Friday, February 27, 2009

China Buffet City, North Babylon, New York Again

In August 2006 I reviewed a Chinese buffet on Long Island in New York by the name of China Buffet City. Since then I have written about it several times including one article all about the turkey they served there. I go there frequently. It has changed a lot since my first visit in 2006 and I thought that I might update you all on the major changes.

The prices at the restaurant have gone up - as have every buffet's prices. Increase each price that I listed by a dollar. The prices here two years ago were higher than many buffets in the area but now they are all about the same with some even higher.

There is no more turkey. So if you are intrigued by my article about their turkey - forget it. No more turkey. For a while they replaced the turkey with a pork roast which was also very good, but several months ago that was gone as well. There is nicely cooked steak/beef that is left for you to slice yourself . As long as the piece has not become dry and overdone on the buffet server this is good. This steak had been offered all along with the turkey or the pork, now it is the only thing that remains. I do miss that turkey.

For some reason the chefs at this restaurant feel that salt is a necessary ingredient to everything that is prepared and they add it to excess. Some dishes are too salty to eat. I am not talking about what appeals to those who eat a low salt diet, but to even those who will add salt to their food. Much of the food here is too salty. All of the dishes would benefit from much less salt.

With the increase in prices other selections, aside from the turkey, have changed. There seems as if there is not as much to choose from. Good dishes have been replaced with things like tacos - tacos in a Chinese restaurant? The appetizer items have increased while the entree dishes have decreased. When I wrote the original article in 2006 I said that you were getting a lot of meat and seafood here. This is not so much so anymore.

There remains a good assortment of sushi and they have improved by keeping the sushi chef present behind the counter most of the night. There was a time that if you arrived after an early hour for dinner the sushi chef was gone and what he made last was all that was left in the selection. The sushi is refilled now throughout the night and is better than at many of the more expensive Chinese buffets.

Rather than Chinese-style spare ribs, they serve their version of barbecue ribs. The rack of ribs is put out with the ribs sliced off the rack. They are covered on the top with a barbecue sauce. If it were not for the flavor of this barbecue sauce - not quite what you would expect barbecue sauce to taste like - these ribs would be good. The sauce they are making or using is overwhelming and because of that I tend to avoid the ribs.

I find myself eating the best of what I can find when I dine here and not very much of the dishes that I would normally select in a Chinese buffet. I can make up a good meal of sushi, peel and eat shrimp, and sliced steak. This is ok, but it should be better.

Am I saying not to go here? No. I still go there. Am I saying it could be better - and is not as good as it once was? Yes. If you need to eat low sodium or salt-free do not go here.

Oh - my recommendation to go to International Buffet in Carle Place, NY instead of here also no longer holds. That was the original International Buffet - which no longer exists in that form and now China Buffet City is a far better value for less money and not so different offerings. Though there is no salt problem at the "new' International Buffet.

There is no website for this restaurant. The address is 1114-1116 Deer Park Avenue in North Babylon (just north of the Southern Parkway) The buffet is on the back side of the shopping center, the side nearest the parkway. The telephone number is 631-274-0888.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Old Country Buffet Theme Nights

Old Country Buffet has had un-named theme menu nights in the past. Tuesdays had Italian dishes, Wednesdays had Chinese dishes, Fridays were seafood, etc. The newest announcement on the floor to ceiling menu poster at Old Country Buffet is now a theme for every night. Mondays are called "Meat Lovers Monday". Tuesdays are "Italiano Tuesday". Wednesdays are "Tex-Mex Wednesday". Thursdays are "BBQ Thursday". Fridays are "Seafood Friday". Saturdays are "Family Saturday". Sundays are "Homestyle Sunday". There is no announcement about this on the OCB website. They are still fixated on their take out offer and their menu listings are no different than they have ever been and generally outdated. What I have recentlylearned is that they bring these features now to different areas at different times.

When I saw this sign at the OCB I thought, "Wow, they are bringing the monthly features that they have had in the past to one night each week". There have been some good and not so good monthly features in past years. There has not been a monthly feature for some time - perhaps relating to the fact that they have been in bankruptcy. As they are supposed to be coming out of bankruptcy now, perhaps they are ready to vary the menu again and motivate business. The barbecue feature was always good. Tex-Mex has not been a feature for a few years but back then it was good. This could be interesting.

So far I have tried two of the theme nights - Italiano Tuesday and BBQ Thursday. I must say that my anticipatory excitement was all for nothing.

I will start with Italiano Tuesday. What was on the buffet was no different from what has been on the buffet on Tuesday nights for a long time. As I said in the beginning Tuesdays in recent years has offered Italian food on the buffet. What is offered now are the same dishes as were there in the past - but now they have a name for it, "Italiano Tuesday".

What was I expecting? I thought that I would find some dishes that have not been offered before. There was one, Chicken Parmagean. OCB has had chicken parmagean before, but now it is made with chunks of real chicken breast meat and not processed chicken patties. The fried chicken chunks were covered in mozzerella cheese and baked with tomatoe sauce. From the pan to the dish the food was rather dry. It was situated next to the tomato sauce for the spagetti and a scoop of that added on top made the dish moist and pretty good. Another dish offered has been offered for a number of months on Tuesdays and that is OCB's version of what is called in some areas stromboli, in others sausage bread, and in still others calzone (though this is nothing like real Italian calzone). This is baked dough filled with mozzerella, saugage, and peperoni. Had this not been sitting and allowed to dry out it would have been better. The system at OCB is to put the food waiting to come out to the buffet servers in a warming cabinet where they are accessible to the floor staff who refill the buffet. Food can sit there for some time and while there continues to cook from just standing and from the heat of the cabinet and get dry. As a result the dough was very dark on the outside and hard. The fillings were tasty but needed to be moister. As I write this I realize that a scoop of tomato sauce might have helped that as well. But you know, you are not supposed to have to fix up what they are serving on the buffet to make it right. Of course, the spagetti was there and there was also spagetti with a cream and cheese sauce. Nothing at the carving area was Italian. For those of us who are still seeking a good Italian buffet with a variety of Italian dishes, we must keep searching - perhaps in vain.

BBQ Thursday! I have really liked the barbecue month features that OCB has had in the past. When I went on BBQ Thursday this is exactly what I was expecting. I should not have bothered. BBG Thursday is just like every other Thursday last month, last year, and the years before that. Beef ribs have always been on the buffet on Thursday nights. Add to that the grilled pork that has come onto the buffet on Thursday nights since grills were added to OCB kitchens - and often frighteningly undercooked for pork, and honey barbecue riblets. No baby backribs, a barbecue month dish from the past, no Kansas City ribs that are offered on the weekends now, not even any backed barbecue beans. Instead of barbecue beef brisquit at the carving area, there was ham. There was not really anything to make the Thursday night feature special. The honey barbecue riblets are short one inch cuts of ribs, cut along several ribs so that you are eating the meat inbetween. These ribs were tough, burned, hard to get the meat off the bones, and overly sweet. If you are craving barbecue this is not going to do it.

So - the theme nights are pretty much a wash out. Even though this is only two nights of seven it is more than enough to know to expect no more than the usual OCB menu. Another dissappointment served up by Old Country Buffet.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Takeout at the Old Country Buffet

As you probably are aware, or perhaps you are not, that you can "takeout" the buffet at lunch or dinner at Old Country Buffet. This is not new. It was introduced several months ago. It costs $3.99 to take out the lunch buffet or $7.99 to take out the dinner buffet.

Buffet takeout is not unusual. Many of the Chinese buffets do this. It is usually done by giving you a styrofoam, lidded container and you choose what you want, it is weighed, and you are charged by the pound for what you have taken. There generally are rules that you cannot take all of one item and that there must be an assortment of what you take.

I watched some people who were taking out the buffet at dinner at Old Country Buffet recently and realized that this is not the case at OCB. You could take everything and as much as anything that you want as long as you get it into the container and it closes (though that is not so much the case either).

I watched one man in particular. He did nothing wrong. What he did was pile on as much of everything that he wanted into that container. Now, it was all on top of each other - mixing in to each other, but so many people at buffets fill their plates this way that this is nothing unusual. As I watched I was certain that he could not get that container closed. He placed it down and pushed that lid down on top squeezing down everything inside until it could be snapped closed with the two little tabs on the front. As he filled heaping portions into the container no employee said anything to him. You pay for this as you enter, so he could leave either by the unattended door at the side of the dining room or the front door. He left through the front door and no one said a word to him. Yes, the buffet is all you care to eat, and taking out the buffet limits what you can take in regard to what you have to carry it out in - but there is an almost five dollar difference between the take out price at $7.99 and the weeknight dinner buffet price of $12.39.

This all got me thinking. While it is impossible - because of how the takeout is structured at the Chinese buffets - weight and the requirement to take an assortment - to do this with other buffet takeouts, it is very possible that one could fill an OCB takeout container with all meat - perhaps several steaks. Or all shrimp. Or any of the other items that if purchased in any other takeout would cost a whole lot more than $7.99! You could plan a party and feed your guests very economically - and well - with OCB takeout. Did this occur to OCB when they set up this buffet takeout feature? Now that I have pointed this out will someone at Buffets, Inc Corporate pull in the offer or restructure it?

I am not suggesting that you do this - though by how the takeout offer is offered, it is perfectly legal to do. I just thought this so not usual that I would share it with you.

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.