Friday, June 26, 2009

Best Buffet - Huntington Station, New York

First, this is not an article about a BEST buffet, but rather a buffet that cleverly named itself, "Best". Several times over the past few years I have written about an Asian buffet on Long Island, New York that WAS very popular by the name of EAST. East Buffet had a fire in its kitchen a little less than a year ago and the restaurant closed. The restaurant closing was very surprising to many as it appeared that the restaurant was doing quite well and, as I say, was very popular. There was always a crowd and on some nights a wait to get in. The restaurant was a destination for many Asian people who the buffet focused its unusual and authentic dishes toward. But just like that, it closed. The damage from the fire was not evident outside and news reports centered it on the kitchen. The owners of East also run a buffet in Queens, New York, a borough of New York City. At the time there was a big fuss and stories in the news that the remaining East restaurant would not honor gift certificates that had been purchased for the East restaurant that had closed. Time went by and then there were further news stories - yes, this buffet was so popular that it sparked news stories - that the Huntington Station location that had burned was being purchased by a new owner. Eventually it was learned that the restaurant would be called Best. Now, note, E A S T - B E S T, hmmm. And when the sign went up on the front of the building several months ago it looked like they just moved the letters around - same letters and took out the A and just added a B. If you drive by and do not look close you would say that East is still open.

Best opened its doors in April with little fan fare. There were no newspaper ads. No big Grand Opening signs. The only way anyone knew they had opened was a few lines in the major newspaper on Long Island that said that the restaurant opened and the reviewer ran in during the day to look around inside. It seemed odd that the reviewer did not eat there. Over the month two reviews surfaced. Neither raving about the restaurant. Both making excuses that they went on a weeknight and it should be better on the weekend. Comments were made about dried out dishes and empty trays left unfilled. What was made known was that while there are new owners, the kitchen staff and chefs were the same former employees of East - and that Best would accept those gift certificates from East - a generous offer considering the owners of East refused them at their other restaurant. In May, a full page advertisement was taken out in the newspaper by Best. They tooted their horn, as they should, about their "grand opening" (a month late) and offered a 10% off coupon to come and try the buffet.

After what I had read about the weeknight buffet, I was reluctant to go on a week night, but then I decided that if this restaurant is going to survive it better be good any night of the week - and at the prices they are charging - they better not be short changing weeknight diners. So on a Thursday night, we took our coupon and went to Best Buffet.

The building is exactly the same as it was when the restaurant was named East and as I said the logo sign outside is identical with the substitution and interchange of the letters. The inside also has not changed at all with the possible exception of new table tops, though it is very possible they are the same and we just did not take notice before. The arrangement of the buffet servers is the same - the buffet servers are the same ones. There is still a counter around the back wall with chefs behind making char grilled appetizers, sushi and sashimi, slicing Peking Duck, and carving Prime Rib.

What is different is now you pay as you enter. The cashier - what she always was - takes your money and then seats you at your table. There is a floor sign board next to cashier's desk that has the prices. I wish we had read this board closely when we were going in, but it had not occurred to either of us that this board would hold any surprises and we just went up to the cashier who was beckoning us over to pay her. When I was told the price it seemed a bit high to me - almost $50 - considering the coupon and that the dinner price was supposed to be just $21.99. With the coupon that made the price $19.99 each. It was all a bit of a rush and we were escorted to our table. HAD WE READ THE SIGN FIRST we would have known that a 12% tip is automatically added to all checks. I did not know this. I generously tipped the server when we finished our meal. There was nothing said when we paid. The note on the sign was not obvious. I never figure that I need to look for the "fine print" when entering a restaurant. The price does include unlimited soft drinks or hot tea. The soda was neither Coke nor Pepsi but rather some off brand.

The price of the dinner is $21.99, Monday through Thursday nights, with lunch on those days plus Fridays at $11.99. Lunch is until 3, dinner starts at 5. Children's prices at those times are $9.99 and $6.99 respectively. Children's prices are for any child under four and one half foot tall. Children under three feet are free. Dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is $26.99 with children at $12.99. Lunch Saturday and Sunday is $16.99 with children at $9.99. There is a very obvious sign at the cash register that if you would like a lobster one will be brought ot you at the additional price of $5.99 each. All of these prices will have 12% added to them for a service charge (tip) when you pay. This is the most expensive Chinese/Asian buffet on Long Island. East was an expensive buffet restaurant as well, but it was not this expensive. East had always been a special occaison favorite so if this was as good or better, then the money might be worth the increase. Read on and see.

We started with soup. There are four soups offered. There was wonton broth with wontons in a steamer next to it, hot and sour soup, seafood soup, and New England (white) clam chowder. Over in the dessert section there are two additional soups, both traditional Chinese delicacies which are eaten with dessert - red bean soup and a sweet peanut soup. I took some of the hot and sour soup and I took a bowl of the wonton soup. The hot and sour soup was very good. It was flavorful but it was not too spicy. Too often hot and sour soup is overloaded with red pepper flakes and black pepper making it overwhelmingly spicy hot. This soup was seasoned so that you could taste the flavors of the ingredients in the soup. The wonton broth was basic and the wontons were bland. I wondered if they were filled with chopped chicken rather than pork, but the sign over the steamer identified them as pork wontons. They were too bland for pork - or at least not seasoned as wontons usually are. The wontons were bland and dissappointing.

I moved on next to the Sushi Bar. The fish offered on the sushi bar consisted of salmon, eel, and whitefish in various combinations and styles. It was good, but not knock me over wonderful sushi. I don't care for eel, not a fan of whitefish, so salmon was the thing. I tried dried salmon skin sushi, spicy salmon sushi, salmon rolls, salmon on rice, salmon alone, a smoked salmon rolled with cream cheese and salmon in combination with whitefish.

While I was eating sushi my wife had moved ahead to dumplings and appetizers. She picked grilled chicken charred on a stick. She gave me a taste and it was almost cold - just room temperature to say the least. She had taken tempura also and it was also just room temperature. Hmm. I went up to take appetixers and dumplings. This is where the old East excelled. There were always excellent appetizers off the grill. I took an assortment - pan fried dumpling, a shrimp ball, grilled short rib slice, grilled pork chop, a shrimp tempura, and a fixed for me by the chef Peking Duck with self added sauce, shredded cucumber and scallion. I also went over to take a look at the cold buffet that had a variety of prepared salads, salad bar, and several cold Chinese dishes. I took from the cold buffet a rolled tofu pancake filled with mushrooms, a braised slice of tofu, and a small ball of mozzerella cheese from an Italian appetizer salad. The items on the grill were all sitting on top of vegetables and this all was sitting on hot serving trays - each with a heating control at the side. Each of the items from the grill were just room temperature. I purposely took pieces toward the bottom nearest the supposedly heated tray just to be sure I was getting hot food. As it sat on my plate it got colder. Had each been hot it would have been good. As it was, it was just fair and dissappointing because it should have been hot and would have been good. The cold items that I took were also dissappointing. The rolled tofu pancake had an odd filling that did not resemble mushrooms. The piece of mozzerella cheese that I took was hard and bland. The Peking Duck was very good though the duck was very salty. It was warm and tasty. The pan fried pork dumpling also came from the grill and was just warm. The shrimp dumbling was from the steamer so it was hot. It was very unusual with several whole shrimp mixed with corn kernals in a batter and seemed to be fried before it was steamed. It was not as good as it seemed it should be. It was ok.

Entrees here, as they were when this was East, are varied and very unusual. There are two double buffet servers that are filled with double rows of trays with many different items. On top of each set of trays going along and down the middle are additional ceramic dishes with more items. Now, before I go further let me say to those who are asking - is it fair to compare Best to East, which is gone forever? You can't help but compare the two. They may call this Best but this is East under new management. Even all of the dishes still say East. Many of the selections are those that were found at East. The average guy walking in who had been to East who did not look close at the sign would tell you that this was still East. (Just not as good.)

So the entrees - what makes them unusual? How about quail? Ever had baked pumpkin with 5 spices? There were many dishes with seafood. Scallops in black pepper sauce. Chinese style steak. Fillet mignon in a semi-sweet sauce. Dried sauteed string beans. Peking pork chops. There were several variations of crab including large snow crab legs (pieces and not clusters - but big pieces), half stone crabs, stuffed crabs (at the grill), and a whole cold crab at the cold buffet server. There were so many Chinese entrees that you don't find on the usual Chinese buffet that it is impossible to list them all without going on forever. Along with all of this there were common items as well - fried rice, lo mein, spare ribs, boneless spare ribs, fried fish, mixed oriental vegetables, fried sections of flounder, shrimp with lobster sauce, and on. And this is only the oriental offerings. There was chicken marsalla, seafood lasagna, fettichini alfredo, fried potatoes, and chef carved prime rib - along with other dishes. Was there enough choices - absolutely. Were they good?

The temperature of the food from the hot buffet servers varied greatly - and again, too many dishes were just warm and got cooler as they were on my plate. This was not just the dishes that were added on top down the middle but the food in the trays in the hot steam table. Everything was tasty, but it need to be hot. Some items that had just been placed out from the kitchen were nicely hot, but this was too few and far between. And it just should not be. If the steam serving table is set properly everything should remain hot. It does in the majority of buffets - why not here? Some things I purposely went to the bottom of the tray to take so that it would be hot. It made a difference for some dishes but not for all. At one point hot shrimp tempura came out of the kitchen and I purposely took some just to see if it was different from the cool piece I had earlier - and it did!

One of my favorites from the old East was the Italian eggplant Parmasean and the fettichini alfredo. Odd that these would be found at a Chinese buffet and be good, but they were. They were here on the buffet as well. The fettichini was close. The eggplant was covered with cheese that was hard (again, mozzerella) and did not have much flavor. Ah well.

It is important to mention that just because something is labeled it does not mean here that what it says is what it is. There was a hot tray labeled chicken terriaki. My wife likes chicken terriaki and took some. She took a bit and looked at me. She took another bite and said to me, "I don't think this is chicken. It does not taste like it or feel right in my mouth." I tried a bit and it was not chicken but fish. My wife does not eat fish. She does not like its taste or what it feels like eating it. This fish was particularly stringy. Wrong labels is not a good thing in a world full of people with alergies.

Let's move along to dessert. Now, dessert here, as it once was at East, is the most unusual of all of the Chinese buffets. I mentioned earlier about the two Chinese dessert soups. There was a hot tray half full of boiling water with egg custard cups in the water. There are a variety of cookies. One was a winter melon cake. There are a number of small cakes - each just a small sample. But, of course, you take all that you care to. I tried what was called "small cheesecake". It did not taste at all like cheese cake but was very good. It was like a ball of coconut covered gelatin. A cake called Chocolate Mouse Cake was actually a thin layer of chocolate cake with a thick layer of chocolate mouse gelatin on top. I tried a blueberry cheese pastry that had no cheese but was good with blueberries in a pastry bowtie. A lemon cake was two small layers of cake with no lemon on top but rather apricot. Despite the names, it was all good and a very far step from the usual "Little Debbie" cakes that all Chinese buffets are serving lately. There was also fresn fruit, melon, puddings, jello including one called grass jelly, and soft serve ice cream. Dessert was very good.

Service was very good. Plates were cleared quickly and soda glasses were refilled. Oddly, the servers were not oriental but hispanic, as were many of the people behind the counter at the grills.

Was the food not hot because it was sitting too long because this was a slow week night. No. The restaurant was not full but it was busy. There were many people dining and there were tables full throughout the time we were there.

What I learned about this buffet is to watch what is being put out and go right over to get it. Take it while it is hot because if it stays - even in the hot servers - it will not remain hot very long.

IF the food had been consistently hot we both would have been very happy. If the food was consistently hot and the price was less we would go back. I am sure that eventually, perhaps when there is a coupon, we might go back to see if this buffet can get its temperatures correct. I really want to tell you to make sure you do not miss the wonderful variety and unusual dishes that are here. I can't do that with the temperature of the food as it was. If someone of influence from Best Buffet is reading this please make note of this. Perhaps this too is what made those other reviewers warn about week nights - but you know, weeknight or weekend, there is no excuse or reason for cold food from hot buffet servers with temperature controls that can be raised or on hot tray servers. And a health inspector with a food thermometer would have a field day giving out fines.

Best Buffet is certainly not BEST. It is OK, but not best.

Best Buffet opens at Noon every day. There are a variety of conflicting signs about closing times. The best guess is that it closes at 9 every night except Friday and Saturday when it closes at 10. The address is 179 Walt Whiteman Road (Route 110 N) in Huntington Station in New York on Long Island - about a little less than half way to the Hamptons. Their business card shows a web site - http://www.best-buffet.com , however, while I am writing this it does not work. If it ever gets connected I will link it at the side.

4 comments:

Conroy said...

Their website is up now and has a comment section, if you care enough to leave a comment about the food temperature.

It seems a shame to do everything right and then screw up on keeping the food properly heated.

Robert A said...

I really looked forward to this opening. Food temperature is vitally important for health reasons and for enjoyment of the meal.

Thanks for letting me know about the website.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your very well written article. It saved me the trip to Huntington. Best to you.

Writer said...

There is an updated review of this buffet in an article in January 2011 and it is much more positive. I would not rule out this buffet.