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.


songbird's crazy world said...

I noticed the change. My boyfriend always gets the steak. It isn't as good as it was when the place opened.

We sometimes go to International Buffet in Garden City. They do a carving station now, instead of Mongolian. Easier for them, I suppose.

Aunt Buffy said...

The Crystal Garden buffet on Portion Rd. in Suffolk County has been very excellent lately and doesn't have the problems that you describe with Chen's. You should give it a try. It is not "fancy," some dishes are "plain," but they do everything very well.