Friday, July 24, 2009

China Buffet - East Meadow, NY One More Time

In October 2006 and again in June 2007 I wrote about a Chinese buffet restaurant on Long Island in New York called the China Buffet. On my last visit - which was that night in June 2007 - it was not the best of experiences and we have not been back since. The restaurant never gave an impression of confidence that everything was clean - from the dining room to the buffet servers. And there was the overuse of MSG in the food.

We have talked about going back a number of times - as I wrote in the first article they are very close to us. Whenever the discussion would come up we would decide to go someplace else. Recently we decided that we would give it another try - as we are growing tired of the usual Chinese buffet that we have been going to for awhile. On this night, I said let's go there and see. And we did.

I must say right off that my first impression walking through the door and sitting down at the table is that the restaurant is definately cleaner - the dining room at least. The buffet area had some spills on the counters that a diligent restaurant employee would have wiped up right away - no one did. But overall in the two years, they are cleaner than they were - which is a good thing.

The price of the meal is now $11.99 every night for adults and unlimited soda is $1.00. The soda glasses say RC - Royal Crown. This is neither Coke nor Pepsi - not even close. It is fine enough though. The price is one of the lowest for a Chinese buffet in this area for many miles around - if not on the entire Island.

We started with the soup - wonton soup in broth. The wontons are served separately in a steamer next to the broth. There was nothing to add to the soup - no chopped scallions as you usually find for wonton soup at Chinese Buffets. The wontons were very light. The broth, however, was so salty that it was inedible. It tasted like sea water had been used to make the soup - maybe even saltier than that. We both ate the wontons and left the broth in our bowls. I was not encouraged from the start of this meal.

There have been some minor changes in the restaurant over the past two years. This buffet had a large, round Mongolian grill in the rear. In its place now is a small fry grill and a small char grill. I am not sure what the char grill is there for as there was nothing to charbroil. On the sign that says grill is a sign that says Sushi Bar. There always had been some sushi on the buffet - previously located next to the soups and it was there with cold peel and eat shrimp. Now there is a larger area on which Sushi can be spread out to serve. There is a small sign listing a number of different sushi rolls - but all that was out was a vegetable sushi, tuna rolls, and California rolls. I had some concern as what should have been a cold surface that they were sitting on was not cold. I took a few pieces to see how they were. Next to this was a tray with a little ice at the bottom and peel and eat shrimp in the tray. Behind that tray were raw clams on the half shell - also sitting on a little ice (though there was more ice under the clams than there was under the shrimp). I took some shrimp, trying to get some nearer the ice. The sushi, as suspected, was just about room temperature. I like to be very careful when it comes to eating raw fish and like to know that it is kept properly chilled to avoid bacteria. I had my concerns here. The same thing with the shrimp. A few shrimp - those that were right on the ice were cold enough; the rest were room temperature.

Most of the appetizers on the hot buffet were as I have described them in the past. I want to say that the entrees were limited and keep thinking what was missing. The problem is that much of what was out was either something sitting in a lot of oil or something that was made hot and spicy. I rarely have a hard time finding something. I walked around the server twice and had nothing on my plate. I decided to head over to the grill and see what I could put together myself from the mini-Mongolian grill. This option is always a good one when you can't find what you like as you can usually create something good.

When I started thinking about how I was going to start this article the phrase that kept coming to mind was "I wish I was a health inspector." A good start for a poor review, but I said to myself be fair and go slow. But here it is.

At the grill area were the meats and vegetables to place on your dish to put together your creation. The meats were chicken, beef, and pork. As I said in 2006, the meats are supposed to be frozen and kept that way until you take them. They were completely defrosted and sitting in their raw juices - as they were back in 2006. As I was there the grill cook sliced a roll of frozen chicken and a roll of frozen beef and added it to the top of the defrosted meats. I took the frozen meats that did not touch what was on the bottom. As I also said in 2006, there is only one serving tongs to take the meats - no individual tongs for each meat tray. So when someone takes raw chicken - which is naturally full of salmonella - and then the tongs are moved to the beef or pork, those meats are contaminated. Not to mention any allergic reaction that might result if you can't eat chicken but can eat beef, thinking the two have not touched. Or if you don't eat pork for religious reasons and the same tongs that served your chicken have also served someone pork. Oh... this is not good on so many levels. Now, moving on to the vegetables. The set up is three trays of items in a row and three rows of items. And there was only one serving tongs per row. So again, one tongs cross-contaminates three items should there be a problem with any one of those items. Now, you say, that all of those items go on your plate and then onto the hot grill all mixed together. Well, maybe, but there is supposed to be one serving piece per tray. Ah, if I could only hand out summonses. They would have gotten several for this and the temperature of the sushi and shrimp.

Did I not eat anything? No, I managed to create a plate at the grill despite the tongs. There were no real grill sauces like you usually find at these things. There was some soy sauce in a tray (at least I think it was soy sauce) and I saw some garlic and hot red peppers. They were mixed in with the cocktail sauce for the shrimp and the condiments so it was hard to figure what really was intended to go on the grill dishes. It was ok. I would have cooked the chicken longer as what I took was really frozen but it was just cooked through.

I added to my plate what the sign said were crabs in ginger sauce. What this was were small parts of snow crab tops, some with a small part of the leg still attached woked in ginger sauce. There was barely any crab meat to pull from these and the sauce on the shell was not as good as expected, so even sucking them for taste did not work.

I went back around after this to see if there was anything else I might take. I did take some sauteed string beans and added to that some sauteed mushrooms and the beef from the beef and peppers. Gone were the whole fish, shrimp with lobster sauce, and most of the dumplings that I remembered from the visits past. There were tasty pan fried pork dumplings and steamed dim sum which had been sitting too long in the steamer. Crab Rangoon - a triangle of dough filled with crab and cream cheese and deep fried were good - but the filling was sweeter than it should be - but even so it was tasty.

Do I have anything really good to say? Wait, I have not gotten to desert yet. Dessert was a pleasant surprise. There were real restaurant made desserts and not the commercial "Little Debbie"- type cakes that seem to be the staple now in most Asian buffet restaurants. There was a chocolate sheet cake - obviously baked on premises. There was no icing but it was nice moist chocolate cake. There was something else on a tray that was interesting looking and I took one. This was what seemed to be a fried or baked egg custard. It had the shape of a squashed cupcake - but not cake at all but a solid custard. It was exceptionally good - moist with oil on the outside, soft but solid on the inside with the taste of baked custard and just sweet enough to please. This was the best part of the whole meal and I went back for a second one, which was as good as the first.

So - I was hoping for better. I was hoping for a close by Chinese buffet that I would want to go back to. I am going to put this one to the side of my list of buffets I want to go back to and wait maybe another two years to see if it gets any better.

Despite the good dessert, pass this one by - more for the health concerns than for the food (though they really are connected).

The China Buffet is located at 394 Merrick Ave, East Meadow, New York and the phone number is (516) 489-2525.

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