Friday, January 28, 2011

Christmas Buffet at Best Buffet, Huntington, NY

What - I went to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner? What happened? Did the neighbors hated hounds come bursting into our kitchen and eat the turkey for our Christmas dinner? Well, maybe in the movies but we decided this year that we wanted something different - and I also have wanted to go back and try Best Buffet since they reopened several years ago and I was not happy. So this sounds like a big risk for such an important holiday dinner but it was just the two of us and based on some customer reviews that I have read since, we decided to try this.

Best Buffet in Huntington, New York is located where East Buffet was a number of years ago. East was one of the top Chinese buffets on Long Island. A fire put them out of business and the building remained empty for a while until the letters were changed just a bit on the front and East became Best. Everyone had high hopes for Best because we all liked East so much. I am not sure why we would think that a new restaurant with new owners would be anything like the former restaurant, but going there a few years back I had great anticipation. And, in fact, the new restaurant looked exactly the same inside and was serving almost a carbon copy of the menu from when it was East. What did not carry over - at that time - was the quality and the attention to keeping the food hot in the serving trays. My complaint at that time was that almost all of the food was cold - and at a buffet this is not good, or safe.

So, a few years have passed and we are not just trying this on an ordinary week or weekend night - we are going on Christmas! Here is what I figured - if this restaurant cannot put the food out hot and keep it hot for a crowded holiday meal then there really is something wrong.

Let me tell you about our Christmas dinner and you will see how it was as we go along. The dinner menu that is featured on Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day all day is special for the holiday with a number of items not ordinarily on the buffet - but the regular buffet offerings were there as well. For the most part this is not an "American Chinese" restaurant. It features a number of authentic Chinese dishes and for this reason there are many Chinese families eating here. There are dishes that I have never seen anyplace else and there are dishes that I have heard about served in Chinatown - and in China.

Soup is an important part of authentic Chinese meals and here for this special dinner there were eight soups. There were six hot soups and two dessert (cold soups). Aside from the usual wonton and hot and sour soups, there was lobster bisque with large pieces of lobster meat, seafood bisque, a ham and melon soup, a "silky" soup with ginsing, and then the two dessert soups one of which was tapioca soup (both sweet soups). I tried the lobster bisque. It was very good! I also later during the meal tried the ham and melon soup. It was slightly sweet, had a mild taste of ham and melon. The ham was boiled down to shreds and the melon was cooked down to fibers. The taste was familiar and I had winter melon soup in San Francisco many, many years ago - and that may have been the taste that was coming into my memory.

There are a number of grills working making hot meats and appetizers. There is a sushi bar with a variety of sushi. There were fresh clams and oysters being shucked and put out on ice. The buffet has a salad bar with unusual Chinese prepared salads and also greens and toppings to create a mixed salad. This is not your usual salad bar - even for an Asian buffet. There are two long, double-sided buffet servers with hot foods. There was also something that I have never seen before and is featured at dinners at this buffet for the same price Monday to Thursday and for just two dollars extra on weekends. It is called Shabu-Shabu. This is an Oriental hot pot. You select raw vegetables, meats, and fish on which is poured boiling hot broth which cooks what you selected. It was included on this holiday dinner. We looked at the extensive assortment of things to put into your bowl - beyond the vegetables that I could recognize and the meats like chicken and beef, and seafood including shelled raw lobster, there were many things that I did not recognize. There did seem to be raw tripe (stomach) in one of the serving dishes. I was not courageous enough to try this. I likely missed out on something really good, but I was plenty else that is more conventional to choose from so I stuck to the not so exotic. Most of the people taking this were Asian.

One of the things that I saw on the advertisement for this dinner was roast suckling pig. I have never had that but I have seen enough food shows on the Travel Channel to know that this is something not to miss. In case you are concerned that there was a little roast piggy out being carved, have no fear - the pig was cut up in the kitchen and brought out on a platter in thick pieces and put on a hot tray to keep it hot. My first piece was just as I anticipated from what I have seen on TV. The skin was crispy brown with a layer of fat below and a thick layer of pork below that. It was very good. Now, I must tell you that later when I went back for more the hot tray was not doing such a good job in keeping this pig sufficiently hot and it was just warm. (Back to my first review when things were not kept hot? Well, the pig was not hot as it should be and there were just a very few more things - grilled appetizers - that needed to be hotter. Everything else was fine!) Hey, I went back three times for more pig - hot or not - it was good.

I tried a number of different dishes. One that I did not care for but only because it was not to my taste was guinea hen stewed with herbs. I have never had guinea hen before and I did eat some of it. What was excellent were beef short ribs stewed in red wine! Scallops, clams, and fried tofu were good. Bake clams with bacon on top surprised me when I discovered after putting the contents of the clam shell into my mouth (the bottom hidden by the thick pieces of bacon) that the these were not chopped clams like baked clams usually are - these were whole clams. Nice, but I am not a big fan of cooked clams in the shell. The conventional shrimp with lobster sauce here is made the proper way with ground pork in the sauce - all other Chinese buffets leave out the pork.

On the advertisement menu it listed lobster with ginger sauce. There was none - BUT there were large steamed lobster claws mixed in with the crab legs. This was so much better than lobster with ginger sauce! The claws were full of lobster meat and there was plenty of melted butter sauce to dip the lobster in. I went back several times for these - and there was none of the usual wait and fight to get some before they are gone - there were plenty and they kept coming out.

There were several carvings - Peking Duck (yes, from the movie - "Chinese Turkey"), Fillet Mignon, Prime Rib, and Rack of Lamb. Each carved to your order. The duck was crispy without a lot of fat.

There were so many dishes that I cannot remember them all to tell you about. There were salt and pepper fried frog legs, salt and pepper fried dungeness crab, and salt and pepper fried calamari. There were mussel dishes. There were various Chinese meat dishes. There were several types of noodles including a Korean-style noodle which were very thin, a bit gelatinous, and very tasty. There were a number of seafood and fish dishes. Many of the more unusual things were there as part of the special Christmas dinner menu. They do claim to have 220 dinner items on the regular buffet menu.

For dessert there was a large variety of authentic Chinese pastries and puddings. There are desserts here that are not found in any other Chinese buffet - and not in restaurants unless they are located in predominantly Chinese areas.

Price for the Christmas Day dinner was $32.99 per adult and $16.99 per child. They automatically add a 12% service charge to your check. The buffet price does not include drinks. Soft drinks are refillable if you order them. There is a bar - we overheard one table asking for more juice to be added to a cocktail because it was "too strong". That is pretty good! This buffet is not cheap. It never was. Regular weekend adult dinners are $25.99 and are $18.99 on weekdays. This special dinner was also served on Christmas Eve night and is to be repeated on New Year's Eve and also all day New Year's Day. My wife, as we were leaving, pointed this out to me and said, "Let's come back!" That says it all! (For regular readers who have gotten to know my picky eater wife you understand why.)

I will come back to Best Buffet. I may even be here for New Years (though when you are reading this that will have passed). With this wonderful meal, I now recommend Best Buffet. I hope that it holds up equally well on a regular night...

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