Friday, February 06, 2009

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

About a year ago, the restaurant formerly known as just International Buffet reopened after an extended closure for remodeling under the name D.J.'s International Buffet. The restaurant is located in Garden City, New York on Long Island in mid-Nassau County. When the restaurant reopened, after great anticipation, I went to see what changes had been made. I was disappointed then that much of what had made this buffet stand out was no longer there or not up to the standard and quality of what had been served in the past. This is a very popular place and I still get comments sent to me that I must go back and try it again. I actually had gone back in September 2008. You can read both of these articles - January 2008 and September 2008 in th archives. That time things were a little different and better than my first visit, but ended with a reaction that has been the only thing that stood out in my memory about that visit. I decided that I must give D.J.'s International Buffet another try.

I will admit right off that the night that we just went to this buffet would be a hard night to judge any buffet. It was a cold winter night in the middle of the week. We went in and as there always is, there is a sign that states the price - $16.99 per adult. This is the Monday to Thursday dinner price. From Fridays to Sundays this price goes into the mid-twenty dollar range. As prices for Chinese buffets go in this area, these prices are high. There had been a $2 off coupon in the local newspaper so the mid-week price was going to come out to be what we have been paying at Chinese buffets here on the weekend. As I wrote in my recent article about the Minado Japanese Buffet Restaurant that is just a few miles away from this one, if the price is high and you get great food and good value, it is worth it.

We were brought into the dining room by a hostess and there were four tables with people at them eating. We made five. Throughout the night, with goings and comings, there seemed to consistently be five tables full. This is a large restaurant and other dining rooms were closed. Five tables seated at a buffet is not a good thing for the restaurant. Yes, it was mid-week. Yes, it was very cold outside. But, the night before we were at OCB. It was just as cold and also a weeknight. OCB had a good number of tables full- many more than here. Of course, there is a big difference in price - about $4.70 more per adult - and it is likely that this made for the scarcity of diners at International on this winter's night.

I am not going to go into the set up of the buffet. If you read the earlier articles it is just about the same. We started, as we always do, with soup. There are a number of soups offered. In the long past, they were always known for their Lobster Bisque. In my past two visits it had not stood up to its former-self. I opened the hot tureen cover to take a look. I was hoping for the thick, orange soup that I once knew. I was pleasantly surprised to see just that. I scooped a cup full and eagerly returned to my table. This Lobster Bisque did not disappoint. The taste was as I remembered it should be. It was thick and had small chunks of lobster meat scattered throughout. It had just the right mild tang that a good bisque should give. I was very happy eating my soup. My wife, who as you know, goes for the more mundane things on most menus, had the wonton soup. The wontons are served in the broth in the tureen and not in a steamer to add to the broth. This is fine (and I find preferable). The wontons were large and good.

I moved next to the Sushi Bar and my wife went to the steamed dumplings. The Sushi Bar as I have said before is long and extensive with two Sushi chefs working behind it refilling serving plates as necessary. None of the sushi is labeled. Some of it is easy to recognize. Some of it is not, if you are not an avid sushi eater. I have become spoiled by the tuna that I ate at Minado several weeks back. That tuna there tasted like a fresh sea breeze. The tuna here was not bad but was not near that quality. The salmon was light and delicate, and was better than the tuna. As there few few diners some of the sushi rolls had sat too long and the rice had hardened on the outside. Overall it was sushi that was one small step above average Chinese buffet sushi, but I have had better at some local Chinese buffets (at lower prices).

I took my wife's lead and went to the dumplings next, but on the way was inticed by the cold shellfish area of shrimp, oysters on the half shell, clams on the half shell, and cold crab legs. I will not eat shucked shell fish at a buffet unless it is served on a heavy bed of ice and I make sure that each piece out is full of juice and moisture and has not been allowed to dry out. Raw shellfish can be dangerous stuff and it is always advisable to make sure of its circumstances before you take and eat it. With the few diners in the restaurant and not a great demand for the shellfish that would keep it replenished oftern, I looked closely at the oysters - as this was what was beckoning to me. The ice was thick and the oysters in the shells looked moist and fresh. I took a few, and also took a shrimp just to try it. The shrimp at the "old" International was terrific. The oyster was fresh to the taste, cold, and good. There was no sand and it came easily from the shell having been properly shucked and cut. The shrimp was good too - not as it used to be as it is in the shell, but each one has been deveined, which you rarely find these days. Another happy choice!

I finally got to the dumplings. There were steamed shrimp dumplings, steamed cake, several steamed bean filled cakes, sticky rice, and fried dumplings (off on another serving bar). I took the shrimp dumplings and the steamed cake. The shrimp dumplings had sat in the steamer too long - the shrimp was hard and chewy and the dumpling was falling apart. The steamed cake was good and my wife reports that the bean dumplings were good. The fried dumpling was good, but I prefer those made with a thicker dough wrapping. That is just my preference. They were fine. With the dumplings I took a sparerib. Spareribs at Chinese buffets are very much unlike the spareribs that I have had a menu or take out Chinese restaurants. Chinese spareribs should be nicely broiled without sweet sauce dripping from them or worse, floating in red, sugar sauce. They should have their own flavor and if you like them sweet there is always Chinese duck sauce to dip them in. Many Chinese buffets serve them in this red, sugar sauce. The tray of spare ribs at the grill area looked promising. The sparerib was ok, but they had coated it with that same sweet sauce.

Had the meal ended at this point I would have be writing a glowing review. Unfortunately, there the meal continued on to the entrees and went rapidly downhill. The reason for the meal's decline can be summed up in one simple sentence. Many things were not hot. They should have been, but the hot tables were keeping things just on the edge of warm moving to cold. There were many interesting dishes to choose from and I took a variety of things that I have never had before. With the great beginning to the meal I was anxous to try abalone and a dish called sea bass teriaki. There was a chicken dish of thinly sliced chicken with portabello mushrooms. I took a bit of each to try. Back at the table I took a bit of abalone. Cold. It was not meant to be cold. It had an interesting taste, but it was not palatable cold. I tried the chicken - a more familiar item - again, cold. The sea bass was just warm, but had so many bones in the chunk that it was difficult to eat. When I went back for another plate of food, I walked around all of the hot servers. Some had steam coming from around the serving trays, some did not. I passed a tray of corn on the cob. I so much wanted to take a photo of this to show you but it was too obvious to do. The corn looked like dried corn that you see in the Fall as decorations - or that you would use as feed for livestock. Cobs with kernals seperating from each other, wrinkled and dry. There was an entire tray like this. I had to bring my wife over to look. There was a young woman who was taking care of the buffet servers and the serving trays. She stirred some. Others she walked by. What she walked by was congealing in whatever liquid it had been cooked with. There was a try of sausage and peppers that looked untouched that had congealed over - and no doubt, as it much have sat there for hours untended - or taken away. I tried a Korean Seafood Pancake - very much like a Chinese scallion pancake, but again this was just warm and it had become hard and greasy sitting out. I was not certain what to take next. I did not want more lukewarm or cold "hot" food. At the grill there was half a beef roast for carving. It was marbled with white fat that had started to harden. It was definately out too long. There was a tray of snow crab legs. These looked hot and there were nice looking, moist part clusters to take. I decided to try these and these were good. There was good meat in the tops and the legs broke apart easily to release the meat inside. For a Chinese buffet these were above average. I must say that the other Chinese buffets in this area that serve crab legs don't come close to these. I went back to the cold shellfish - if I was going to eat something that was cold I decided that I wanted something meant to be cold. I took shrimp and enjoyed that.

I asked my wife if she was finding things "not hot". She told me that many things were just warm. She recommended one dish to me that she said was very good. I went just to take that and she was right. It was called Chicken Teppanyaki. This was an interesting dish of just chicken cut into small pieces and cooked in a sauce that was very good. And it was hot! Not spicy hot - temperature hot! I wish that I had found that earlier.

Dessert is an assortment of the Chinese Buffet "Little Debbie" cakes (which I have found out are commercially sold to the restaurants baked and packaged by a Chinese bakery in Chinatown, NY), puddings, fruits, jello, not good looking soft serve ice cream, and the famous Creme Carmel that was always one of the features of the original buffet here. The Creme Caramel was good. The cakes had sat out too long and were hardening.

I have been told a number of times that paying more for a meal means that you are getting a better meal. Not this night. You should not have a hard time finding something that looks good and is cooked and served correctly for this kind of money - or any kind of money. Maybe on a busy Saturday night everything would have been hot and all of the food that was out would have been appetizing. A winter night is a tough night to judge a buffet - but there was no discount for being here on an off-night. I still paid what I would pay on a busier night with more diners in the restaurant. My expectation is consistency- a busy night or a slow night should offer the same experience. What is the best that I can say? I expect that mid-summer or on a Saturday night things would be kept hotter and fresher as more people are in the restaurant taking them and creating a need for them to be replaced often. I am being fair to this restaurant that so many love by saying that. Will I go back? At some point I will go back and on a night that I figure that this restaurant should be on its best. Happily, the after dinner reaction that I experienced last September did not reoccur on this night - both of us were physically fine. We were dissappointed. We both agreed, had the food been the proper temperature we would have been happy. And it had gotten off to such a great start!

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

1 comment:

SurfRX said...

I would like to update. I went there last night and they must have seen your post of got other complaints about the temp, because everything was heated to perfection that I tried. I saw a great change in the menu items since the last time I have been there (maybe a year ago). They served seared and peppered tuna AND salmon at the sushi bar. They had spicy salmon cucumber wrapped rolls which aren't commonly seen even at non-buffet sushi places. Everything was above par, shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, chicken wings, muscles, clams, oysters, shrimp skewers. The only things I wasn't too fond of was the lobster bisque (tasted a little past its prime) and the baked clam. I ventured off and tried frog legs (wasnt a fan), and chicken feet, which I thought werent bad, just a bit boney. I did not try the crab legs or shelled shrimp, but they were large in size and looked delicious. Near the end of the night, one of the chefs was going around asking people for reqeusts. By that time I was stuffed to the brim, but I noticed another guy putting in a custom order, and the chef returned with a giant plate for him in about 10 minutes. I would say they definately stepped up their food quality, temperature, and service. I would give it an easy 8/10. Only reason it's not a 10 is because it IS still a Chinese buffet and it really is hard to keep everything perfect when you have 30-40 different dishes out at such a low price.