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.