Friday, September 02, 2011

RAINBOW BUFFET, Williamsburg, Virginia

Chinese buffets can be found almost everywhere. On a recent trip to Williamsburg, Virginia I had two buffets to try that I had never been to before. Both were Chinese/Asian buffets and I had found them on an internet search. While we were driving through the area we came upon a third - the Rainbow Buffet. This one had not come up on any of the advanced searches that I had made of the area. A sign in the window said, "Now Open". I found out later that this location had been another Chinese buffet called the Red City Buffet. This is not the same restaurant but the same location.

The Rainbow Buffet is located in a small shopping center on a main road several miles outside of the historic area of Williamsburg, Virginia. In the same shopping center just a few doors down is a Cici's Pizza Buffet. We pulled into the parking lot, parked and looked through the large window of the double store location of this restaurant to make sure that all looked good before we went in. Everything looked fine and we went inside. We were pleasantly greeted by a young Chinese woman who showed us to our table in one of the two dining room areas of the restaurant - with the buffet area in the middle. The room is very nicely decorated and nicely lit - not dark and not glaringly bright. The decor is a mix of modern and classic.

Dinner costs $9.50 per person. Yes, I said, $9.50. If you want to add unlimited crab legs to your dinner the cost is $5.00 more. Lunch costs $6.99. The meal includes sushi, the buffet, and a Mongolian grill. Unlimited refilled soft drinks are $1.65. This is one of the most reasonable Chinese buffets that I have ever been to and the price is no indication of how good the food is because I will tell you up front, the meal was excellent.

Every so often I find a great buffet by chance and this was one of those occasions. There are four double sided buffet servers in the middle of the room and along the back wall is the Mongolian Grill. In the rear on the side is an ice cream freezer.

We started as usual with soup. There were four kinds - wonton, hot and sour, egg drop, and a shrimp soup. We both tried the wonton soup. This was the only disappointing part of the meal. The broth was much too salty and the wontons were mushy. Perhaps we should have tried the other soups. At this point I was wondering what was in store in this meal - would it all be too salty. I had nothing to be concerned about.

There were a variety of appetizer type items - as there usually are at Chinese buffets. There was peel and eat shrimp, raw oysters, fried chicken wings, grilled chicken on a stick, egg rolls, spring rolls and on and on. The shrimp were cold and firm. I don't usually eat chicken wings but these looked so appealing that I had to try one. It was thickly battered and coated and deep fried to a crunch. It was very good.

There was a variety of oriental dishes, several the usual staples of Chinese buffets - chicken and broccoli, pepper steak, General Tso's chicken, fried rice, lo mein, chicken and mushrooms, etc. But there were also a few not so usual dishes. One in particular that was very good was shrimp with leeks. Leeks are a type of large, leafy, green onion. Much of what is used of the plant are the leaves from the stalks. Leeks grow in sandy soil and if not cleaned properly before cooking and can be very gritty. These had no grit. The shrimp and leeks were stir friend together in a mild sauce. As I say, very good. There was something called Lover's Chicken. It was a sweet chicken in a sauce. There was broiled salmon. There was bourbon chicken, fried dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, fried shrimp, french fries, potato in butter sauce, and more.

I have had steamed flounder at Chinese buffets before, but they are frequently full of bones. Here there was steamed flounder fillets (no bones) in ginger sauce. The sauce was not too sweet and the flounder was perfectly steamed. This was the dish that I went back to get more - and more than once. This dish would have cost twice the price of the meal at a menu restaurant - and perhaps, would not have been this good. Another particularly good dish were thin rice noodles cooked in what seemed to be a saffron seasoning.

There were very good looking crab legs, but as I said, these cost $5 more if you took them. They were out on the buffet for you to take, but if they went on your plate the extra cost would go on your check. But if you want crab but did not want to go for the extra price, there were steamed, whole blue crabs included on the buffet. These were large steamed crabs turned red and ready to crack open and eat. Whole crabs take an effort to get the small amount of meat out, but for those who love crabs, here they were.

There was a small selection of sushi on the buffet - California Rolls, Tuna Rolls, and Salmon Rolls. They were being freshly made and replenished as needed.

If this was all that the buffet had to offer it would have been great, but in addition there was also a Mongolian grill. In this area, this is more common than it is at Chinese buffets back in New York. The Mongolian grill is a selection of raw meats, shrimp, and vegetables that you take on your plate in whatever combination you would like and then handed to a chef behind the counter who puts them on the hot grill with a splash of sauce of your choosing - garlic, red pepper sauce, or teriaki sauce and cooked while you watch. The chef here made sure that the chicken that I selected with the vegetable was cooked thoroughly on the side of the vegetables. Once the meat was cooked he mixed it all together and kept it moving and cooking. There was something very different offered with the meats, noodles, and vegetables on this Mongolian grill = whole, in the shell, raw eggs. If you put one of the eggs on your plate with your meat and vegetables, the chef would crack it open and cook it into the dish that you created. When I saw the eggs, I wondered what this was all about. A young Chinese man came up to make himself a plate to have cooked and he went right for the egg. As I say, I have never seen this before. I am sure it was good.

There was more than enough to choose from to eat. There was also one of the best looking pizzas that I have seen served in an Asian buffet (and they all serve some variation of Italian pizza. Here it was thick with cheese.

Dessert was typical of most Chinese buffets, though perhaps there was less of a selection than some. There was just one type of the little squares of sheet cake. Here it was an orange cake with a swirled orange cream in the middle. There were also little eclairs. There was jello, chocolate pudding, watermelon, orange wedges, and a few different canned fruits in syrup, In a freezer case were commercial cups of ice cream - in several flavors.

Service was as good as the meal. Everyone was pleasant. Drinks were offered to be refilled and plates were taken away as soon as you were finished with what was on it.

We went on a Sunday night, and while not crowded, there were people coming in the whole time we were there and there were a number of tables filled. I have often said that a sign of a good Oriental restaurant is if there are Oriental people eating there - and here there were several tables of Oriental people eating.

This was a great find - and when I return to this area, I will be eating here again. Simple and good Chinese food. Good service. A price that is excellent value. All of the elements of a great buffet. Is it a GREAT buffet? Let me just say it is a very good buffet. After I try it again, I will judge if it is great. In the meantime, I highly recommend it.

The Rainbow Buffet is located at 3044 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185. The phone number is 757-258-0388. There is no website.

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