Friday, January 08, 2010

Third Time Try at China Buffet, East Meadow, NY

I have written about this Chinese buffet several times. It is local to me and at one time we had been eating there semi-regularly. If you read my past reviews you will know why that stopped. My last review was in July 2009 - not so long ago.

A few weeks ago there was an ad for this restaurant in one of the local community newspapers. The ad was for the NEW China Buffet - same address as this restaurant. We wondered - new owners and new name? - new name? - or just a ploy to make you think this is someplace new? There was a two dollar off coupon and we pulled the ad and set it aside. I was not sure what would make me go back so soon after my last visit.

A very wet and raining night with a serious "Nor"Easter storm forecast as the night progressed had us wondering where we would go for dinner on our usual dinner night out. It was too wet to head out to far and we had been to OCB just a few nights before. Hmm, how about China Buffet? We actually have always referred to this restaurant as the "little buffet". While the actual size of the restaurant is large, only a very small portion of the dining room space is ever used - and rarely is that crowded, so it gives the impression of a small restaurant - and those in comparison to others that we go to this became the "little buffet". Sure said my wife and reminded me that we have a coupon. We searched out the coupon and off we went into what had not yet become the storm that was predicted.

We arrived at the restaurant to find that the name outside was still China Buffet - not New China Buffet and that all from the outside and all on the inside looked the same. One thing that was noticeable right away was the the floors looked cleaner than usual, which for here is a good thing. Right off I will say that I do not believe that there is anything new as implied in the ad about this restaurant. The dishes offered were all the same. The price is the same and so on. I will say that there were some changes for the better. Maybe they read my last article because a few of my comments were addressed by changes for the better.

This is one of the least expensive buffet restaurants in this area - perhaps it is THE least expensive of restaurants that always serve buffet. The adult price for dinner is $11.99. Unlimited soda is $1. The two dollar coupon brought the dinner price down to $9.99. Children's prices are according to age at $1 per year - which still comes up to $8 for an eight year old - but you make out with younger children compared to children's prices at other Chinese buffets on Long Island (NY). Of course, there is that old saying that you get what you pay for - and in the past that was oh so true here. Now things have improved SOME and this saying does not fully hold true anymore as you are getting a bit more than you are paying for now. The prices are the same here every day of the week. There is a lunch price of $6.99. Soda is not Coke or Pepsi products. It is presumed to be RC as that is what is printed on the glasses. It does not taste like either Coke or Pepsi.

First improvement - the soup broth was not salty. On the last visit the soup was so salty it could not / should not be eaten. On this night the soup was fine. Nothing really was too salty.

Second improvement - there was plenty of ice under the raw seafood. The sushi was adequately cold - though there was little choice out on this night. It looked as if there had been a lot more out earlier, but it was not replaced. There was a tray of raw clams and oysters on the half shell and it was loaded with ice under the shells. I did not try one however - call me "chicken" - I am cautious and will only eat raw shellfish if I am absolutely certain of it. The peel and eat shrimp have been moved to the salad area and they too were sitting on a thick bed of ice in a bowl in the cold salad server. The shrimp that I took were ice cold when I ate them. I will comment, however, that the cocktail sauce was the strangest, thinnest I have ever seen or tried. It was a brownish color - I had to taste it when I got it back to the table to be sure it was not sweet duck sauce because that was what it looked like. It tasted like watered down, very week cocktail sauce. Certainly not the thick red tomato and horseradish sauce that is cocktail sauce. It had a small taste of horseradish and almost no taste of tomato. There was a serving container of it next to the shrimp. I went over again to where the clams are to see if the same sauce was there - and yest it was - exactly the same brown, weak sauce. No big deal really, unless you came for the cold shrimp with cocktail

There are also hot, steamed crab legs on the buffet. They are single legs and not full clusters. If you like crab legs then this is a real deal as for this money you cannot get crab legs anywhere else in this area. At one point the tray was low and a customer asked to have more brought out. The woman told the customer that she would come to her table and tell her when they were ready. A very short while later another tray of crab legs came out.

Third Improvement - there were separate serving tongs for the raw meats at the Mongolian Grill. This was a major part of my last review. There were still not enough tongs for the raw vegetable selections, but while not good, this is not as dangerous as the cross-contamination of moving the chicken tongs into the pork and then into the beef and back again to the chicken. These plastic tongs cannot cost more than a few dollars each - if that much. About ten more sets would put this area of the buffet completely straight.

There are not many Mongolian Barbecues left in this area. This one has been much modified from the large round griddle that was here when we would come years back. There is a small rectangular griddle with enough room for one dish at a time. There is no one at the grill until someone comes over to the the area and starts filling a plate with raw meat and vegetables - then someone appears and gets the griddle going. The meat that were out where not frozen as they should be and usually are at these grills. They seemed cold enough. There were this time - and not last time two sauces and and some condiments like hot peppers and garlic to add to your plate before it is cooked. The man cooking took a lot of time with the preparation and made sure that everything was thoroughly cooked. I had put together some beef, bean sprouts, carrots, mushrooms, and greens covered in the brown sauce. It was cooked well and was quite tasty.

Moving around the regular buffet server there were dishes to choose from this time - which there had not been on the last visit. Mostly it was the usual - almost standards in this area - chicken with broccoli and beef with peppers and onions. There were a few shrimp dishes including a stuffed shrimp that was ok. Lo mien noodles were good as was the fried rice. With the ability to create your own dish at the grill there is a way to please most.

There was a dish of small blue crabs in ginger sauce which I though that I would like to try. When I went close to take some I found that this dish needed serious tending and was pretty much unappetizing. Only a few of the other dishes needed attention. Most were freshly put out or had been stirred together to keep them moist. One thing that was evident was that most dishes were refilled when needed. There were just a few trays that sat empty the time we were there with evidence that they had held something earlier.

Dessert was the same as in July and very nice. There was the chocolate sheet cake that I described in my last review and also the custard tarts. The tarts were not as good as I remember them to be but they were still good.

The serving staff was very good. The restaurant is cleaner. The young lady that was our server promptly took away finished dishes and also came and asked if we would like more soda.

So maybe now the China Buffet is not all that much a pass this one by. It is OK. It is not great. It is not a go there before all others. The problem around here now is there are not many others to go to any more. Will I go back? Probably. Would I recommend it? I would have to describe it and tell a few stories with any recommendation. You have read the stories, know the history as I have told it, and have had me describe it for you. Am I recommending that you go? Check my other area buffet selections first. Are you in the mood for cheap all you care to eat crab legs? Then you will like this place for the money.

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


I went back one week later - same night of the week. This time there were only two tongs out for the three raw meats - at least there was one for the raw chicken. The other was shared by the raw beef and raw pork. Will it take an inspector to walk in to this restaurant to give them a clue?

I also tried the crab legs and they were very good. There are individual legs, not clusters. They are put out fairly regularly. There are nut crackers available if you need them. There is melted butter in the front near the soups (and not near the crab legs). If you go up and find that there are only a few left in the pan and they are underwater, skip them. Ask when the next tray is coming out and wait.

On this night everything was well tended and no trays were left empty.

Except for the tongs at the Mongolian bbq meats, there was even more improvement here.


SkippyMom said...

I too feel it is wrong to not have adequate serving utensils for the meat, but I am wondering - and please let me know if I have this right - you are putting raw meat on a plate with raw vegetables, which in turn is given to the chef to cook on his grill.

Doesn't it touch on the plate on the way to the chef or on the grill when he is cooking [all of] it to temp? And raw meats that are cooked to temp kill any type of salmonella - it is when you eat raw products or uncooked items that have been tainted by the virus that you can become ill.

As I said I find it unsanitary not to have three tongs - but as long as it is cooked through you will be fine. :)

And I LOVE $1 sodas - and RC - wow, that brings back memories. I am really a coke girl but I remember the special treat of an RC growing up. YUM!

Anonymous said...

I was a restaurant inspector for Orange County, FL for 14 years and then moved into administration for the county health dept. You are a brave man. We would have shut that restaurant down on the spot based on your current description and the prior review from July 2009. I counted five violations of our county FSC (food and sanitary code) based on your excellent description. All would be considered "Primary-Tier I" which carry substantial fines and immediate closure to protect the public well-being. You and your wife are taking a huge chance with your health until and unless they clean up their operation at that restaurant. You should think about that.
By the way, we all enjoy your blog here in the Sunshine State!
--Ralph J.