually, where dishes are not frequently picked up and drinks are not refilled, unless you happen to catch the server as he/she runs past.

At one of our visits to Shady Maple this year - a restaurant that does use the paper slip system to identify occupied tables - we overheard two servers talking about the table behind us. At Shady Maple when you are through and you are leaving your table you are to turn the paper slip over to the back - indicating that the table is now vacant and ready to be cleaned for another guest. Sometimes, despite a reminder to do this when you are seated, some people just don't turn that slip over when they leave. Well on this particular night, the server for that table was in a quandary. The slip was face up, there were finished dessert dishes on the table, and no one had come back to the table for a time. This diligent server went to another server to ask an opinion (and this is what we overheard). Before they decided to clear that table off, they waited a bit longer just in case. This is one of the reasons why Shady Maple has been our Top Buffet for several years running. If only other servers at buffets took their jobs that seriously.

What happens if you come back and your table has been cleared? Find a manager or the server if you can. Indicate that you are still dining and ask why your table was cleared. Then make sure they bring you new silverware, drinks, etc. so that you can continue on with your meal. It is awkward and a position that you as the paying customer should not have been put in by the restaurant employee -who should have been paying attention to the table.

I had thought that leaving a personal item on the table while you are away would help. In two different buffets it made no difference. Once it was two umbrellas and another time it was two caps. The server each of those times who took no notice of us during the meal, took no notice of what was on the table - and actually left them there after clearing away the table.

So should I remove this rule? I don't think so. One of the criticisms that I have been told against dining at buffets is that the meal is not social - too often getting up and leaving the other person or people behind to continue their plate and then they get up when you get back. This does not make for a social or relaxing meal. These people have told me that they will not go to buffets for this reason.

I will leave you with a caution. If you are at a buffet where the server has not been attentive to you or your table, when you go up together (if you do) keep an eye on your table while you are up. This is not always possible with some buffet and dining room layouts. The alternative is to go up separately, but if you like to eat together try to wait until the other person gets back.

Friday, October 02, 2009

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

In February of this year I wrote a follow up visit article about D.J.'s International Buffet which was not up to what it should be - as it had not been on previous visits. This primarily Asian Buffet restaurant was at one time one of the best on Long Island. A few years back it closed for an extended amount of time for "renovations" and when it finally re-opened to great anticipation it was far from what it had been before it "temporarily" closed.

I recently went back again. I was pleasantly surprised by improvement in the quality and variety of food. I went on a weeknight. The dinner price during the week is still $16.99 which is several dollars more than other Asian buffets in the region. There are infrequent coupons in the newspapers and community sales papers for two dollars off the meal - and they give you a coupon when paying for your next visit. Friday and weekend prices are considerably more in the mid-twenties.

As I said in the last article, I am not going to repeat the set up of the restaurant as that has not changed any since my first article after the renovations. The hours are the same as well, and it is nice that they are open late for late dinners. I must say though that two hours before closing they were sweeping behind the grill station and the sushi bar and this is very off putting - not because they are cleaning, but it is raising dirt and dust over where the food is still out and being served. I would understand this a half hour before closing (not the dust part) but two hours before closing is a bit much - but that was the only thing that I will say is my big complaint in this review.

The assortment of food and the maintenance of the food being served has improved since I was here last. It is now coming closer to what it once had been - though it still has a bit further to go to regain the status that it once had. On the weekend, many come for the Lobster in Ginger Sauce. This is not on the weeknight buffet. There are nice, steamed snow crab legs, cocktail shrimp, and schucked cold oysters and and clams on the half shell.

The Sushi bar is extensive and there are two Sushi chefs behind the long counter making sushi and refilling the serving dishes. There is a large variety of sushi rolls, fish, and cones. It would be nice if each was labeled. I cannot describe all of the different types because many were unfamiliar to me. One, that even my wife, who never eats Sushi, tried was a version of the Vietnamese Summer Roll - a rice paper skin rolled around cucumber, carrot, and shrimp. The only thing that was missing inside from the classic were the rice noodles.

On my last visit I found problems with the entrees. Many were not at proper temperature, had sat too long, and were excessively greasy - sitting in oil. NOT THIS TIME. Now, there were a few - very few - of the non-Asian dishes (the International part of the name) that had been sitting too long. The Asian dishes, however, were fine. There was a dish that consisted of large scallops that was very good. There was no problem this time finding a variety of things to try - many that you don't generally find at Chinese buffets or even on Chinese menus. Signs over dishes were not always accurate - most likely the result of substitutions of dishes without changing or removing the signs. Some with dietary concerns might find this a big problem, but most were obviously what the sign said, when the sign was wrong.

In addition to the entrees on the hot buffet servers, at the grill station there is a chef carving a nice looking roast beef - I am sure they would say "Prime Rib" - and also carved duck for Peking Duck. There also was cut up duck on the hot servers.

Dessert still consists of a large presentation of the typical "Little Debbie" cakes - those tiny squares of sheet cakes that are made to look like fancier cakes. If you skip by that there is a cold buffet server with an assortment of fresh fruits, puddings, and Creme Carmel, which as I have said before was always a centerpiece of the former restaurant's dessert offerings. It is there and just as good. There was a new addition to the dessert selection. The soft ice cream machine is gone, but in its place is an ice cream freezer case containing drums of Hershey brand ice cream. With a scoop kept in running water next to the freezer case, you scoop your own serving of hard ice cream from several flavor choices. Ice cream cones and some toppings are to be found at the side.

Service was good. Dishes were taken away regularly. Drink refills were offered.

I can comfortably say now that D.J.'s International Buffet is offering food enough different and of a quality now that makes the extra cost worth while - certainly during the week, with the lobster on the weekend, and throw in the $2.00 coupons to ease the cost. I am hoping that what I found on this night is consistent.

At this point I will say that if you are willing to spend the extra cost over the standard Chinese buffets, try it!

D.J.'s International Buffet is located at 1100 Stewart Avenue in Garden City, New York. Their phone number is 516-227-2472. 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. There is still no website.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bishop's, Dubuque, Iowa

I am always looking to share buffet restaurants with you when I find them, even if I have not had the opportunity to dine there. Sometimes this leads me way off my usual path, but that is good because there are a lot of people around the US who ask me to find buffet restaurants in areas that I may never have a chance to get to. Let me tell you how I found this one.

I was watching a re-run of the TV series, "The West Wing". This particular storyline is following the fictional candidates as they campaign through Iowa for the Iowa Caucus. A filler scene of local scenery flashes by and I see a sign flash past along the road - "The Pioneer Country Buffet". Hmm? This show is now several years old. I wondered if this place actually could be found. I set off on an internet search and I came across Bishop's. This is NOT the restaurant in the show, but it is a buffet restaurant in Iowa - and it looks really nice. No, I never did find The Pioneer - at least any restaurant with that name with a buffet.

Bishop's restaurant is located in the city of Dubuque at the Dubuque Kennedy Mall - a noted shopping center mall in the city. The restaurant may be seen from the outside of the mall. I cannot tell you what the prices are.The hours are Monday - Thursday 11:00-8:00 Friday 11:00-8:30 Saturday 11:00-8:00 Sunday 10:30-7:30 . There are two other locations - one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the other in Moline, Illinois. The location I am writing about has been named the Best Buffet in Dubuque along with Best Pies eight years in a row in a local competition called Best Fest.

The food at Bishop's is prepared from fresh ingredients. They start preparing their roast beef each morning and have a special recipe for their chicken. One thing that is supposed to stand out at Bishop's (among many other thing) is their baking. Pies are made from scratch and the photos on their website make them tempting.

Bishop's features an extensive buffet menu that they claim are always offered along with features that will vary. In addition to the favorites which I will list for you, each day there are four new entrees, four new salads, and three new side dishes offered on the buffet. The favorites, there all of the time, would be sufficient on their own. The entrees are hand carved roast beef, fried chicken, grilled chop beef, fried fish, and baked fish. The salad bar includes Fresh Tossed Salad, Caesar Salad. Fresh Fruit Salad, Vegetable salad, Coleslaw, and Jello. The side dishes are Mashed potatoes, Stuffed baked potatoes, Plain baked potatoes, Parsley potatoes, Cheesy potatoes (lots of potatoes), Macaroni and cheese, Green beans, Corn, and Carrots. There is also a buffet server "just for kids" with kid-friendly offerings.

The baked goods offered are just as extensive with Soft rolls, Pumpkin muffins, Cinnamon rolls, Orange rolls and for dessert - Chocolate ambrosia pie, Coconut cream pie, Pumpkin pie, Custard pie, Bread pudding, Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Sugar Free Cream Pie, Strawberry Shortcake, and Brownies. Top all of this off with soft serve ice cream and sundae fixings.

The dining room is very pleasantly decorated. The restaurant also has a banquet room for parties or business functions. Bishop's is very community-minded and offers discounts to community groups, churches, and non-profits.

Again, I have not eaten at Bishop's. I would love to hear from those who have and please leave comments about your experience there.

Bishop's is located at 555 John F. Kennedy Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52002. The phone number is (563) 588-2031. There is a website which is linked at the side of this page.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A New Rule

Since the start of this site I have been listing what I call, "The Rules of the Buffet". I cannot believe some of the things that I see people do at buffet restaurants. These are things that one would hope that adults would have common sense not to do or would at some time in their childhood been taught not to do. Oh my, no! Our rules were last listed here this year in August.

I recently saw something that has now led to a new rule...

RULE 28: Never put the serving utensil, whether it a spoon, fork, or tongs, up to your nose to smell the food that you have taken out of the serving tray.

Oh yes, I saw this - and more than once. The tongs went into the tray and food was taken out, held over the plate, but instead of going to the plate it went up to the nose - smelled and commented on. Thank goodness, it met with approval because I am sure that if it hadn't the food would have gone back into the serving tray. Bad enough, the tongs went back in.

With all of the health concerns and the recent outbreaks of Swine Flu, we now have people not just holding the serving utensils, but also breathing upon them.

It would be nice if this was the last rule necessary. Who am I kidding? There surely will be more to come.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl

The Olive Garden is a chain of Italian restaurants with locations across the United States. The Olive Garden is not a buffet restaurant but every so often it does run an all you care to eat special. In addition, they always have an unlimited soup and salad offering on the menu. At the current time there is an all you care to eat special that they are calling the Never Ending Pasta Bowl. This is a limited time offer, but it has been brought back through the years.

I never have had much regard for non-buffet restaurant chain all you can eat special offers. I have tried them in years past at both this chain and also the Red Lobster, a seafood chain across the U.S. that frequently offers specials of all you can eat shrimp, crab legs, etc. How this works is that yu order from the menu and your waiter or waitress brings you the first dish and when y9u want more the server must bring you another plate, and so on. My experience always has been that the first serving is brought and then when you are ready for more you can try to find your server who is avoiding your table, and when and if you find the server and ask for me, it is a big surprise - I recall the scene from the play/movie, Oliver - "Please, Sir, may I have some more?" "SOMEMORE...the boy wants somemore?" And then a song and dance number starts about how never before has a boy wanted more. Well, once you get past the - yes, bring me somemore!- the server comes back after a considerable amount of time with a few pieces of whatever it was you asked for on a small plate. Yes, this has happened consistently to me in the long past at both of these chains - and I have not gone back for one of these specials since. Until now.

The television commercial for the Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl tempted me enough to bring me back to the Olive Garden after oh so many years for one more try. I have to say that I was pleasingly surprised.

The offer is this - order a bowl of pasta in one of six pasta shapes covered in one of six different sauces. As their advertising states, there are forty two different combinations. You can keep asking for as many of these combinations as you would like. With the pasta you will also get unlimited breadsticks (more like long, narrow garlic bread rolls) and a choice of unlimited soup of your choice from the soups on the menu OR unlimited salad. The amazing price for all of this is just $8.95. If you enjoy your pasta with Italain meatballs or sausage, for an additional $1.95 you can order unlimited meatballs or sausage to accompany your pasta. You can order unlimited softdrinks - but there is no price for this on the menu. We decided on just water, but certainly it could not be much more than another $2 each, if you are inclined to soda. Right at this point, the price is good. If you are inclined to dessert you are going to pay over $6.00 or more for ONE piece of cake. Add single serving appetizers and you are getting into serious money. But the pasta is unlimited so you don't really need much more - much to our waiter's chagrin. One other word before I continue on - they are big on wine here and it is the first thing the waiter offered while holding a bottle in his hand ready to pour into the glasses on our table before offering the special menu choices. If you are so inclined, it is not cheap.

Now, we went to one of the two local Olive Gardens in our area and there was a short wait top get in - they said fifteen minutes, it was more like ten or less. I am not sure why there was a wait aother than to show off the fancy electronic pager system - not sure why they have that either as there was no place to go but the parking lot or the lobby of the restaurant. Once we were seated there were a number of vacant tables. The restaurant was not empty, but other than staggering server assignments, there was no reason to have anyone wait. But the wait was not bad - though one family came in, heard about the wait and left (I am not sure what other restaurant they were going to get to in the fifteen minutes they were told they would have to wait). Any way, we were tyaken into one of the several dining rooms and seated. Very nice, faux-rustic Italain decor. On the table was a special menu and on the front of that was the Never Ending Pasta Bowl and all of the choices for it. They did not hide the special, and while it was not the only thing we saw people at other tables ordering, it was one of the more popular choices. As I said, you order your "first" bowl of whatever combination you would like and also order soup or a salad.

Ok - the pastas - spagetti, whole wheat spagetti, linuini, fettachini, penne, and orechiette (ear-shaped pasta, similar to shells). The sauces - marinara, five cheese marinara, alfredo, meat sauce with beef and sausage within, and two new sauces introduced with this offer - Roasted Portabello Pomadoro and Creamy Parmesean Florentine. You order a pasta and a sauce. When yu want more you order any pasta and any sauce, and you can change as many times as you order another bowl. There are a nice selection of soups and you are ordering these from the standard menu - these include minnestrone, chicken and gnocci, macaroni and beans, and a spicy sausage soup. I have not used the Italian names that these soups have on the menu. If you roder salad you get a very large bowl of greens served family style to all those who order it. If you would like more soup or salad, it will be brought to you.

Together, my wife and I tasted an assortment. We went for the soup instead of the salad. I had the Chicken and Gnocci and she had the Minnestrone. The chicken soup was a cream of chicken soup that contained small chunks of chicken and a few gnocci. Gnocci is potato dumpling pasta - little balls of potato dough that is boiled like pasta to cook. My first experience with gnocci was wwhen my father made it when I was young using my Grandmother's recipe. The gnocci in the soup was not quite like Dad's, but they were not bad - though there were maybe four in the whole bowl. Of course, if I wanted more I could have asked for another bowl - which was offered when we had finished our bowls of soup. The Minnestrone was the usual tomato based, Italian vegtable soup. This one was fine, yet again, not as full of vegetables as some. All in all, the soups were good, We saw salad served on other tables and they bring a VERY large bowl for those who ordered it to share - or a similarly large bowl for one. And again, you can get more if y9u wish.

We did not get more soup - the attraction for the evening is the pasta and why get full on soup or salad - or the breadstick/garlic bread. The waiter brought out two bowls of pasta. The bowls were large in size - perhaps as large as a dinner plate about ten inches. The bowl was full of pasta but not overflowing. The pasta was covered in sauce. All was very hot when it came out - and stayed close to that throughout. I started with the fetticini with the specail roasted portobello pomadoro sauce and my wife had the whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce,. Each pasta was good. The whole wheat pasta was actually too good to be whole wheat - so much so that my wife doubted that it was - though the waiter said that it was when he put it in front of her. The Roasted Portobello Pomodoro was a chunky tomato sauce with regular mushroom slices mixed in and on the top were a few strips of portobello mushrooms. It was tasty. My wife felt that the marinara was spicy. It should not have been. I tried some of hers and did not find it that. It seemed mild to me. It is possible that she was just feeling whatever spice had been in the Minnestrone. When the pasta is served you are offered freshly grated cheese which is ground over your bowl by your server. I enjoyed my first bowl eager to see what was to come. Would the waiter dissappear?

As we were coming to the bottom of our bowls of pasta the waiter appeared. To my pleasant surprise he asked if we wanted then to order the next bowl or would we want to finish our bowls and then order another - as they come out quickly, he said. We said we would wait. When we had finished, in a few minutes the waiter reappeared and asked if we were ready to order more. This time I ordered the little ear pasta and the creamy parmasean florentine sauce adn my wife ordered the penne with meat sauce. True to form for these types of specials in this type of restaurant, when the next bowls were served, gone where the large, dinner plate sized bowls and now the pasta was served in a smaller bowl - perhaps six or seven inches across. Ok, less pasta - or at least the suggestion of less pasta, but you can still ask for more. The creamy parmasean florentine is described as an alfredo sauce with spinich. What they do not say is that this is raw spinach leaves torn up and put over the top of the pasta and alfredo sauce. The taste was nice but I had expected cooked spinach and did care as much as I would have liked. The meat sauce was not heavily loaded with meat but the meat was evident. My wife says that she did not notice if there actually was sausage meat mixed in with the beef. I tasted it and it was not bad.

Let's face it - and this is what Olive Garden is counting on for a $9 all you care to eat dinner - there is just so much pasta one can eat at one meal. By the end of the second bowl my wife was ready to stop and I was not far from it. But, of course, I had to go on to at least one more bowl. Again, the waiter did not dissapoint and appeared in a timely manner to ask if we would like another bowl. I had the penne in five cheese marinara sauce. This sauce was much like an ala vodka sauce with9ut the vodoka - a creamy red tomato sauce that was thick with cheese - which may have been what made it creamy in the first place. It was a very nice sauce. Again, this pasta arrived in the small bowl. I made it through three quartes of the bowl before I had to call it quits. Unlless you intend to marathon eat this meal, there is not much more than three bowls that the average preson is going to eat.

I was full, but I also wanted to see something involving my left over pasta. At every other table, there servers were rushing to bring take out boxes and bags for people to take their left overs hoke with them including the garlic rolls. Would I be offered to take my left over pasta home and the almost full basket of garlic bread breadsticks? The answer is no.

I found the $8.95 Never Ending Pasta Bowl to be a very satisfying meal. The value was great, the food was good, and there was plenty to eat without any real effort to get the refills. If you like pasta and can eat your fill of it - this is the dinner to go for.

Olive Garden restaurants are all over in many states. This offer is for a limited time and in a few months or even less, call first to see if it is still offered (if you are no longer seeing the commercials). If it is gone, it will come back at some point. The hours at the Olive Garden may vary by location but many are open until 10 on weeknights and 11 on Friday and Saturdays.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Stomach Staples and Buffets

What an odd association - stomach staples and buffets. It has got to be a stretch for this medical weight loss procedure and buffet restaurants to have something in common. But, believe it or not, they very much do.

It seems that many people who have undergone the stomach staple operation, a procedure in which the stomach is made smaller (with surgical staples) in order to restrict the amount of food that may be passed through the stomach at a time and that one is made to feel full with (actually uncomfortable), want to continue to eat at buffets after their surgery. Well, why not?, you may ask. The problem comes about that they not only want to still eat at buffets - they want to eat at them at a discount. Yes, a discount. Why? Because they cannot eat all that they would like to eat, so they should be entitled to a discount or better yet come in and eat free.

I am sure that anyone who is reading this who has undergone vertical banded gastroplasty, the medical name for the stomach staple surgery, is going to be angered by this opinion, but going to the buffet is a choice - and the price is the price for all. If a very thin and small person goes to the buffet, should they be entitled to a discount? If I like to go to amusement parks - just for the entertainment of the shows and the atmosphere but do not like to go on the roller coaster, should I be able to ask for a discount at the admission gate and expect to get it? I guarantee that I would not get it.

So how does this work? How is the buffet supposed to know if someone really has the surgery? The people who get the surgery get notes from their willing surgeons a testing to that the person had the surgery and can only eat a small amount.

Does this work? At many buffets, no it does not work. Most are going to tell you that the price is the price and you are welcome to eat as much or as little as you can. Remember that the actual definition in the word "CAN" as in All you Can Eat is "ABLE" so it is All you are ABLE to Eat. We were at a pizza buffet where a woman (a thin woman) came in with a young girl, presumably her daughter. She went up to the cashier and flashed her note from her doctor expecting to be let in for free. The buffet manager came over and an argument from the woman ensued. She was not going to eat more than some salad, her daughter was going to be eating the pizza, not her. She was indignant when they told her that if she was coming in she had to pay the full price just like everyone else. She tried to say they were punishing her daughter because she could not eat. They told her she was welcome to come in, just pay the cost of the meal. Now, this was a buffet where you paid first before you eat. I would hate to see the scene that would ensue if this was tried after the meal was consumed and then you pay.

Now, there is a buffet that I know of that willingly gives a discount when a valid note from an M.D. is presented attesting that the person has had the stomach staple operation. Yes, we were recently at none other than Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl, Pennsylvania and saw a sign on the cashier's counter that said that a ten percent discount would be given off the meal price to the person with medical proof. Our very own, three year in a row, Best Buffet anywhere winner has come through again. If anything is going to be given, I guess ten percent seems fair.

I have heard from buffet managers who say that many try this who don't have proper proof and want them to take their word for it or better yet, present notes that clearly are not from doctors. One manager called this a recent and frequent scam.

The bottom line is that the price of the meal is set and applies to everyone equally. It is not based upon how much you eat, it is an offer for you to eat what you care to eat - or are able to eat, in the extreme. Everyone can or cares to eat a different amount from anyone else. In the buffet "game", that is just how it is.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gatti's Pizza - A Pizza Buffet

When I think Pizza Buffet, I think Cici's but that is only because that is the chain most local to me - if local is 200 miles. There are other pizza buffet chain restaurants as well. We wrote about a new, small, two location chain in Pennsylvania a year ago. I recently found another chain that is much more wide-spread across the country. That chain is Gatti's Pizza.

Now, as always, I tell you right up front when I am writing about a restaurant or chain that I have not been to and this is another of those. I have not eaten at Gatti's Pizza, but I will share with you all that I have learned.

Gatti's presentation is very much like Cici's - a buffet comprised of pizza, salad bar, pasta, and dessert. There are also chicken wings - though it appears that these are not included on the buffet, . There is a take out option and there is also the ability to internet order from some of the locations, particularly those in Texas.

Locations are across the US as far west as Texas. There are Gatti's Pizza locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Most states listed have several locations with the most in Texas. This is not surprising as this is the state where the chain was founded in 1964 with a pizza restaurant called The Pizza Place. In 1969 the founder moved to Austin, Texas and renamed the restaurant using his wife's maiden name, it the restaurant became Mr. Gatti's. The restaurant prided itself on using all natural ingredients to make the best tasting pizza possible. In the 1980's the restaurant expanded to a chain of game rooms that included a pizza buffet. Interestingly, Cici's also began its pizza buffet restaurants in Texas in 1985. (So, who came first?) There are now 140 + locations of Gatti's Pizza. Locations are franchises.

So what types of pizza will you find on the buffet? This is another of the every combination you can think of assortment of pizzas. There is a Sampler pizza, a Bacon Double Cheeseburger pizza, BBQ Chicken pizza, Meat Market pizza, Vegetarian Sampler pizza, Superoni (pepperoni) pizza, Gatti's Deluxe pizza, Buffalo Chicken Pizza, Veggi Sicilian, and Meat Sicilian. There is a separate list of toppings so we can presume that other combinations are possible. Personally, I like to try the exotic when I go to pizza buffets but I am usually happier when I find basic cheese pizza also available.

The salad bar is what you would expect. Salad greens, tomatoes, and toppings with a variety of dressings. The pasta is spagetti with tomato sauce. There is a mention of macaroni and cheese as well. Most locations have a website and these tend to get a little more specific as to what you might find at that location.

The dessert choices are apple pizza and cinnamon bread sticks (what appears to be pizza dough baked with cinnamon). Of course there are soft drinks and it is stated that these vary by location.

To find prices you need to look at the websites of the individual restaurants which are linked on the locations page. For an example over 12 at the West Virginia location the buffet is $7.99. Not bad, but two to three dollars higher than Cici's. Kids over 6 pay $6.49. Only children under 2 are free and there is a senior discounted price of $6.49.

Each restaurant features a game room and large screen TV's in the dining room. There are larger locations call GattiTown which have party rooms and are listed as "destination" locations. Generally, destination means "shoppertainment" - an attraction location offering entertainment, food, etc. These are stand-alone restaurants meaning that they are not inset into other stores, etc. but a larger facility all on its own.

The food looks good. That is no recommendation. If I am in Virginia, West Virginia, or one of the Carolinas I will try it. The corporate website is linked at the side of this page. It is light on buffet information but if you go to the locations page and click on a location's website you will see much more about the buffet, prices, hours, etc.

If you have been to a Gatti's Pizza please leave a comment and tell us all about it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Time for the Rules - Again!

With all that I have been seeing lately at buffets, it really is time to drag out that list of Rules of the Buffet again! Even if your first thought is not again, give them a read once more. Maybe there is still something you could learn.

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 the 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. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

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.

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.