Friday, January 20, 2012

Chen's Buffet City, Levittown, New York

A new Asian buffet has opened on Long Island, New York. It opened in mid-December with great anticipation. I watched for months the location be transformed from a large, empty storefront that years ago was once a chain drugstore to a new buffet restaurant. The location is actually directly across the way from the Old Country Buffet. Each time we passed we wondered when it would open. Just about when it looked like it was open, we called and were told "next week", and then that next week we called again, only to be told again "next week". It finally opened and it has had large crowds ever since. I have actually been there five times at this point - so many things were happening in December that I just did not have a chance to write this article - and we kept going back.

Chen's Buffet City is a combination of Chinese buffet and Japanese hibachi/sushi. If you look on their website, they call themselves a Japanese buffet, but they are not really. Other than the hibachi grill and the sushi bar, this is a Chinese buffet. Most of the dishes on the buffet are Chinese.

Since I have gone back so many times in just a short time, it is clear that I like this buffet. The food is good. There are a few problems that I will go into later but know up front that this is a good buffet. The dining room is large with a combination of booths and tables. The buffet servers are in the rear of the room with eight large double sided buffet servers. Half of the back wall is the hibachi grill and the other half is the sushi bar. There is a small lobby when you come in and the only nights that we did not wait for a table were weeknights. We have been there two weeknights, two Friday nights and New Year's Eve. Yes, we went New Year's Eve and they were serving their regular buffet at the regular price. The room that night was packed and we waited almost 45 minutes to get in. When you go in and there is a wait you are given a number that will be called when your table is ready. The numbers are not in sequence and there seems to be a code for the number in your party in the number - so do not be surprised if the numbers are not called in order of the number itself.

The price of the adult buffet at dinner is $11.49! Yes, for all that this buffet has to offer it has the least expensive dinner price of any Oriental buffet on Long Island. This price is the same no matter what night you go - weeknights or weekends. Soda, tea, or ice tea is $1.00 and it is unlimited. Lunch is $7,99 for adults. There are children's prices - dinner - under 2 free, 3-6 $4.99, 7-11 $6.49 - lunch - 3-6 $2.99, 7-11 $4.99. On our first visit after our first glass of Diet Coke (they are not using Coke products- I suspect they are an off brand) they ran out of Diet Coke- they came back to say so and that they will bring regular Coke- no, no we told them we can't drink that and need something without sugar - we settled on hot tea for my wife and iced tea for me- they were trying and since they had just opened they were not anticipating the crowds or the amount of Diet Coke that is consumed at Chinese buffets. This has not happened since.

There is a large salad bar with a variety of Asian prepared salads, lettuce and salad toppings. If you want salad you will not be disappointed. I don't find a need to have salad at an Asian buffet so I have skipped the salad bar. On the same cold server you will find mounds of peel and eat shrimp, cold mussels, and raw clams. There are also cold stone crabs. No matter what you see in the print advertisements or the home page of their website there are no crab legs. Let me repeat that so that you don't get disappointed when you go - THERE ARE NO CRAB LEGS. There is, next to the shrimp, what looks like crab meat strips - but I am very sure (though I did not sample this) that this is not real crab but the fish Krab substitute. I believe, that they intended to serve snow crab legs, but when they actually opened realized immediately that they could not offer that along with everything else that they have for the price that they are charging. This is not very much a loss unless you are a crab leg fanatic. There is plenty more here.

There are six soups - wonton, egg drop, hot and sour, miso, clam chowder, and chicken vegetable. I like to mix soups - I add a wonton to a mixture of hot and sour and egg drop - I enjoy this because it takes the spice off the hot and sour. The soup has been good every time.

It is hard to describe where to start and what they have because they have so much. There are the usual assortment of Chinese appetizers - small egg rolls, spring rolls, fried crab claws, fried cheese stuffed wontons, wings, chicken on a stick, shrimp balls, deep fried fish dumplings. chicken nuggets, fried plantain, fried squid, seasoned french fries, baked clams, steamed clams and more. There are steamed peach buns, steamed shu mai, steamed crystal dumplings which are sweet, and pan fried dumplings. The dumpling sauce is over by the pan fried dumplings which are another server with entrees. They do have spare ribs - these are the typical Chinese buffet style spare ribs overly covered in thick red sugar sauce.

While my wife will go to the buffet servers and take a selection of the many Chinese entrees, I go over to the hibachi grill. This is the same type of hibachi grill that you will find in a Japanese restaurant or buffet. They do have a wider variety of raw vegetables to add - making it appear like more of a selection found at a Mongolian barbecue grill - but this is not a Mongolian barbecue grill. The meat is what makes the difference. There are good sized steaks here to take, pieces of chicken meat, shrimp, and cross slices of beef ribs. There is also noodles - and these noodles are so long that it is almost impossible to take a portion and put it on your dish without several noodles that go on for feet still coming up from the serving tray. You can take whatever you like on a plate - add the meat on top - some just take meat - some just take vegetables and when it is your turn - and there has always been a line - you hand it to the chef and he puts the meat down on the grill separate from the vegetables and cooks it with the addition of oil, butter, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and garlic. Now - I told you that I have been to the restaurant five times. I have been up to the hibachi grill ten times - twice each visit. I have not had my hibachi cooked the same way twice. This is not a good thing. Even the same chef has not cooked it the same way twice. There are usually two chefs at the grill to handle the crowd. Sometimes I have been asked how I would like the steak cooked, sometimes not. Sometimes they add butter, sometimes not. Sometimes they put garlic, sometimes not. Sometimes they add two sauces and sometimes one. When we first went, there was a very skilled hibachi chef at the grill - and a crowd of Asian men behind the grill watching him. Obviously, he was the teacher - and that plate was the best that I have had there so far. He even squeezed an orange onto someone's shrimp. I have not seen that since. The last time we were there, the chef did not even cut up the steak as has always been done before and is usual for hibachi steak - he just cooked it and put it on the plate whole next to the vegetables. There is no consistency in cooking at the hibachi grill - and even though I like it a lot, there needs to be. If you don't want them to add something tell them right away - some understand English better than others, but make yourself known. If you want no fat used - tell them. I will tell you that I have been to a Japanese hibachi since going first to Chen's and I like the hibachi dishes that I have had at Chen's better.

The sushi bar is large but the assortment is small. There are mostly rolls and they are not quick to refill the trays when they are empty- though there are always two sushi chefs standing at the bar. They have put out shrimp, salmon, and tuna on top of rice, but these are taken quickly and then rarely will you see them again. I was a bit surprised on New Years Eve when I went up to the two sushi chefs - at the time there were salmon and tuna on rice out on the buffet - and I asked for just some pieces of tuna and salmon with no rice. I could have easily taken the salmon and tuna on rice that was out and not eaten the rice - as was suggested to me by a man who was passing and heard what happened, but I did not want to waste the rice. Both chefs looked at each other and then looked at me like I had asked them to fly - and said "no!". I asked again, in case there was a language issue - and I got a definite no again. So I took the rice and left it over. I really do not understand this, and it was the first strike this buffet received in my mind.

The selection of entrees is extensive and different ones have shown up replacing others from visit to visit. The first visit there was an excellent shrimp with scallions which has not been there since. There has been a shrimp with lobster sauce that was a thick brown sauce that was very good. Since that time the shrimp and lobster sauce has been the standard light sauce with large pieces of egg white. It is also mixed with krab pieces. The sauce is good and close to the full flavor as to what I have had a Chinese menu restaurants. There has been kung pow chicken on one occasion. There is always chicken and broccoli and beef with peppers. There is a large tray of teriyaki chicken. There is a large tray of egg foo young, but beware of the tray of brown sauce that is behind it because that is not egg foo young sauce - I was suspicious when it was a dark brown. It is beef gravy. (Not good on egg foo young!) There is a beef roast out for you to slice yourself. There is salmon and there is steamed whitefish which was good but it needed ginger sauce. Of course, you will find lo mein and fried rice. There is also steamed brown rice in addition to white rice. There is a large tray of corn on the cob. There is sweet and sour chicken. There is stone crab with ginger sauce. There is a dish with shrimp and corn. There is duck but no fixing to make Peking duck but the pieces of duck are meaty and good. Other dishes that we have seen include salt and pepper shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, spicy chicken, honey chicken, general tso chicken, sesame chicken, coconut shrimp, mussels with oyster sauce, mixed Chinese vegetable, bok choy, baked seafood, baked spinach, beef and cheese casserole, fried shrimp, sealegs with bacon, mushrooms in oyster sauce, garlic shrimp, sauteed green beans. and more. There is pizza, rolls, and garlic bread, too. This is another of those buffets that there is so much that you cannot possibly eat it all at one visit.

Dessert is also more than you will find at most Chinese buffets with a large assortment of fresh fruit, pudding, jello, hard ice cream cups that are found in two freezer cases, little cake squares, cream puffs, cookies, etc. The big dessert feature is a - CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN! This is totally unsupervised and with all of the other comments that I have made about these in other articles I found a new problem here. First, the selections to dip are marshmallows, pineapple chunks, macaroons, sugar filled wafer cookies, bananas, and apple wedges. The fruit is out in a cold server on the table with the fountain. There are sticks in a cup to take to dip with. There are tongs to take from the serving trays. Now, here is the problem - and this exists at EVERY chocolate fountain You take what you want to dip and put it on a plate. Then you take the wood skewers and with your FINGERS put each item on a stick. The item that has been in your fingers now goes into the chocolate. You might have just as well dipped your fingers in. See the problem. Now, this takes nothing away from Chens - it is no different with other chocolate fountains. But I watched everyone doing this while at Chen's. There is no way to avoid this other than to have a server at the fountain wearing gloves and dipping for you - and that is going to be rare any place (other than Shady Maple where that is done). So please, don't overwhelm the comments section about the chocolate fountain - it has all been said already. If you enjoy chocolate fountains then this is a good one. I tried it here once just to taste the chocolate and it was good chocolate.

After reading this I am sure you are hungry. I am. I mentioned problems at the beginning and I have included a few. One last problem that is consistent time to time is that the food is not kept hot enough on the buffet. It is not cold, but warm. You need to take from the bottom of a tray to be sure you get hot food. I heard about a part of China where food is traditionally served luke-warm and I am starting to wonder if many of these buffet owners come from that province. As I have said before, food on a buffet needs to be kept HOT - not just warm. There is a microwave out in the middle of the buffet with a sign that says to the effect - "if the food is not hot enough for you heat it up". Really? Not an acceptable solution but perhaps the food is not intended to be hot. You will notice that this has NOT kept me from going back.

I very much enjoy this buffet and it is becoming a regular for me. It is a wonderful value and the food is good. I am hoping that with time the crowds will settle down and there will be less of a wait to get in. The OCB across the road must be crying because they have never been this busy.

Perhaps I should not recommend it, because it will mean a longer wait when I go -but I really have to recommend Chen's Buffet City to you. This is a definite try it if you are nearby.

Chen's Buffet is located at 3056 Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown, NY 11756. Their phone number is 516.520-0888. There is a website which is linked at the side of this page. They are open 7 days a week and their hours are:
Lunch Buffet: Monday to Saturday 11:00am-3:30pm
Dinner Buffet: Monday to Saturday 3:30pm-9:30pm
Sunday and Holidays: 11:00 am-9:30pm.


ML said...

you mean the lines are longer than when OCB first opened? The lines then were wrapped around the building all day long

Writer said...

You won't find lines like that at that OCB anymore. The wait here is different - more like a standard restaurant. You get a number and then wait in the lobby or in the entrance doorway. Friday and Saturdays have had a wait. Weeknights you should be able to walk right in. New Year's Eve was the longest wait - as would be expected. From the crowds at this buffet, OCB across the street must be feeling concern. But then again, the food is very different - southern American vs Asian. It is a matter of what you prefer.

Writer said...

We went back the night after this article was published. It was a Saturday night and there had been a snow storm that day. I expected that the restaurant would be near empty - as most of the roads were icy and there were few cars out driving. When we got to Chen's there was still a short line to get in and the restaurant was crowded - this is a very popular place.

The food was hotter in the serving trays than it has been. Nothing that I took was just warm. Maybe someone read this site the night before - or perhaps management was told by someone else that proper temperatures need to be maintained. Never the less, the food was hot and good - and it has been good each visit.

Tse said...

你再来你没有支付。thanks you, manager.

Writer said...

I just had Tse's comment translated and it says:

"You come back you do not pay"

Thank you, Tse for the offer. I will come back, but I will pay. In fact I was just at Chen's again this past weekend.

Tina said...

Do you think that this was a better buffet than the Good Taste Buffet in Commack? That one has been my favorite so far! I can't wait to try this one out.

Writer said...

Tina - that is difficult to say because these two buffets are very different. I can tell you that there are things that I like at each better than at the other. There is no better spare ribs than those at Good Taste at any other Asian buffet that I have been to. Chen's gives you the Hibachi grill and the ability to create a dish for yourself. There are more choices at Chen's as it is a bigger buffet.

Good Taste until several months ago was a regular for us. Chen's has now taken its place. Though for a change, I am sure we will be back to Good Taste again.
If you go to Chen's on a Friday or Saturday night expect to wait to get in. The crowds seem to be getting larger. Once in this is not a problem, but a twenty minute to a half hour wait is typical. They are now open on those nights until 10:30.

songbird's crazy world said...

We love this place too. You will frequently find us here on a Friday night.