Friday, October 21, 2011

Peking Restaurant - Revisited, Williamsburg, Virginia

I wish that I was saving the best for the last of the restaurants that I recently dined at during my trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, but my trip to the Peking Restaurant - the Asian Buffet that this site named as the best in 2007 - was a bit disappointing. I have been there since that article was written, but there have been some changes - and sometimes change is not good.

Let me tell you a little about this buffet in general. It is located in a shopping center next to a K-Mart on one of the main routes in Williamsburg, Virginia. It is well known by the locals and we have had many dinners there sitting near employees from both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. This has been for a long time, a must stop and dine for us - and often we will have more than one meal there during our trip. We planned the same for this recent trip and we went there the first night that we arrived in town.

From the outside all looked the same. I had read before we went that they have added a "sushi train" and also a Thai food section to the buffet. I have not really had Thai food before other than a dish or two included at Asian buffets so this would be something different to try. I wondered how a buffet would incorporate a "sushi train" but I will talk more about that as we go along here. We went inside. The room to the right of the entrance which was once a gift shop is now an additional dining room. The rest of the dining room was pretty much as it had been. The large flat screen TVs were still around the room at the ceiling playing Oriental videos, though there seemed to be less of them. They are not loud and interesting to glance up at during the meal for what they are playing. What I did notice was that the layout of the buffet was different. The serving stations were changed to now line two walls (one of those walls, the divider to the dining room). The large round Mongolian grill was still where it had always been. There has always been another grill area at the opposite end of the buffet and that was there as well, but the sushi bar that had once been at the end of that was now a dessert station and the "sushi train" was now taking up a section that had once been table space (apparently why they needed the dining space now where the gift shop had once been).

The price for the meal is still good. With the tax and the tip, the dinner came to $17 per person including unlimited soft drinks which is not bad for a large Asian buffet meal. Again, remember this is with tax and tip. This is more than the $10.99 that it was five years ago - but not much and think how much everything else has gone up in price in five years!

There is a large section of soups - several different soups beyond the usual wonton, egg drop, hot and sour selection. Clam Chowder, Vegetable Chicken, Seaweed, and Miso soup were there among the usual. There is also a noodle soup station in the middle of the grill area on the left side of the restaurant. Here you can get one of the several types of noodles cooked with broth and vegetables to order. We love Vietnamese Pho and they will make that for you here. While the pho broth is not seasoned as it would be in a Vietnamese restaurant, this soup is good here. We both enjoyed a bowl of that.

Let me now tell you about the "sushi train". This is something that is popular in Tokyo and has come to some Japanese restaurants in the United States. The idea in one of those other restaurants is that you sit at a long counter and a moving line of sushi dishes travel past you. There you take what you like and you are charged per plate at the end. HERE - there is a section on the side rear of the restaurant that has a U-shaped, tall counter covered with plexiglass that has doors every so many feet. Inside there is a track upon which single pieces of sushi travel along on plates. There was all types of sushi - far beyond what Peking Restaurant had in the past. Many were spicy. Each plate has one piece of sushi on it. Now, here is the problem. This is a buffet. How many small plates are you going to pick up and take back to your table? You are not eating here at the counter as is done at a "sushi train" restaurant. So you take a couple - maybe three -and you go back and you are up again a few minutes later for more. Some were taking larger plates and emptying the smaller plates into the larger plate - but this area is not set up for this and there is no place to put these empty little plates. You also need a hand free to open the door to reach inside the moving conveyor belt to take a plate. Knowing what each plate had on it was also a problem. There was some attempt to place a name on a crystal block in front of the plates of each type of sushi as it went along - but some of these were obviously not correct, and if you missed the name as it moved past, you were guessing what was on each plate. There was also some attempt at color coding each plate color for the type of sushi that was on it - roll, spicy, fish, raw, vegetable - but the chart got complex - fast! This was a good idea but not for a buffet. I wound up taking things that looked like what they were not. I love sushi - I moved on from this quickly. It was not worth the effort that it took - and it was almost impossible to go back and find the same thing (even basic things) that I had taken and wanted again. Put this in a buffet situation where you sit down at this moving line of sushi and it would be something special. Here it was a gimmick gone wrong.

The Thai dishes were laid out along a counter all together. There was Thai Dumplings, Pad Thai, Sweet Coconut Rice Cakes, Fish Cake, Sticky Rice with Tropical fruit, Green Curry Shrimp, Thin Rice Roll, and Thai Fried Rice. Things were labeled that they were spicy - and they absolutely were. I tried what appeared to be the milder of what was there and it was beyond what I enjoy in spicy/hot dishes. If you are a Thai food eater, this all may be great. To the uninitiated, this was not for the beginner.

On the grill there is terriaki beef and terriaki chicken. There were also dumplings here. There used to be hibachi beef and chicken here right off the grill, but that is gone, much to my wife's disappointment.

The assortment of hot dishes also seems to have changed and there seemed to be less of them and what was there was more on the spicy and sweet side of Chinese dishes than a broad assortment. In the past there had been more of the simpler and less common on a buffet Chinese dishes, as simple as chow mein or moo shu. Those were not there as they once had been. There is a large variety of rice with three types of fried rice and also brown rice.

The Mongolian barbecue is there to make up for what may be missing on the rest of the buffet. Here you can make what you like by taking raw meat (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp) and mixing it with raw vegetables, adding a sauce on top and having the chef cook it for you while you watch. This was as it had been. You make what you like and season it to taste. Here you can be as simple or as complex as you want. Choose only vegetables, if you like, or choose only meat. It is all up to you.

Desserts are now more of the typical Chinese buffet fare - little pieces of pastry/cake, fruit, pudding, and soft serve ice cream. Nothing really to talk about.

Service is still good. Dishes were picked up right away, soft drinks were refilled, and the staff is friendly.

We had more than enough to eat. There was no question that there was not a variety nor was it hard to find something that you would like. It was not the same though. If walking in here for the first time ever, it would not strike me that this would rank as a "best" and that is how I have always felt about this restaurant in the past.

After the meal was another story, and something(s?) that I chose to eat did not sit well. This happens rarely to me at a buffet. Perhaps it was the small taste of one of the Thai dishes that I tried or the spicy sushi. But it was something, and I did not enjoy how I felt and what happened later that evening. My wife was fine, however, but she does not eat the unusual. She picks the simple and the things that she knows. After this, I had decided that we would go back to Peking Restaurant another night and see what happens. However, with the choice of the other nice, new buffets that I have written about in the past several weeks that we could go to, and the memory of how I felt after this meal, we did not go back. There will be another trip and I am sure that we will try Peking Restaurant again - but I know that I will be cautious in what I select. And you know what? At a buffet like this you should not have to feel that you need to be cautious.

So, my conclusions about Peking Restaurant? Frankly, it will be wait and see the next time. Two months ago I would tell you that you MUST go here for a wonderful meal. Now, I will tell you that it has been great in the past. Maybe I will say that again in the future - I just did not have a good experience this night - after the meal. Others who live close by tell me it is still great. Maybe I picked up the wrong thing to put in my mouth. I don't know...

The Peking Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is located at 120 Waller Mill Road in the Big Kmart Shopping Center. (Kingsgate Green Shopping Center – Bypass Road (Rt.60)). There is a website and that is listed at this side of the page.


Elancia said...

We had a similar disappointing experience at this buffet over the summer. Things also did not 'sit well.' I cannot say that we will return.
You should write about the AYCE at the RUB BBQ on Long Island, NY in East's Meadow. We were just there while visiting relations. They have AYCE buffets at certain times of the week and it is amazing and a reasonable price for what it is. If you are in this areas you should write.

Stewie said...

The AYCE at RUB is only certain days and times. But well worth it, IMHO. And it is located in EAST Meadow. I went to it last week. Strange thing is, they limit seatings to 90 minutes, although that is plenty enough.

Writer said...

I will look into RUB - restaurants that are not buffets should not do AYCE - the 90 minute limit is very telling - I have experienced other restaurants that want to offer AYCE and don't know how to do it right. Anyway, this is not the place to discuss RUB and this will be the last post until I get more information on my own - and then write an article.

Xihuan Luong said...

It is my pleasure to give me the chance to show my foods to all the friends from you at the Peking. The outlook from the tables is your first sight of the offerings. The second is to be after delivery. When you get them, you will give the food meals a exact evaluation.The quality is decided from you. I just recommended them to you, you are to appreciate them after you get the items. Also, the foods can be made many precious morsels.If you need different, tell me, and I can provide them to you. No matter you like the buffets offerings not, I hope that I can do my best to service you.
The most importance is that you are relaxed and delightful during the communication and dealing.
Could you please tell me if you have any problem.I try my best to make you comfortable.

Writer said...

I can only assume that Mr. Luong is a manager or the owner of Peking Restaurant. I am not certain as in all of the times that I have been there none of the management has not spoken perfect English. If this is a manager or the owner I appreciate the comment/response that he has left here - but, if he read and understood this article he would know what was wrong on my last visit,