Friday, January 29, 2010

A Bowl of Udon and a Crepe Too Far

It was time for our annual "office party for two". Both my wife and I work at home and decided a few years back when this started that just because we work at hoem we should not miss out on the "Holiday" party. As we dine out regularly, going to just any restaurant is not much of a party. BUT, going to a restaurant that we can't generally afford for "just a night out" would be something special. Now with almost two feet of snow on the ground and icy night roads, there was not too far that we could venture off to - so those big priced all you can eat lobster restaurants in other states were out. No, even without the snow, I knew where I wanted to go. It has been a year since we went to Minado Japanese Seafood buffet and when the subject of Holiday Party came up in discussion, memories of Minado came to mind! And this is a restaurant - while not very, very high priced, is high for us for "just dinner out". And saving this for special occasions, keeps it special.

I wrote extensively describing Minado in January 2009 and I will not repeat all that I wrote there. In a year the price at Minado has gone up a dollar - both on weeknights and on the weekends, making the weeknight dinner $28.95 per person and the weekend dinner $31.99. As I say - high (for me) for a weeknight meal, but as this was our "party" it was just fine. Soda is an additional $2.00 and there are refills.

I had a lot of anticipation about returning to Minado. Sometimes when something is so good you can build it up in your mind and remember it beyond what it actually is. This was not the case and it remains as I remember it. It was at Minado that I tasted really good, sushi quality raw fish. And since I have compared the sushi tuna and salmon that I have had at the usual Asian buffets to this really fresh and quality fish and know that there is quite a difference. The sushi and other sushi bar offerings - there are so many terms for these in Japanese at sushi restaurants that I will not try to identify what belongs to what category. I eat it and I like it - as long as I know the kind of fish that it is, I don't care what the technical category is that identifies it - any way, I was saying - these are plentiful and of great variety. Many types of fish, alone or in many combinations, are found here with several chefs standing behind the counter making more and replacing or refilling the trays out for you to take from. Here, as in another real Japanese sushi buffet that I have been to, some selections come out and are replaced when they are empty by another variety. Something that I have only had here - Tuna Tataki - a slightly seared and seasoned on the edges slice of tuna raw in the middle on a loaf of rice - was there when I first went up to the sushi area - took two pieces - and then when I went back later in the evening, and actually not too long before closing, was gone and not put out again. (My wife suggests that because of the time and what is required of this slightly cooked tuna, it was too late to put out more.) While I would have liked another piece, I did have two to start, and another sushi choice had taken its place on the counter.

Food is in abundance here. There is more out than one can possibly sample all in one visit. The variety is overwhelming and there are things that will more than satisfy most tastes - even if one does not eat fish - which describes my wife. In addition to the sushi there is a counter full of prepared Japanese salads and cold dishes. So many combinations of noodles, shrimp, seaweed, greens, mushrooms, fish and more is found. There was a Beef Tataki which, like the tuna, is raw beef sliced very thin that has been seared and seasoned only slightly on the edges, so essentially it is raw beef. As I like my beef raw, this was not too far from how I eat beef anyway - but it is not something you are bound to find at just any buffet. I had passed this buy a year ago - I had to try it this time and did go back for more.

One thing that struck me on this visit was that the heat of the seasoning has been turned up a notch - some things were spicier hot that I remembered. This was true for some of the cold dishes and some of the hot entrees. Everything is labeled in detail with what the ingredients are - something rarely found at any buffet, but there is no indication of spicy or mild. The labeling of dishes here is excellent. It is very easy to avoid anything that you do not like or may not want to try.

We both started the meal with a freshly prepared in front of you bowl of udon noodle soup. Thick, round, long noodles are cooked in hot water, placed in a bowl and covered with additional items that you indicate to the chef including shrimp tempura. All of this is covered with steaming broth. I love this soup. From there, for me it was off to the sushi, and for my wife it was off to the several types of steamed and fried dumplings that they have. All good.

The entrees were were the same and also were varied to what was there last year - all still good. After a small sampling of several, I headed to the Hibachi grill where you can choose one or two selections of steak, chicken, scallops, shrimp, and fish. I picked scallops and beef. On to the grill he put a thin slice of steak and about ten nice sized scallops. It struck me that this was more scallops than you get in an average dinner order at a menu restaurant - and this was all for me. To this he added vegetables - bean sprouts, large and thick slices of onion, mushrooms, and zucchini. He asks you first if you want vegetables. That is all that he asks as he proceeds to grill it all and add a variety of liquid condiments, a little garlic, and other things until it is time to add hot spices. He asked - and I said no. And no hot spices went in - perfect. He cuts it all as it is cooking into small bite size pieces and continues to grill - no show with spinning knives like at the hibachi restaurants where they cook at your table - but no show was needed. He put all of this onto my plate when it was done. I went over to the hot buffet and added a side of Japanese fried rice - a lighter version of Chinese fried rice - and I went back to my table. It was very good. The scallops were exceptionally good. This was a full and heaping plate of food - equal or more so to what one would get on a menu. After finishing this dish, there is not much room for more.

My wife asked me an interesting question when we first began to eat. Do people eat more in a restaurant like this where the price is high just so that they feel that they have gotten their money's worth? I looked around at the other tables and told her that I did not think so. First, I am sure many people who dine there regularly do not think that they are paying a high price. Compared to many restaurants in this over-priced restaurant region (in fact according to Zagget's the most over priced restaurants in the country including more so than New York City) the price here is average to perhaps below average. NOT FOR ME, but for some. I do think that this type of restaurant and buffet attracts a different type of person than the lower priced buffets and restaurants. The one thing to keep in mind about Minado is that what you are getting is quality and the abundance of what you are getting really is value for the money spent.

No, it was not the money that kept me going. It was however, the idea that it will be a while before I am back and I wanted more of a good thing. So after the plate of hibachi grill I went back up to see what else I could sample. I took a little bit of this and that - some things that I had before and some things that I missed. This was when I went back to look for the tuna tataki. All the while the crepe grill in the corner has my eye and dessert crepes are to be had. But, did I stop at that plate. No! Breaking my own rule of stop when you think you should, I went back up again. After all, I did not feel full. I decided, as my wife sat and watched, that I would have more of what I enjoyed most at the beginning of the meal - another bowl of udon noodle soup. Ah, the mind and eyes truly are bigger than the stomach. I got about halfway through that wonderful bowl of soup and decided maybe I shouldn't have. I did, however, and I finished it.

Dessert is a variety of little squares of cake - of varieties beyond the little Asian buffet cakes often found - fresh fruit, jello, soft serve ice cream, and made to order hot crepes with fruit, whipped cream, and/or chocolate - your choice in any combination. The crepes are made on a round griddle. A stack have been pre-made and are kept hot next to the griddle to keep the crepes moving out to the waiting diners without delay. You tell the lady what you want inside, she puts one of these crepes back on the griddle and then scoops on what you would like. It sits for a bit and then is slid onto your plate. What I don't understand is that she puts on the whipped cream first - on the crepe still on the hot griddle. It does stay intact but when you are back to your table and eating it much of it is now just cream and not whipped cream. No matter - it tastes just as great. I stared with a crepe with whipped cream and chocolate. I followed that with a small square of tiramisu (ok, but nothing like the real one at Buffet Europa) and also a small cup of flan. My wife had the soft serve green tea ice cream. I tried a taste of hers and it was good. That should have been the end of the meal. Yes, it should have been the end of the meal - but that crepe griddle was calling to me, "Come back for another!" Foolish me. I listened. Yes, I was back up at the crepe grill asking for another whipped cream and chocolate crepe. And I ate it too.

And thus the title of this article. Yes, I went one bowl of udon noodle soup and one chocolate and whipped cream crepe too far. I was all right - but I was not comfortable. I can't eat as much these days as I once did - and I do recall those nights years ago of several walks around the parking lot before getting into the car to try to digest - even just a little. I was ok, but I did have an uncomfortable drive home and the freezing cold air did not help. But it did not spoil this wonderful dinner and evening. It was a fabulous holiday office party for two that rivals and surpasses many office parties that I have been to when I actually worked in an office.

Will I go back to Minado? Absolutely - but for me this is a special dinner for a special occasion.

Minado has several locations mostly in New Jersey, one in Pennsylvania, one in Massachusetts, and one in New York - this one in Carle Place.There is also a second group of restaurants under a different name called Nori-Nori. The New York location of Minado is located at 219 Glen Cove Rd, Carle Place, New York. Their telephone number is 516-294-9541. There is a website and the link is at the side of this page. Hours may always vary from location to location so check on the website before you go. On the website you will find details for all of the locations. Be aware that they did come around fifteen minutes before closing to say that it was last call before the food would be taken away. This is nice of them to do - not all buffets are so courteous.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chicken Feet and Crispy Quail

All you can eat chicken feet - sounds like a hillbilly buffet! Follow that up with all you can eat crispy quail. Quail are little cute birds that run through the forest. They look like cartoon characters. They actually taste quite good. The steamed chicken feet were a bit odd. They were very gelatinous and when the skin, fat, and tiny bit of meat pulled away from the bones, you could see all of the joints of the chicken toes connecting to the chicken feet. It was something to behold and to try not to think about as you swallow.

So what buffet did I go to that had these unusual buffet offerings? These both, along with several other unusual dishes were on the Saturday night buffet at D.J.'s International Buffet in Garden City, New York. I have been to International Buffet many times and I have written several articles about it. The last article was this past October. You may recall that this is a restaurant that was very well known and popular and then it closed for renovations for a year. When it finally reopened everyone who knew it was waiting anxiously to return. When I returned - as I wrote about - I was very disappointed. All of what was good had changed - and in its place was not so great a dining experience. That was a bit of time ago and since things have steadily gotten better. It never fully came back to what it had been, but it is not too far off now.

This is not an inexpensive buffet. It is primarily Chinese with Japanese and some American foods mixed in. Saturday night (Friday and Sunday too) the price of the buffet is $24.99 with an additional $1.25 for soft drinks. The price of the bill with tax and tip for two on Saturday night is over $60. This is not something that I can do regularly. I am sure many can - as is evidenced by the number of people that may be found dining at International. Weeknights are less expensive but still come in at $17.99 per person - more than I want to pay for a mid-week meal. We used to go to this buffet for special occasions - before the renovations - when it was more special than it has been since. The unusual foods that I encountered on the Saturday night of our recent visit may entice me to come back more often. This is not going to be a detailed review of the restaurant, but rather the foods that I encountered there on this visit. So read on...

One of the things that I like about buffets is the ability to TRY something that I may not order a whole meal of. I have had a number of foods at buffets over the years that I hesitantly tried - just to experience them. Among these have been fried jelly fish, pig's stomach, and now chicken feet and quail. My first taste of sushi was at a buffet - and I never thought that I would like raw fish. This is the beauty of buffets. Take something you never had - and may not like - in a small quantity on your plate and try it. If you like it you can go back for more and have a newly discovered food that you enjoy. If you don't you push it to the side of your plate and remember never to try that again.

I have seen chicken feet on travel shows - generally it is among the things that you see on the shows that feature eating nasty things that no one really wants to eat here - but are relished in other cultures. When I saw the sign over the steamer pan next to the dumplings that said Chicken Feet I hesitantly lifted the lid and looked in. There was a pile of rubbery looking chicken feet - my first thought was that of a joke shop rubber chicken. They were covered in a thick red sauce. I reached in with the tongs and put ONE on my plate. I was not sure that my wife was going to like watching me eat this, but I had to try it, for nothing more than to say, "Hey, I ate a chicken's foot." As I described above, it was not unpleasant in taste but the texture was gummy and the bones - still connected and flexing at the joints threw me a bit. I ate as much of it as there was to eat. The sauce that it was in was quite nice too. I did not go back for more.

The quail was very good. Crispy quail was out among the entrees on the buffet server. There were pieces of quail cut up in the pain in a sauce. They were not breaded but the skin was crisped - though eating it the thick sauce melted away any crispy texture. I took a leg section that had meat also on the side. It was similar in appearance to chicken pieces but much smaller. In my days, I have eaten squab, which is actually pigeon. This was larger than that. I have also eaten Rock Cornish Game Hens. This is smaller than that. My wife seemed to think that you eat the quail bones along with the meat. I think that she was confusing this with squab, as the quail bones were significant and sharp - eating them would be a hazard. Maybe I am wrong and she is right - she generally always is, but I did not eat the bones. The quail was good. It was not something that I ran back for more of. There were other new things to try.

Another dish that I never had before - and is really not that unusual was red snapper in sweet and sour sauce. There were two whole fish in the pan, whole meaning eyes, fins, tail and all. They seemed to have been baked combined with a thick red sauce with small cut up vegetables almost blended in. The name said sweet and sour, but this was not the usual sweet and sour sauce of red sugar syrup cooked with pickle slices and pieces of carrot that you get with Sweet and Sour Pork or Sweet and Sour Chicken. This was a thick red vegetable sauce that was not really sweet with just a bit of sour taste. The sauce was excellent. The two fish that were out had been picked through by other dinners who had pretty much taken all of the meat that was on the top sides of both fish. I scraped with the serving spoon at the top of one of the fish where there seemed to be meat and took what I could get onto my plate. When I was back at the table I tried this sampling of red snapper in sweet and sour sauce. The taste was good, but I found that what I had taken was more skin and fin bones than anything else. The small bits of fish meat that I had gotten were very tasty. Later, I went back and found that the same two fish were still there in the pan - but realized (sometimes the obvious is not always obvious) that if I turned the fish over there was plenty of meat on the other side - of course - and now I took a nice portion of the white meat of the fish, taking it away from the ribs with no bones coming along. I made sure to scoop up a lot of the sauce and put it over the fish. Now, back at the table this was terrific. The red snapper is a delicate tasting fish and the sauce made it very flavorful.

There are some things that I will not try and there were several dishes with tiny whole octopus. I have never been able to bring myself to eat octopus or squid. It was something that my parents would make as part of a special Italian dinner on Christmas eve when I was growing up - and I did not eat it then and I do not eat it now. Which is OK, because there are a lot of other things to eat.

On Saturday night at International there is an abundance of seafood served - along with meat dishes and many other things for the non-fish eater (my wife). One of the things that Saturday night at International has always been known for is the lobster. It is served on the buffet in ginger sauce and on a crowded weekend night when it comes out there will be a line and if you are not at the front of that line you will not get anything at all that you would consider a decent piece of lobster. This is the case with most Asian buffets that serve lobster and it is always every man or woman for himself. There was a tray of lobster in ginger sauce out. The try looked over half full but what was there were claws and side sections with little if any meat on them. I dug down to the bottom and found two small pieces of lobster tail - each about an inch by an inch that had somehow escaped those who had come before me. Here, as in most Asian buffets that serve lobster this way, once it comes out it will not come out for some time later. It looked as if later in the evening more had come out, but a mix through the claws and such, there was still nothing worth taking.

There were very nice snow crab clusters - all with the legs and top section - and these were out in abundance. No fighting or lines for these - and they are brought out fairly regularly. What were there were not water logged (sitting in the steamer tray too long after coming out) and they were properly hot. The only disappointment was the butter sauce was weak with little of the nut-like butter taste that makes this sauce what it is.

On the sushi bar there were a number of choices that I did not recognize. There was a sushi chef who was telling me what each thing was that I looked at - but he was difficult to understand and I still did not know what things were. This is one of the most extensive sushi bars in this area other than the Japanese sushi buffets. I have to say though that the tastes of the fish do not compare to those Japanese sushi buffets, but are as good as the sushi served at other Chinese buffet restaurants with more variety. (Not bad tasting - just not the same.)

For dessert I had one more interesting dish - a creamy custard in a small foil dish with burned, caramelized sugar on top. This is not the Creme Caramel or Flan that this buffet has served in the past, but very small individual cups with a cream much softer than egg custard. The burnt topping was crispy and crunched as you ate it. It was very tasty and candy-like - as most burnt sugar things are.

It was an evening of new experiences. This was not what I had expected when we went in - but not something that displeased me. I don't know how often you will find these items served. Perhaps we were just lucky to be there on chicken feet night, or you may find all of these things on any weekend night - and maybe even other unusual things.

For the non-adventurous there were all of the usual and regular dishes to be found too. So don't let the chicken feet be a deterrent for you to go.

I can recommend D.J.'s International Buffet now - and that has been a long time coming. 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 10:00pm. There is still no website.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A New Year - A New Rule

The new year will mark the fifth anniversary of this site in August. We have shared a lot of buffets in these past five years. The Rules of the Buffet will be five years old as well. Over this time we have been gradually adding to the rules. Just about every one of the rules is basic good sense and courtesy - but, surprised by this or not, so many people just have no clue about basic sense and courtesy or they think that it does not apply to them.

At the start of each year we bring the rules back to the forefront for all to see again - or for the first time. We are also adding a new rule to the list, as you will see as you read on.


1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4. Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

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.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In the buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

27. Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

28. Never put the serving utensil, whether it a spoon, fork, or tongs, up to your nose to smell the food that you have taken out of the serving tray.

And the NEW RULE -

RULE 29: Do not eat at the buffet table or while walking with your plate back to your table.

Why the new rule? Some people must think that they are at a cocktail party when they are at a buffet restaurant. They start to fill their plate at the buffet serving table and then while standing there start eating. As they go from serving tray to serving tray they are eating - from their plate (hopefully) but there are other people waiting to get to those trays and even if there are not - there is a dining room table for them to be eating at. Some wait until they are walking back to their table - eating from the plate that they are carrying along the way. In a crowded room they are paying more attention to what they are picking off of their plate than where they are walking or who they are walking into. None of these people are starving so that they cannot wait another thirty seconds to walk back to their own table.

So there you have them - again - now twenty nine rules to eat at a buffet by. I am looking forward to a new year of buffets - and I hope that you are as well. Good eating! Happy New Year!

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.

Friday, January 01, 2010


As many of you know, this site gives an award each year for best buffet. This year's award took a lot of long thought and careful consideration. Should the award once again be given to the obvious - once again - or should the award go to another restaurant just because none can surpass the obvious? If you read this site last week you saw that a buffet was recognized this year for best "small" buffet - and there is no question that in its class that little restaurant is the best and must be recognized. The buffet that is chosen for "the best buffet" is one that surpasses all of the rest in food, quality, presentation, and value. Restaurants are considered on the consistency over repeated visits, the quality of food, the quantity of food, the quality of service, the quality of cleanliness, the friendliness of staff, and the value received for the money paid for a meal. The restaurant that meets this again and again, and surpasses all of the rest in a setting that is incomparable is obvious to many of you.

The restaurant that is THE BEST BUFFET is once again for 2009 - The Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County.

I have been to a lot of buffets. I looked over what impressed me and what I want to return to again and again. I also look at the popularity of the restaurant, and without a doubt Shady Maple Smorgasbord is without a doubt "the one".

I have recently discovered that Shady Maple has a following on the Internet. There are several Facebook fan pages with more than a thousand "friends" for Shady Maple. There are videos on You-Tube about Shady Maple - mostly taken by happy people dining and going there. It seems that everyone in the area knows about Shady Maple and it is as popular with the local people (and the Amish and Mennonites) as it is with the tourists. We were standing at a booth at a farmers market in Lancaster, but not really close to the restaurant and overhead a conversation between two farmers - "Goin' down to the Shady Maple tonight..." Even a very popular and well know "reality" television show family filmed a meal at Shady Maple a few years back. Sometimes it seems like everyone is "goin' down to the Shady Maple" - especially on those nights when the lines at the multiple cashiers go around and out the doors. What is remarkable, considering the overwhelming size of the restaurant and the several dining rooms is the wait that one will find on most nights throughout the years - and it is because those tables are full. But know that the crowd at the buffet servers is never so bad that you can't easily get what you want.

Before I go into a description of the restaurant and the food- which I have written about many times before - let me share with you a little treat. A chance to step inside the restaurant and see for yourself. This video was done for local television advertising. It is just fun to watch! Here is it is (courtesy of You Tube). There are many other videos to be found by people who have had a good time at Shady Maple and we will share those with you in another article.

When you enter Shady Maple you are entering a large, lavishly furnished lobby. The lobby is bigger than some full restaurants. There are several cashiers and you pay before you dine. As I have said, there are often long lines at the cash registers. This year there is a new computerized cash register system that does speed things up a bit. Once you pay you are given a paper to put on your table face up which will show your server that you are still dining and not to clean away the table. Shady Maple was the first buffet that I encountered such a system - the original system used plastic plaques that said "RESERVED". When they moved into this larger building located just behind the original, smaller restaurant they retired the Reserved Plaques and went to the paper instead. Either way the system works here. So - you have paid, you have your receipt and your paper sign and you are sent to another line to be seated. Depending on your party and just how crowded the restaurant is you may wait from two to ten minutes and then a table or booth is found for you. Once you are brought to your table you are asked if you have ever dined at Shady Maple before - and if you have not, you are explained the layout of this very large buffet and where to find its extensive offerings. And then off you go and you are on your own to serve yourself any of the wonderful food and beverages offered.

When you go up to the buffet area from the dining room you are going to see buffet tables put together to extend the length of the restaurant. You enter at the middle and they go in each direction. Walk along each way and you will think that each direction is just a repeat of the food found in the other direction. This is not completely the case - there are many things repeated but there are always items on the servers in one direction that are not found on the buffet servers in the other direction, including the salad bars. If you really want to know what is offered any one night or afternoon, you must look through all the buffet servers. In addition there are four grill areas where carvings and grilled entrees are being prepared. What is on the grill changes by the night. Monday is steak night. Tuesday is seafood night. There is a theme every night. And there are special nights throughout the year.

What foods will you find? There are six soups plus chile every night. There are salad bars (yes, there are two) that not only have the fixings for any green salad that you would like to create, but also a variety of prepared salads that are either local to this area or prepared as they are local to this area. Ever tried Pepper Cabbage or PA Dutch Chow Chow? You will find them here every night. Try Cottage Cheese and Apple Butter - another local favorite. The cottage cheese is on the salad bar - the apple butter is at the back of the Center Grill next to the butter. Take a spoon of cottage cheese and then put a spoon of apple butter on top. Of course, there is potato salad, macaroni salad, and cole slaw and a lot of other things on the salad bar.

Every night there is fried chicken, turkey, sliced pork, beef, etc. Go over to the buffet servers toward the right and you will usually find "Dried Corn" at the rear of of one of the first hot servers. Dried Corn? How can one eat dried corn? It is very easy and wonderful when the dried and crushed corn kernels are stewed until soft and seasoned. Dried corn is sweet and nutty tasting. This is another local food and one that is not often found at in many local restaurants any longer. Carvings are generally beef brisket and local ham. But there are so many, many more things that change every night on the hot buffet tables. Not everything is PA Dutch, but you can hope to find chicken bot boi on some nights which many who read this site have asked where to find. I wish I could say that it is found here regularly, but it is not. When they do have it, it is very good. (What is Chicken Bot Boi? Well it sound like chicken pot pie, right? Some will actually call it that, but it is not the chicken in cream sauce with vegetables inside a pie crust that most will expect when they hear chicken pot pie. It is large doughy dumplings stewed with chicken meat, carrots, celery, and potatoes in a thickened chicken stock - and it is oh, so good!) Want something that you are more accustomed to? You will find it. There are pasta dishes, fish, meat dishes, all of the expected vegetables, fresh mashed potatoes, french fries, and again, I must say so much more. I have had so many different things in the dinners (and lunches) that I have eaten here over the years it is impossible to name them all.

Beverages are scattered all through the buffet areas and there is just about everything that you can think of from Coke and Pepsi to every type of soft drink. There are fresh juices. There are fancy coffees much like you will find at the coffee stores. There are is a row of slushie machines with a variety of flavors. Hot or cold, if it is a soft drink you will probably find some version of it here.

So what about dessert? Hot desserts and cold desserts abound - and again you need to look at each end of the buffet area because you will find some things on one side that are not on the other side. Which is a good thing - because it increases what is offered to you. Cakes, puddings, prepared spooned desserts, soft serve, name brand ice cream, apple dumplings, pies, sugar free pies and puddings are all here. Of course, there will be Shoo Fly Pie - and whipped cream to top it with. There is usually sweet potato pie. This is one restaurant that you have to consciously keep aware that you must save room for dessert and also not risk the possibility of bursting once you get back out to the parking lot.

I have mentioned lunch. Much of the buffet is the same at lunch time as it is at dinner. There may be fewer grills working at lunch. What I have not mentioned - actually ever in my articles about Shady Maple - is breakfast - and yes, there is a breakfast buffet every day from very, very early in the morning at 5 AM to 10 AM, I am not a morning person and never make it out to get to breakfast buffets, but if there was one to go to, this is the one. Eggs are prepared to your order as you watch. Then there are scrambled eggs, omelets, quiche, sausage, ham, scrapple, bacon, pancakes, french toast, mush, puddings, oatmeal, waffles, biscuits, fruit, cereal, baked goods, and more. All the makings of a good farm breakfast that will keep you happy through the rest of the day.

The service at Shady Maple is excellent. The dining room staff is attentive and they make sure your dishes are taken away promptly. You are serving your beverages yourself.

After dinner (or lunch) you need to walk off some of the meal and downstairs there is a gift shop the size of the restaurant. There is a section in the back with local Amish crafts. There is furniture that is locally made. There are toys, jewelry, collectible giftware, candles, sports decor, and even some baked goods to take home with you. You can spend a lot of time just browsing up and down the aisles and may even find a gift for someone too. Hey, treat yourself, while you are at it!

In addition to the restaurant there is also a separate part of this massive building that is a catering hall. They have large rooms for weddings and occasions.

There is no other buffet that is this large. There is no other buffet that offers this much. The prices are quite reasonable and the price that you pay posted at the cashier includes the service charge (tip at 8%). If you take that off the price and compare to other buffets, the prices here are very good. All that I have said and more makes this restaurant hard to top. There are other large buffets. Yet, even the casino buffets are on this scale, offer as much, or have the personal feel that this restaurant has. The owner of this restaurant can often be seen walking around the dining room. You would have to know what he looks like to know that it is him, but he is there. The people that work at this restaurant seem to be happy and that is reflected in how they interact with the customers. You don't get that in a casino buffet- and I use that as comparison because that is what is closest in the presentation here - though at Shady Maple, despite the huge crystal chandeliers there is a homey feel.

With all of this it is easy to see why Shady Maple Buffet is the Best Buffet for 2009 - and has held that distinction for several years.

A certificate declaring this fact is being sent to the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. They have been proudly displaying our certificate awarded to them in 2008 in their lobby. When you go there look for the certificate and tell them that you read all about them here!

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East or Route 322 South to get to the restaurant. The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.