Friday, March 30, 2012


This past February I wrote an article on this site telling all of you about a special one night holiday smorgasbord that would be served at the IKEA stores in their restaurant. That article was met with a barrage of comments from readers who I don't really believe understand what this site is all about, but those comments focused upon the quality of food at buffets in general. I am not going to go into that here - and such comments made to this article in that regard will not be published. This article is about my meal at the Easter Smorgasbord at IKEA on the one night it was served in 2012 - March 23, 2012.

We purchased our tickets four weeks in advance of the meal. Tickets must be purchased in advance, though I will tell you later about how you might be able to pay on the night of the dinner and maybe get in. We purchased tickets for the 7 to 9 seating. There was an earlier seating from 4 to 6. The tickets cost just $9.99 and the meal is all you care to eat and all inclusive. We went to the dinner at the IKEA store in Hicksville, New York.

We were not really certain what to expect. We were not sure how they would transform a cafeteria style restaurant with a not very large dining room into an all you can eat experience. I was also not sure how they could sell a limited number of tickets that would correspond to seating this many and that many at each table. In other words, if you have a table for four and three sit down, it is unlikely that the fourth seat at that table is going to be used - so if you have a potential of, say, 200 seats, you cannot really sell 200 tickets. That was not my concern, and as they have done this many times before, I was sure that they would know what to do - and they did. When we bought our tickets there was a serial number on each ticket. The cashier selling them to us recorded those numbers and took my name and phone number. We purchased them at the restaurant cashier.

The dinner was to start at 7. I figured that we should be there early - still not knowing what to expect. The regular restaurant had been closed all afternoon and only opened for the first smorgasbord seating at 4 pm. We left home to arrive at about 6:30. We actually got up to the second floor of the store to the area outside of the restaurant at 6:30 pm and found a line that stretched from the entrance to the restaurant back to almost the entrance stairs coming up from the first floor. We got on the back of the line with the rest of the people who got there early for the 7:00 seating. The line continued to grow behind us. My curiosity was getting the better of me and I walked up to the front in the children's furniture department to sneak a peak at the inside of the restaurant. There I saw all of the dining tables set with silverware, a glass and a brightly colored paper napkin in the glass. In the middle of the restaurant where other tables would be when the restaurant is open for regular meals, was two long tables set up with serving platters and hot chafing dishes of food. There were four sides to server from - but I was too far at that point to see any detail. There was a buzz of employees carrying out platters of food and preparing the serving tables for the waiting guests. On the line were couples, families, groups, parents with children and babies.

At just before 7:00 pm the line started to move forward at a good pace. There were two employees standing at the entrance taking tickets. No one said anything about where to sit and everyone was finding a table of their choice. We found a table near where we usually sit when we have dinner at this store's restaurant. It was a table set for four. We sat at the outer two seats and expected that at some point another couple would come to sit in the other two seats. The actual tables have a separation between them though they share the same legs and frame. It would be fine with us if others came to join us.

There was a gentlemen from the restaurant directing people into the winding, railed area that is used for the cafeteria line. The cafeteria counters were closed. They used the railed area to organize the line that went into the area with the buffet serving tables. From here we could see that each side of the tables had the same food on it as the other side. Desserts were off to the side in a cold server where soups and salads are usually served on regular nights and the usual drink area was where you got your beverage. The line moved steadily up to the serving tables and there was a very pleasant employee holding the front of the line until there was an opening at the rear of one of the sides of the serving table and then let your party up to take your food. It was extremely well organized. We reached this gentleman who greeted us and in a few moments he saw and opening and told us to step right in and enjoy the dinner. We went up to the serving table and started selecting what we wanted to try.

The menu for the dinner that was on the IKEA website is as follows:

Assorted Herring
Hardboiled eggs with mayo and shrimp
Hardboiled eggs with herring roe or tångkorn
Shrimp with cocktail sauce
Marinated Salmon with Mustard Sauce
Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce
Poached Salmon
Assorted Cheeses
Tossed green salad
Cucumber salad
Red Beet Salad
Breads: Crispbread, Crisprolls, Dinner rolls
Swedish Meatballs
Mashed Potatoes
Boiled potatoes w/dill
Swedish Ham with Mustard
Gratäng Jansson
Assorted Swedish desserts and cookies
Fountain Beverages, Hot beverages

What was served varied from this only slightly. I will tell you here that there were no shrimp with cocktail sauce, no mashed potatoes, and from what I have been able to find out what Gratang Jansson is (if I am not mistaken) there was no Gratang Jansson. There were other dishes that are not listed here.

I had been a bit concerned before we went that my picky eater wife would not find things to eat. I know that she does like the meatballs, she does eat ham, she does eat boiled potatoes, and she does eat salad, so I knew that she should be OK - as long as things are not covered in unknown, to her, sauces. They were not.

Looking at the crowd, and the line, and that it appeared that waiting on line again to go back - and not sure how long the crowds would be coming in - they still were at this point, I decided that it would be best to do what I never do and fill my plate with a mixture of things that I would ordinarily take in courses and go back up for. So on my first plate I took a small piece of each of the three types of herring - one in a cream sauce, one in a dark thin sauce, and one in a clear thin sauce. I also took some of each type of the smoked salmon - the marinated salmon and the smoked salmon. All sauces were in serving dishes at the sides of the main dishes. There was only one type of cheese - a white, mild cheese and I took one chunk of that to try. I took a spoon of the red beat salad (or perhaps it was a hot red cabbage salad - I am not really certain), and I also took a dinner roll. There was a large platter of sliced ham. I took a slice of that. I looked at a long hot serving dish and there were small sausages cut in half and baked. I took a couple of those and finished my plate with a spoon of their Swedish meatballs that were served in their cream gravy. As I say, I was not certain at this point what to expect coming back up and this was not a usual buffet set up where taking a little and coming back for another plate of different things. I later found that while there really was no problem going back up for more, it was really not conducive to my usual buffet dining strategy. Not a problem.

We went back to our table and set our plates down. For those concerned about saving your table while you go up to the buffet, we carried Spring jackets with us (which came in handy when we left for home in the cooler night air) and put them on the back of our chairs. We had also taken our napkins out of our glasses and the silverware set on the napkins before we went up to the serving tables. We then went up to get our beverages and there were all of the usual sodas plus ligonberry juice, coffee and tea - and there was a table set up serving a traditional Swedish holiday spiced beverage and sparkling apple and ligonberry drinks - all non-alcoholic, of course. There were still people first coming into the restaurant from the line outside the restaurant and there was still the line going into the serving tables.

The food was all very good. We later saw that much of what is served is the same as what is sold in the store's small Swedish food mart at very high prices. There was no question that the food was of quality.

I started on my plate following what I would usually eat in the order that I would have taken it if I went up at different times for several plates to make up this one. (Some people were taking several plates at a time and putting different items on them and taking them back to their tables. Since it is not in my nature at buffets to do this, this had not occurred to me, but I might do it that way next time.)

The three cold herring dishes were very good. I liked the one in cream sauce best - though it was a different cream sauce than what is usually found at NY deli counters which is more of a sour cream base mixed with raw onions. This was a yellow cream sauce and very good. I took a little more of that one on a later trip back. The marinated and smoked salmon were excellent. I liked the marinated a bit more than the smoked salmon. I had taken some type of sauce that was next to the salmon platters that was a yellow cream sauce with perhaps capers. I do not know if this was the mustard sauce or the horseradish sauce but it was a nice addition to the taste of both of the salmon that I took. One thing that they could have done better is label everything. I really had no idea what the items were that I had never seen before - or what was what beyond the obvious. The only label that I actually saw was a sign in front of the meatballs and there was no confusion at all about what those were without a sign. The cheese that I took for just a taste was pleasant and mild. I have no idea what type of cheese it was. I finished the cold fish dishes and moved on to the entree items. The little sausages were wonderful. I have no idea what they were. They looked like small hotdogs and had that consistency of meat in the casing but they did not taste like hotdogs. The Swedish meatballs were good as they always are here. The ham was mild in taste and served cold. It had more of a quantity of fat around the meat than hams usually found in the US and the outside was a thin rind which, unlike some hams served at buffets, could be eaten and enjoyed. There did not seem to be any sauce cooked on it or into it -and there was a rich, brown, spiced mustard in a serving dish next to the ham. The red beet salad was much like hot red cabbage that I have had before at other restaurants. I enjoyed it. The boiled potato was, what should I say - a boiled potato and nice. Again, everything was very good. My wife took what I expected that she would take. She is not an adventurous eater but she was very happy with her selections.

While we were eating we were joined at the table by another couple who asked if we minded them sitting at the second section of our table and we told them, of course not. They were very pleasant and we had a small exchange of dinner conversation with them without feeling intruded upon in talking between ourselves - as they seemed comfortable with as well.

When we went up for a second plate, there was still a line at the buffet tables - and still people coming in from outside with tickets. The line for the buffet tables was not as long. We were greeted again by the same pleasant gentleman who directed us to an open space in one of the serving lines. All of the four serving lines had exactly the same food to take. This time in addition to taking a few of the things that I had enjoyed the most, I took some of the poached salmon and some of the cucumber salad. We also took a disk of the crisp bread to share. They also had a flat bread that looked like a square wheat flour tortilla. We thought that we might go back to share a piece of that later. There was a serving bowl of something that looked like pink cream in the middle of the salads. I had no idea what this was, so I took a spoonful to find out.

I do not generally like cooked salmon of any type. I enjoy raw salmon sushi, salmon belly lox, smoked salmon, and gravlax. Cook salmon and I don't like the taste or consistency of it. The serving platter of the poached salmon was a long wooden board with a silver salmon fish head at one end and a silver fish tail at the other end. The poached salmon was laid out in between this decorative head and tail. It was covered in a sauce of sliced cucumbers. I could see from one platter that was nearly done and being taken away as it was replaced with another whole salmon that there were a large number of bones in this fish. As I scooped the spoon into the fish to take some, I could see long, thin fish bones come away from the salmon meat as I took the spoon up and out. The spoonful of fish that I put on my plate was very creamy in appearance, as if mixed with a sauce, but it was not - it was poached. Back at the table, I took a forkful of this salmon expecting to not like it as I don't like other cooked salmon. I was pleasantly surprised at the creamy texture and very mild cooked salmon taste. I finally found a cooked salmon that I would eat again.

The cucumber salad was exactly like cucumber salad that I have had in the Pennsylvania Dutch area. It is thinly sliced cucumber in a sweet sugared and dill vinegar. The vinegar taste is very mild and the taste is mostly but not overly sweet. Nice. Were I not concerned that I was already putting my blood sugar into a steady increase with the various things that I was trying - and intended still to try, I would have had more.

The crisp bread we later found out was a rye crisp bread. It is a baked disk of a cracker like bread with holes in it and this one was dark brown in color. It was nice. It was not something that I would go out of my way to have - though we found out later looking in the food mart that one disk is only 15 grams of carbohydrate including additional fiber which in the world of crackers and bread products is not bad.

The pink cream at first taste seemed to be a very creamy egg salad. The taste was definitely egg, but the pink color seemed to come from ligonberries and there was also very tiny potatoes in the mixture. It was an egg/potato salad and very good.

By 7:35 pm there was no longer a line coming into the restaurant. By 8:00 there was no longer any line to get up to the serving tables. You could now walk right up. This is just one hour into the two hour meal seating. Also just after 8:00 pm a few people came in to the restaurant and were taken to the cashier where they paid and came in to eat - without advanced tickets. By this time people had left and there were empty tables so it was no problem finding a table and employees were all around the dining room showing people where to sit if they were unsure throughout the night.

A third plate was looming in the back of my head and we both went back up for one. This time I took a small amount and just things that I especially enjoyed. I wanted more of those little sausages. The serving trays of sausages on both tables were empty. Platters and food were continually being brought out - everything was replaced as soon as it appeared like it soon would be empty - the best way to do it. I waited expecting more sausages to come out. Apparently they had been popular and there were no more. There was plenty of the rest and it all kept coming out. I did also notice that the beet/cabbage (?) hot salad was also gone, but in its place was a vegetable mixture that had not been out before that included zucchini, carrots, and broccoli. My wife was delighted at this and took some. Later those vegetables also took the place of where the sausages had been. There was also no more of the flat bread that we waited to try. SO - those that came in past 8 did not get the sausages, flat bread, or the beet/cabbage dish - they did get mixed vegetables. There was plenty of ham, meatballs, salmon, cold salmon, herring, rolls, crisp bread, and the rest. It occurred to me also that had we been at the first seating at 4:00 pm then nothing would have run out. But even those few things that did run out, did not detract from the overall dinner. As I say, there was plenty of what everyone came for.

I walked past the desserts several times during the meal. If I could eat them, I would have had one of each - as the lady at the table next to us had. There were large cream puffs full of whipped cream with the top of the cake that was sliced off to fill it with cream sitting on top of the cream, apple cake, and two chocolate cakes - one with caramel and such on top, and the other looked like a brownie but wasn't. There was also a tray of assorted cookies - all very thin cookies that looked real good. Again, I cannot eat dessert but I have heard a lot of about their apple cake and I had to try that. I took a small piece. All of the cakes are cut into small squares - except the cream puffs which were as big as a large fist. All were there to take and if you wanted a large piece, all you had to do was take several pieces. It is nicer to be able to take an assortment.

I took the apple cake. The cakes are the same as those sold in the store's Swedish Food Mart in the freezer case. The piece of apple cake that I took must have been just put out, because while the outside was soft and moist, the center of the apple section was still very cold from being frozen. It was not frozen hard, but very cold. The cake was nice. The cake part was a bread-like cake and the apple was seasoned with cinnamon. It was not too sweet and the apple was not tart. I finished the whole little piece. I may regret that later when I test my blood sugar, but that is OK for me on an occasional basis and I do not regularly eat desserts, though I would love to.

At this meal, just like anytime eating at an IKEA restaurant, you clear your own dirty dishes. There are racks put in sectioned off areas around the dining room to place dirty dishes. After each plate, we put the dirty dishes there. Not a problem. It is easy to do and the area to put the plates in is clean to walk into and place the plates down (on trays laid out for the purpose on carts).

The employees throughout the night were exceptional. Everyone was pleasant and very welcoming. Three times during the meal someone came to our table - and all of the tables, to ask if everything was fine, if there was anything that we needed, and once we were given coupons to use in the Swedish Food Mart in the store - in case you wanted to take home some of the things that you ate or serve them yourself at your own Easter dinner. It appeared that some of the employees around the dining room were management. There was a certain air about them and they were very attentive to everything going on. The line staff were just as attentive. As I said, no platter went empty before it was replaced.

The whole meal and experience was delightful. The people that sat at our table with us said they have been to these dinners before and came from a distance to come here. They told us that they come to these dinners four times a year. We did not know there were any others than Christmas and Easter. We were told by one of the gentlemen who came around to the tables that there will be another special smorgasbord dinner served in June. I do not know what occaision that is for, but I certainly will keep an eye out for it and tell you all about it in advance so that you will be sure to be able to purchase tickets. There is no mention yet that I can see on their website.

For the nay-sayers - Is this "authentic" Swedish cooking? I have no idea. I am not Swedish and I have never had a Swedish meal cooked for me by someone who is. I can tell you this - no international restaurant - no matter what class, what cuisine, or what price range - is going to match the food prepared at home by a native cook of that country. I am 100% Italian American. One set of my grandparents' parents were born in Italy and one set of my grandparents themselves were born in Italy. I grew up with the best of authentic Italian home cooking and no Italian restaurant that I have ever been to is as good as the food prepared by either grandmother or my mother. I have been to what are considered great Italian restaurants - some world famous. Some have come close. Many have been excellent in taste. I have enjoyed most and would recommend many, because I know that they will appeal to the American taste. So, I say this. If it tastes good, I eat it - and not worry about how authentic it is. There is no room for food snobs here.

I have now shared with you the experience of eating at one of IKEA's special smorgasbord dinners. You now know what to expect. I can only assume that it is the same set up at all of the IKEA restaurants. Just about everything else is consistent at their stores so I would see no reason why this would not be the same all over. I enjoyed it and I had a good time. It was fun. That is a lot to get for $10. If there is another in June, I will be going back. I know there will definitely be one in December and again next Easter. I recommend this meal for a different experience in buffet cuisine.

Friday, March 23, 2012


I recently wrote an article about a return trip to the Southern Smokehouse in Linden, New Jersey. In that article I said that I was not certain that I would go back. Read the article and you will see why. A week later, we were in that area again on business. I did some searching for other buffets. The wonderful restaurant, Buffet Europa, is gone. I know that there are readers who also miss that restaurant. There is Mikkoli, which is very good, but costs a little more than we wanted to spend for dinner on the way home. I searched for buffets on Staten Island and learned that there are basically four - all Asian. The one that was most tempting I found out has had three visits form the health inspector's department in two recent months and did the published violations were such that I decided it might be better to just wait and see how that one improves their score before I try it. I also learned on this search that there has been a Southern Smokehouse on Staten Island - and also one in Philadelphia, and both closed. I had originally suspected that this was perhaps a small chain. I am not sure that any of the three locations were ever open at the same time and it may just have been the owners looking for a location that would work for them. The Linden, New Jersey location appears to be the only one in operation.

So we are in New Jersey, just outside of NY and we want to have dinner on the way home - and my curiosity was getting to me. I liked Southern Smokehouse before. I was looking forward this year to going back. We went back a week ago and things were just not as I liked. Was this a one time thing? Or was this how this buffet is now? As I said in my recent article about them, the food is good, but the service is not. My wife has no qualms about returning - and we did. You should know that the article on this site did not appear before this new visit.

It again was a Friday night, but I decided that rather than getting there a little before 7:00 pm as we had a week ago, we would go a little later. It was almost a quarter to 8 when we walked in. I wanted to go later because last week I noticed that the crowd picked up around 8 and things were running a little smoother at the same time. We arrived, paid - you pay as you enter at this buffet - just like the chain buffets, and waited about five minutes to be seated. The restaurant was crowded. There also appeared to be parties going on in the two party rooms.

We were shown to our table and very quickly a young woman came over and introduced herself as our server. She was friendly and seemed eager to be of service. We gave her our soft drink orders and went off to get soup. First - there were soup spoons! The two soups were turkey rice and cream of mushroom (instead of the clam chowder). The soups are homemade. My wife decided that there must always be turkey soup because they have whole roast turkeys and the best thing to do with the carcass of a carved turkey is to make soup. She said there was plenty of turkey meat in the soup. The cream of mushroom soup was thick and full of mushrooms. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We come back to the table with our soup and sit down. There are no soft drinks on the table. We had been away a few minutes getting our soup, but that is OK, we figured that this eager young lady would be there shortly with the drinks. There she was - behind the counter where the drink service is. Surely she is filling our glasses. She emerged from this little half walled area, not with our drinks but with a cleaning towel and started wiping down tables. Then she returned behind this area and was there for several minutes. She was in and out of there a few times, before eventually, she coming out with our drinks. I do have to say that she asked if we needed anything else when she came, pointed where the sweeteners are, and said if there was any other type needed she would bring it. All very nice, but we were off to a similar start as before. If I was the manger here, my instructions to my table servers would be = when you go to a table to greet the customers sitting down, the first thing you do when you are given the beverage orders is to go directly to the beverage area, get the drinks, and go immediately back to that table and deliver them. This is not a lot to ask - in fact it is done regularly just this way at almost all, if not all of the buffets that I have been to where the beverages are not self-service. In this way, you don't forget that you have an order to fill and you don't get distracted and go and do something else.

I have a suggestion for the owner of this restaurant. Sir, you know the walled off areas that you have for your servers where the drinks are kept and dishes are taken. "Mr. Manager, tear down those walls!" Your employees have a convenient place to hide. These areas need to be out in the open and your table servers do not need to spend any time there other than to get drinks and discard dirty dishes. They need to be all around the dining room taking care of their tables. They need to be alert to the people at tables in their section - and not be socializing, checking text messages, etc. During this evening, the manager appeared. He seemed fine with what was going on within the walled service area that we could see. He did pass by our table and pick up the soiled plates that had been sitting there through much of a course.

So, the service is still an issue here, though it was overall much better this time than last. She did come by almost regularly, eventually cleared the plates off the table, and did ask if we would like refills which she then brought promptly. I have had worse servers. Of the four servers at Southern Smokehouse that we have had since we started coming to the restaurant, she has been the best. She actually did not seem to socialize at all. She double checked about what to bring for the refills and she got the drinks right each time. I will tell you now that she got a much better and appropriate amount tip than the server last week. Other servers were pretty much as they were last week from my observation.

The food was good. It has always been good. The ribs were very meaty and sauced just enough. There is additional sauce right there at the grill to add if you like. The turkey was whole when we arrived and the turkey was nicely moist when carved. I enjoyed the slice of turkey much more on this night than I had a week before. There was a freshly put out tray of macaroni and cheese and I got to see that it had a thick covering of melted cheese. I should not eat mac and cheese because of diet, but I could not resist and had a small serving (again - as I could not resist it last week either). There are so many good things here that are tempting that I could not possibly take all that I would like to try. I did try the barbecue chicken on this visit as I did not try it last week. It was very good. It is covered in barbecue sauce. There is plain broiled chicken as well, and of course, there is homestyle southern fried chicken. I only took the barbecue chicken on this visit. I tried the fried chicken last week. There were too many other really tempting things than just plain chicken. I am sure it is good. Again, the cuisine at this restaurant is an odd mix of home cooking of the American South and Asian. Collard greens, fried okra, black-eyed peas, pork and beans, candied yams, sweet potato quarters, mashed potatoes, homestyle skillet potatoes - and much more are all here. Then there is egg rolls, fried rice, chicken and broccoli, beef and peppers, General's chicken, and more are also here.

The problem with keeping up with empty serving trays was still there. They seemed to be trying, but they do wait until the tray is empty before more is brought out. It may be poor timing, but I hold this problem up to poor observation and anticipation of what is needed. Even at the grill, new steaks are not put down on the chargrill until all of the steaks have been taken. It was better than last week - and perhaps it depends upon what you go up looking for and what is more popularly taken. Had all of this night taken place last week, my first article would have been very different. Is this enough to say all is great?

I will say this. The food is always very good! This restaurant is crowded with people who are enjoying the food. I have always enjoyed the food here. The service, I will say, is inconsistent. If you decide to come here, expect that and be delighted when it is good, and not disappointed when it is not. My wife felt that there was a big improvement as far as service on this night. I agree.

Will I go back again? Yes. I will certainly go back. I do not get to this area regularly - just two weeks one after the other at this time of the year. I could not afford the tolls or the gas to just come here from home for dinner even though it is less than two hours away - depending on traffic.

Do I now recommend Southern Smokehouse to you? Yes, with the caution about service that I have stated. If you like southern cooking, real homestyle cooking - not the chain buffet versions of southern cooking, then you will like the food here. Yes, if you want to eat plain or with diet restrictions, you can do that also here. There are plain vegetables, carved roast turkey, plain chicken, baked salmon, and a salad bar. The rest is going to be tempting, but if you need to resist it and you can, you will be fine here. Remember my picky eater wife who does not eat things with sauces and likes things plain finds plenty to eat and enjoy here.

Southern Smokehouse is located at Aviation Plaza Shopping Center which is at 611 West Edgar Road (Route 1 and 9) in Linden, New Jersey 07036. The phone number is 908-862-1883. The hours on Friday and Saturday are until 10 pm. Weeknights and Sunday nights they are open until 9 pm. They seem to open each day at 11 am for lunch. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet, Carle Place, NY and Other Locations - Revisited

Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet is one of the buffets that we go to once a year for a particular special and fun occasion. It would be nice to go more often but the price - for us - prohibits that. And the price like everything else, keeps going up. We were last there a year ago in December. You can read the article about that visit here. Even though this recent visit was a weeknight - after the holidays - the restaurant was crowded. A large part of the clientele of this buffet is Asian.

The price now at Minado is $29.95 for weeknights and $31.95 Friday to Sunday. These prices do not include beverages. We go on a weeknight. The buffet is Japanese and it is not all seafood. There are six serving sections at this buffet.

The main attraction is sushi and there is an extensive cold section of sushi continually being made and put out. The variety of the sushi rivals that of any Japanese restaurant or sushi bar. It is far beyond what you will find in the usual Asian buffets. The sushi is good. I do have to note, however, that prior to this trip, the tuna, especially, stood out in taste - very different than what I have had, but on this trip the tuna was not different at all - there was nothing wrong with it, but it was not what I remembered. I wondered if it was just this particular fish or if they have lowered the standard of the tuna they are using. I don't know. Again, there was nothing wrong with it - it was good - but just not as good.

Moving around the buffet, there is a cold seafood section with cold snow crab legs, shrimp, raw shellfish, and pieces of sushi fish without rice. Here also I had the thought that they have cut back some, as the types of fish put out were fewer than years past in this section. Again, all good.

The buffet server turns a corner and there is a long section of Japanese prepared salads, some with fish or meat, some just vegetables, some spicy and some not. There are some very different and tasty salads to try here and while at some buffets the salad section is just an after-thought, here it is popular and a nice part of the meal. This section is as long as the sushi section and all is on ice. This buffet clearly labels everything that is out and also includes the primary ingredients in each dish. There is no guessing what is in something. My picky eater wife is very happy to see that when we come here. She knows exactly what she will like to take and what to avoid because it has something in it that she does not like. It would be great if all buffets followed this simple idea and clearly labeled things - especially when the name does not give any clue to what something is - or the name is in another language - like Japanese or Chinese.

The next part of the buffet that you come to is the grill area and here you will find an hibachi grill, a hot dessert griddle for crepes, hot grilled appetizers on skewers, and a udon soup station. The hibachi is your choice of chicken, shrimp, or beef. The udon soup is made to your order and the chef will include or leave out any of the ingredients that he has in front of him to create the soup.

The buffet turns a corner and the hot entrees start. There is a variety of Japanese dishes that are meat, fish, or vegetable. The expected chicken teriyaki and beef teriyaki are here along with tempura. The variety can include any of these: B.B.Q. Pork Ribs, Baked Stuffed Mushrooms, Beef Teriyaki, Blue Crab in Oyster Sauce, Breaded Crab Sticks, Calamari in Wispy Lemon Sauce, Calamari Rings w/ Paprika Sauce, Chicken Teriyaki, Calamari w/ Carrot Sauce, Chicken Teriyaki, Corn Crab Cake, Crab Cake Ball, Crab Soup w/ Seaweed, Deep Fried Fluke w/ Wasabi Sauce, Dynamite (Seafood Medley), Egg White Fish w/ Kabayaki Sauce, Fried Rice, Fried Rice w/ Soy Bean & Seasoned Seaweed, Fried White Fish w/ Asian Sauce, Grilled Butter Fish w/ Ginger, Grilled Salmon w/ Asian sauce, Grilled Scallops, Grilled Seafood Cake, Grilled Shrimp on Skewer, Grilled Sword Fish w/ Teriyaki Sauce, Japanese BBQ Chicken, Japanese Pork BBQ, Mahi-Mahi, Miso Soup, Oden, Pork Gyoza Dumplings, Pork Loin w/ Gravy Sauce, Prime Rib, Red Snapper w/ Masago Sauce, Salmon Roll w/ Grain Mustard sauce, Shrimp Shumai, Shrimp Soup, Spicy Shrimp, Steamed Clams, Steamed Green Mussels, Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp, Tempura Shrimp w/ Sweet Sauce, Tofu w/ Shitake Sauce, Tonkatsu, Turbot w/ Fried Tofu, Udon Noodles, Vegetable Shrimp Tempura, Vegetable Tempura, White Fish w/ Marinated Shrimp, Yakisoba w/ Vegetables, and Yakitori. Do not expect to find all of these dishes at any one time. These are the dishes that the restaurant selects from and only puts out several of them. There will be plenty to eat.

Going back to the opposite side of the room where the sushi bar is located is where you will find the dessert area against the wall. There is not an extensive dessert area but there is a nice selection of little cakes, fresh fruit, and jello. The soft serve machine always has Green Tea ice cream and this is something special to try if you have never had it. It is unique in taste, creamy, and refreshing. For dessert you can also return to the grill area where you will find hot crepes being made with fillings of syrup and fruit, covered with whipped cream.

On this particular night there was a problem that took place at the hibachi grill. There was a woman customer who on her turn stepped up to the grill with a line of people behind her and ordered her plate to be made. When that was done and handed to her, she ordered another one. When she started doing this a third time the people behind her became angry - and rightly so. Two men came from the line and started to complain to the chef who clearly did not want a problem but started on making the third plate for this woman. They got loud and stormed off. A short while later - with this same woman still at the grill - a manager came over and instructed the chef that he was only to cook for those people who were actually waiting on line and there was to be one plate to a person - at a time. The woman insisted that friends had been on the line and had to get off and she was "just" getting their orders made for them. I had been on the line for awhile and there had been no one with her, but she was a table with several other women. She took her three plates and went back to her table to join her friends. What the manager did was the correct thing to do and it is not fair for someone to take up so much time when there is a line behind them.

The chefs preparing the sushi are all Japanese (or at least Asian). The people who are cooking at the grills are Hispanic. It seems odd that a restaurant that goes out of its way to present itself as authentic cuisine would not have Japanese chefs - at least in all visible cooking areas. Would Japanese chefs cook what is being made any differently? I really can't say. One thing I will say is that there was more of a language problem with the non-Japanese chefs on this night that we were there. When you are at a grill and need to order and make what you want known, it helps to be understood and not be certain what exactly the non-understandable response was from the chef.

The food is good. The service is fine. The price is high. At the time that we had this meal, we had just been to Chen's buffet which I have written about several times. It also has an hibachi grill and, as I have written, in the first couple of weeks of opening, Chen's was doing hibachi right. The hibachi that I had at Chen's at that time was tastier and better than the hibachi that I had on this night at Minado - and the dinner price at Chen's is ONE THIRD the price of Minado. Things have changed at the hibachi grill at Chen's now so I would not say the same is still true - not in regard to the difference in price.

If you want a different type of buffet, you are an adventurous eater, and you can afford it try Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet. It is less expensive at lunch but not that much less expensive at $17.75 to $21.75. Those are lunch prices way beyond me.

Minado has five locations. One in New York (this one), one in Massachusetts, two in New Jersey, and one in Pennsylvania. They also run restaurants under the name Nori. The buffet that I have written about is located at 219 Glen Cove Road, 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.

Friday, March 09, 2012

SOUTHERN SMOKEHOUSE, Linden, New Jersey - One Year Later

I have been thinking about this restaurant since we went back to it for a second try last April. Our first dinner there was about a year ago. We had business in New Jersey - we generally do at this time of year for a week or two - and my thought for dinner was nothing else but Southern Smokehouse in Linden, New Jersey.

We went this time on a Friday night and it was early - about 7:00 pm. The restaurant was just perhaps half full - it got more crowded later around 8 pm. The price has gone up slightly since last year (now $12.99 and 50 cents more Friday to Sunday) and for a basic description of the restaurant and the food that is served, please read the two part review in March 2011 and the follow up review in April 2011. I was all set to enjoy the food at this buffet again - and the food is still good. The price has not changed since last year and the offerings on the buffet were pretty much as they were when we were here a year ago in March - with minor changes in side dishes which is to be expected.

The problem here - as it was on both visits last year - are the employees. The server who came to our table seemed very pleasant and eager to be of service. We started out fine. He took our drink orders and in a reasonable amount of time brought the two sodas - and, happily, on this trip they were both correct.

We went up for soup and there was New England Clam Chowder and a correctly labeled Turkey Rice soup. We took bowls from the salad bar and used them for soup bowls - there are no others to take- and I suppose that this is what they intend for you to use for soup. There were no spoons - anywhere. We went all around the buffet looking for spoons. We looked at the dessert area next to the ice cream machine. No spoons. I asked the server - as others were - for spoons and the spoons had to be scouted out and found. Eventually, we were brought two spoons. OK, it happens.

Dirty dishes were taken away within a reasonable time. At the second plate, we finished our sodas, and the server saw this and offered to get us refills. Terrific! He took the glasses and said he would bring new ones. Until almost the end of the meal, that was the last we saw of drinks with our dinner. In the time that he was supposed to be getting us refills of soda, he cleaned several tables, picked up dishes around the dining room away from where we could get his attention, had several discussions with the other two servers working our the much less than crowded section of the dinning room, and checked his cell phone for messages. I could see it all from our table and from the buffet area. And then he disappeared for quite some time. The food here tends toward the salty side of flavorings. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you really do need something to drink while you are eating here - and the beverage is included in the dinner price. We started out with soda - and would have more soda if only this server did his job, reappeared, and brought us what he said he would be bringing us. When he reappeared he walked past our table and started talking to the two tables behind us. As he walked back - and started to take the stack dishes that was growing by now on our table, we reminded him about the soda. OH! So apologetic, but you know it took a bit still for the sodas to arrive.

If this was the only problem with issues related to employees I would say that we have just had bad luck in servers - but this was three out of three including the two last year. But there are some other problems too. Serving trays are not refilled until they are completely empty. There can be just the leavings on the bottom of the tray and the food is not refilled until everything in the tray is gone. This is at least how it seemed to be on this night. It started with the Romaine lettuce for the Caesar salad which is a feature on Friday and Saturday. There were a few leaves left when I went up to make my salad. I took them. By our going up for our second plate, this tray of lettuce was still empty. Eventually, it was filled. It was the same thing with the fried fish. There were two broken pieces left in the tray for quite some time before the fried fish was brought out and the tray was filled. I observed several trays of food the same way - not refilled for a much longer time than necessary. It is the responsibility of whoever is in charge of the serving tables and/or the staff who walk by and see that something needs refilling to alert the kitchen. There does not appear to be a manager evident in the dining room or buffet area. There is a need for a manager here to be visible.

So what about the food? The ribs are still good. The ribs are fairly meaty and tasty. They are not fall off the bone ribs. The fried chicken is still very good, and as I said a year ago, more like what fried chicken is supposed to be than what you get at many other buffets. I was a little disappointed in the turkey. There is a whole, on the bone, roast turkey at the grill area that is carved on your request. There was about a third of the turkey left. It was a very large turkey so there was a lot left on it. A lot of the meat that was left was exposed to the air and the heat lamp, and was a little drier than it should be. It could have used some gravy - there is no turkey gravy. The skirt steak was tasty - though the taste, as is common with skirt steak, comes from what it is sauced with as it is cooked. The macaroni and cheese is exceptionally good - and made "homemade style" and not like the ones that come from a box. There were sauteed mushrooms and onions that had not only button mushrooms but also Shitake mushrooms in the mixture. As described last year (see links above), the food here is a mixture of Southern BBQ and Asian. In addition to southern cooking you will also find Chinese dishes served on the buffet including chicken with broccoli, lo mein, egg rolls, general's chicken, fried rice, and other oriental dishes. There is actually a little something for everyone here.

Dessert is basic - as it was last year. There were three sheet cakes- one that was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (which, by the way, was only several broken chunks of cake left on the tray), a pink cake with white frosting, and a pink cake with pink frosting. There are three trays of "sugar free" cookies that no one seems to touch. There is a soft serve ice cream machine with toppings to make a sundae and cones. There are fruits and puddings on the opposite half of the salad bar buffet server.

The situations with the soda spoiled the dinner. I think that I might have looked at the overall experience of this visit a lot differently, if the service was good. At one point during that all, I said to my wife, "I am not happy." That is not a good way for anyone to feel while out for an enjoyable meal. And if I was feeling this way, then if you go and experience the same here, you will feel that way too. No matter how the food is, the service can make or break a restaurant- and believe it or not, especially in a buffet where you go and get your own food. If the server is not good, you are left with a table of dirty dishes and/or no refills of your drinks.

It happens that we will be in New Jersey again in a week. Before this dinner I had planned on going back to Southern Smokehouse two weeks in a row. Now I am not that sure.

I have to reserve my recommendation now to you. I don't really know what to say. The food is nice, the service is terrible. Do you put up with the bad service to have the good food? All and all an interesting question. If I go back again next week, I will let you know in a follow up article at some point in the near future. If you don't see an article about that in several weeks, you will know how I answered the above question.

Southern Smokehouse is located at Aviation Plaza Shopping Center which is at 611 West Edgar Road (Route 1 and 9) in Linden, New Jersey 07036. The phone number is 908-862-1883. The hours on Friday and Saturday are until 10 pm. Weeknights and Sunday nights they are open until 9 pm. They seem to open each day at 11 am for lunch. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Chen's Buffet City, Levittown, New York - An Update

It has only been several weeks since my first article about Chen's Buffet City in Levittown, New York appeared. As I had said in that article we have made this a regular place to dine on our list of local buffets. I want to give you all an update from the first article addressing some of the things that I wrote about then.

The first thing that I want to say is that the temperature of the food on the buffet is no longer a problem. We know that someone from the restaurant did read the article on this site and commented. Since then the food has been served at the proper temperature. What is supposed to be hot is hot and not just warm - or cool as was the case before. The food temperature is not a concern any longer.

I would like to talk about the Hibachi grill. I had said in that article that in the several times that I had been there before writing the article, I never had the hibachi food prepared the same way twice - and not at my request but how the hibachi chefs were cooking it. At this point the hibachi cooking has become consistent- but not for the better.

Perhaps had I not been there in the second week of their opening and had not been at the grill when a "master" hibachi chef was there teaching the employees who would be chefs at the grill how to cook hibachi style - the way it is done at Japanese hibachi restaurants - I would just think that how it is done now at Chen's is the way they do it - and I would have no expectations of anything better. But I was there watching the training - and I had a plate made by the "master". In fact that plate was better than some I have had at hibachi restaurants. That is all gone now. Now, the same ingredients - almost - are still there for you to take and have cooked on the hibachi grill, but the method used to cook this all is completely different.

To go back to what they were doing - and what is done on most hibachi grills at restaurants - the grill was lightly oiled first, and then butter was added to the grill (I don't want to hear about butter is no good for you - I am telling you how it was done correctly) - and then your vegetable and/or noodles that you selected were put down on the grill on the butter. More oil and butter on another section of the grill above your vegetables and your beef, chicken, or shrimp were put down to cook. As the food cooked, sauces were added. At that time two sauces were added to the food - both meat and vegetables - one was soy sauce and the other was a mixture that was primarily teriyaki sauce. As this was cooking, the chef would take a sharp knife and on the grill start quickly slicing and cutting the vegetables into small, bite size pieces and also would cut the beef into strips and then again into smaller pieces. If you had chosen chicken that was cut up small raw, and shrimp did not need cutting. Meat and vegetables would cook separately until almost the end when all would be mixed together with a little more sauce added. That was how it was done in the beginning.

This is how it is done now. Only oil goes down on the grill. The butter is long gone. The vegetables and the beef are put down in the same manner BUT if you have chicken or shrimp, those go into the mixture of vegetables to cook. They have started to ask with steak, how you would like your steak cooked, but the chefs have no idea what rare, medium rare, or medium mean. All steak is cooked the same and cooked medium well to well done. The steaks now are also no longer the large thick cuts of beef that they were several weeks ago. Now they are thin slices of beef. Not the "good sized steaks" that I told you about in my first article. I had a feeling that they were going to cut back on the hibachi as it was just too good to be at a buffet with an $11.49 dinner price. Now, instead of their using a traditional hibachi sauce as described above, they have a sign - "Choose Your Sauce - 1) Soy Sauce 2) Teriyaki Sauce 3) Lo Mein Sauce" (I am not sure what Lo Mein sauce is). You now pick one sauce. OK - but just a little of that sauce goes on the vegetables when they are almost done cooking. Nothing goes on the meat unless it is chicken or shrimp that get some of the sauce when the vegetables have sauce put on them. Nothing goes on the steak with the exception of a shake of pepper. No longer is anything cut up. It is just grilled in large pieces and that is how it is put on your plate. The steak is no longer cut up. You get the whole slice of steak sat on the top of the vegetables on your plate. The steak has little taste now and is either eaten as meat on the side of the vegetables or you cut it up and mix it in yourself- which benefits it now to get some flavor into because on its own, it is next to tasteless. Compared to what this hibachi dish once was at THIS restaurant, it is very disappointing. Does it cost them more to cook this way - not really. They are still doing as many dishes at a time as they were - nothing has been speeded up despite their not cutting the meat or vegetables. All in all the hibachi grill at Chen's is now very disappointing and only an approximation of what hibachi grill food should be. I say this because if you read my first article and go there now, you are going to say, "What is was this guy talking about!" when it comes to the hibachi grill.

The rest of the buffet is pretty much as it had been and is still good. They do put out less assortment of sushi on weeknights than they do on Friday and Saturday - and the meal price is the same all nights. On a recent Tuesday night there was no tuna or salmon on rice and only one roll actually contained salmon. The rest were pretend "Krab".

They still talk about snow crab - and there is no snow crab. What they call snow crab is "krab" meat - imitation crabmeat made from fish. There are stone crabs but less have been put out than there had been.

The chocolate fountain remains. The same problems that exist with chocolate fountains at buffets remain here - and I have watched as people pick up the marshmellows, fruit, cookies with the tongs, put them on a plate, then take sticks and then one by one with their fingers put the marshmellows, fruit, or cookies on the wooden skewers - and then it goes into the fountain and under the chocolate. When you eat the chocolate, you are eating everything that was on anyone's fingers who went up and dipped something into the chocolate fountain. I am still amazed how Boards of Health anywhere in the US allow these to be served in a non-supervised, do it yourself situation. Are the people who do the dipping to blame - actually no, because I could not figure out any other way to get that items onto the sticks without actually picking them up with your fingers. And because of this there needs to be someone in attendance who with gloves, takes the items and puts them on the sticks for you with gloved hands, or all items come from the kitchen already on the sticks - and this is just not going to happen. I know many enjoy these chocolate fountains. If you stop and really think about what is happening and watch what goes into these fountains including fingers themselves (not to mention the double dipping - from chocolate to mouth to chocolate again - heck we watched triple dipping one night).

Now, we still go to Chen's and it is still on our list of go to on a regular basis buffets. I still like Chen's and I still recommend it. It still has large crowds and long waits to get in on Friday and Saturday nights - and holidays. We have waited over a half hour on some nights to get in. People like it. I like it. Just be aware, that it is not just as I had described in my first article. Things have changed some - and in just ten weeks since opening.