Friday, April 27, 2012

Return to the Festival Buffet, Foxwoods Casino Resort, CT PART II


The problem here is that it all looks so good - and most of it is quite different from what I see at the usual buffet offerings. It is hard here not to see something and take it - and this buffet requires some - perhaps a lot of - willpower. One way that I deal with this is I try to take just a little bit. It looked good - and most of it was good.

I will start with the really good. The beef brisket in barbecue sauce was good. The meat was tender and the sauce was mild with a nice flavor and not too sweet. The sweet potato fries were good. The manicotti was nice - not the best that I have had, but probably one of the best that I have had at a buffet - and the tomato sauce was nice as well. The sausage was Italian hot sausage - meaning it is spiced with peppers. It was in the server with peppers and onions all together in tomato sauce and the sausages were cut in half. The sausages were nicely thick. The taste was good - authentic - and while I prefer what is known as Italian sweet sausage (with no peppers), this was good. The Japanese noodles with seafood were pan fried broad noodles (likely rice noodles) stir-fried with small shrimp, red and green pepper, onion, bean sprouts and some other oriental vegetables. These were very good! What was not as good as I had hoped? The stir-fry string beans were in a red oil, spicy sauce. They may have been good if you like spicy oriental food, but I was not taking any chances with the long ride home that would eventually follow this meal, as spicy and my stomach do not always get along. I did not finish the green beans after a taste. That leaves the St. Louis ribs. I had very much enjoyed the ribs here on my last two visits. These ribs were cut short and with three bones side by side. There was little to no meat and what meat there was, was not coming off without a struggle. I worked at them for a while to get more than just a taste. I gave up. The rest in the serving tray had looked pretty much the same as these, and I did not go back to try those again. Too bad, too. I really like barbecue ribs - and like them best when the meat just falls off the bones. Not these. But there is so much more to eat here that it was a minor loss.

I went back up to try some more. At the seafood station there were cold peel and eat shrimp - nice large shrimp (I passed those by as I can always get shrimp at a buffet). There were also broiled cod, fried cod, fried clams, french fries, and two types of rice. There were also hot mussels and also jambalaya.

Cod. Before the "evil" talapia became the inexpensive fish to serve, there was cod. There was a time when every menu - at least in the Middle Atlantic and Northeast - had cod. (Now the "new" cod is talapia. Talapia more resembles flounder fillet. The problem with talapia as most is farm raised and it is a fact that farm raised talapia takes away from your body the good Omega nutrients that other fish put in. Why is it so popular? It is cheap.) It set these statements off because I don't want you to think that there is any talapia served here. It is COD. And cod is good and good for you. Cod is a fish of New England and it is no wonder it is still served at this buffet.

I took one piece of the fried cod (I really like fried fish!). I also took a few of the fried clams. The cod was very good. It was thick and pure white. The batter was a beer batter which is a light fried batter. With a bit of tartar sauce, it more than satisfied my taste for fried fish. The fried clams were also good. They were sweet and the batter was a breaded coating. I have probably said this before, but I always compare fried clams to the best fried clams that I have ever had and those were the ones you got at the Howard Johnson's Restaurants of my youth (not the frozen in the supermarket ones that had the Howard Johnson name on them). I have not really found ones to compare. But these were good - not like those, but good.

There was so much that was good that I am losing track of what I had with which trip up. The Italian station had individual bowls of meat lasagna. I did not take that but it looked good. There were three pasta dishes including one that had a pesto sauce, one that had marinara sauce, and a third, that I tried that were little ear shaped macaroni with a bolognese sauce. This was good. They also had meatballs in tomato sauce. I took one of these meatballs on the same plate that I took one of the Swedish meatballs that were in the general section. The meatballs were exactly the same - the sauce was different, of course. The meatball with the tomato sauce was actually better than the Swedish meatball, though that was fine too.

The big mistake that I made - and I always seem to make this same mistake - was to go up to the carving station and get a slice of the Prime Rib that they were carving. The mistake was not that there was anything wrong with meat. The meat was very good. The mistake was that the serving that is given fills a plate. This is like a slice of Prime Rib that you get in a menu restaurant. And asking for a "thin" slice or a "small" slice does not really make any difference. The carver sliced down a nice, large portion of the meat and placed it on my plate. That could have sufficed for dinner all on its own. I decided that I would eat as much as I felt comfortable eating, and leave over what I did not want. And I did exactly that.

Also on what I am calling the general station, as American food station does not really describe everything that was there, was a baked chicken in mushroom gravy. My wife tried this and she said it was very good. There was also fried chicken that looked good. Mixed in with the meat dishes were plain broccoli, macaroni and cheese, the Swedish meatballs that I mentioned before, another rice dish, and carved ham. My wife also tried the ham and she said that was good also.

The Chinese/Oriental station had several spicy dishes including the string beans that I spoke about, as well as fried rice, the Japanese noodles with seafood talked about earlier, and a tray of a thin soup with chicken dumplings in it. There were bowls above the counter. I decided that I would like to try one of the dumplings and took a bowl, scooped one out and drained the soup back into the serving tray with the ladle before I brought the ladle near the bowl. The chicken dumpling was mildly seasoned. It was nice.

There were a lot of side dishes though other than the broccoli, they were carbohydrate based - potatoes of various types - mashed, french fries, sweet potato fries - plus four or so different rice dishes, and then a number of macaroni dishes. There was also kernel corn. I can't say why I feel that there needed to be something different, but my wife took more salad as a vegetable side dish, and at one point, rather than take broccoli, I opted for a slice of half-sour pickle from the salad bar.

Even with tasting sized portions - and the more than plentiful Prime Rib - I was overfull. This is not something that I let happen at most buffets, but this buffet, perhaps because it is different and we get here so rarely, draws me to that.

There there is dessert which takes up a long counter in the front entrance of the buffet. There was a lot of very tempting desserts and a wide variety from hot cobblers, hot bread pudding, an assortment of puddings including tapioca, rice pudding, etc. There were many different cakes. The apple cake caught my eye. It was a large slice of brown cake with apples very visible in the slice. There was coconut cake - yellow cake with white frosting super-filled with coconut. As I stood next to the serving counter, I could smell the sweet coconut call to me. There were brownies, chocolate mousse, soft serve ice cream, sundae fixings, and an area where crepes were cooked and filled to order. There is also a section of sugar-free desserts - mostly cakes. (Understand that sugar-free cakes and desserts have just as many and sometimes more carbohydrates as their non-sugar twins. So calling them sugar-free really does not make them any better.) This was a special occasion for me and I had decided before dinner that I would have a small dessert. I looked from cake to cookie to cupcake and all along the counters and cases deciding what to take. I was like a kid in a candy shop with just enough money in his hand for one treat. And I picked a small chocolate cupcake with a light chocolate swirl of frosting on the top. Why? I am not sure but it was a small portion and easier to choose than the apple cake which I could not eat all of or that wonderfully tempting slice of coconut cake. The baking is pretty good here. I tasted some of the frosting and it was very nice. I then removed the rest of the frosting and set it aside and ate the little chocolate cupcake. It tasted just like chocolate cake should - it was good. Was it spectacular? Not really, but it was to me. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to eat spectacular desserts there were those there to have.

The server that we had was excellent. She was very attentive to her tables. At the table next to us, the people must have asked her to make them chocolate egg cream drinks (this is soda water mixed with just the right amount of milk and chocolate syrup). I would have never imagined requesting such a thing. It certainly can be made on your own at any buffet with a self-serve beverage bar, but to ask the server to make one - well, she did and seemed very happy about doing it. They were discussing how good they were at the next table with her and she had a lot of pride in having made a good one. For us, she refilled out beverages promptly, brought my wife tea when she no longer wanted soda at the end of the meal, and removed all of our soiled plates immediately. She was one of the best servers that I have ever had at any buffet, and I tipped her accordingly.

The Festival Buffet is at Foxwoods Resort Casino. The address is 350 Trolley Line Boulevard,
Mashantucket, CT 06338-3777. The phone number is 1-800-369-9663. There is a website with directions, etc. and that is listed at the side of this page. As I talked about in my article last year, use a GPS to find the casino. It is in the middle of the woods - as a good Native American casino should be.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Return to the Festival Buffet, Foxwoods Casino Resort, CT PART I

About a year ago I wrote about a return trip to the Festival Buffet at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. We recently went back again.

This is one of the buffets that comes to my mind when I think, "what buffet would you really like to go to". From my experience with casino buffets it so one of the nicer of those that I have eaten at. As I pointed out in the March 2011 article (linked above), there are two different experiences to be had there - the weekend or as they call it, the enhanced, buffet and the weeknight buffet. This trip was made for business in the earlier part of the day that had to be done mid-week, so we went on a Wednesday night in April. The weather was nice and the trip to Connecticut as usual was miserable with traffic and construction along the way - there and back. The Connecticut Turnpike always seems to be under construction - and there is never anything to notice that has changed (though I am sure if you live there, you can tell the difference). Anyway, we got there after our business appointment. It was just 6:30 pm and seemed too early to eat. We walked past the buffet and there was no line so we walked around the casino complex for about an hour. The buffet serves until 10:00 pm on weeknights. When we went back to the buffet there was still no line - though it was not empty inside. We paid and walked right in and were seated.

The price of the buffet since a year ago has gone up two dollars per adult on the weeknight price. This does include soft drinks. The price is now $18.99 each.

The dining tables are in three locations within the buffet. There is a section that is actually on the promenade outside the restaurant, separated by a low, decorative wall. There is a section that fills the room with the buffet stations all around it. There is a section next to that room that is separated from a hall off the promenade, though not as much out in the open as the front area is. The seating area on the promenade is a smoking section. This is also adjacent to a bandstand with a music show that starts around 8:30 - 9 pm or so and the music is LOUD. Even if this was not the smoking section I would still not want to sit there - though if you want to Rock while you buffet, you might enjoy it. We asked for a table in the center dining room and there was no problem.

Our meals usually start with soup and there was a surprise - where there were two soups last year, there were four soups on this night. And they were not all cream soups which was a criticism that I had last year. There was chicken rice soup, minestrone soup, a bean soup, and New England Clam Chowder. We later discovered that there was a fifth soup - Chinese chicken dumpling soup at the Chinese area. My "like it simple and plain" wife chose the chicken rice soup and I choose the New England Clam Chowder.

You likely know that New England Clam Chowder is the white cream version and not the red thin version, which is called Manhattan Clam Chowder. The chowder was good. It was thick and full of clams and potatoes. It was nicely seasoned and the clams were cut into chewable pieces, as were the potatoes. My wife said that the chicken rice soup tasted "homemade" and not what would come from a can. The soups (on this visit) started us off happily.

There is an extensive salad bar with two sides - one side had romaine lettuce for Caesar salad and a pre-mixed lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing on it. There was a variety of dressing next to these bowls including creamy Caesar dressing. There were also toppings including real bacon bit pieces. There was also a servers full of mixed olives in a dressing, half sour pickles, sweet pickles, hot peppers, and chunks of chicken. Around the other side of the salad bar were bowls of lettuce, dressings, salad toppings and fixings, cottage cheese, and prepared salads including pasta salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, etc. I made myself a Caesar salad and my wife fixed her usual, salad with vegetable toppings but no dressing. We both enjoyed the salads. I have had Caesar salads in many buffets. I like them most when you put your own dressing on, which you do here. The dressing was nicely flavored and not too sharp, as it can be.

The entrees and side dishes are set up in sections or stations. There is a seafood station, a large general station of various hot entrees and side dishes that includes two carvings, an Italian station, a Chinese/Oriental station, and a Barbecue station. On Fridays and Saturdays, the large general station is divided to include snow crab legs. There are not more dishes at this section on the weeknights - just a duplication of dishes on both sides of the carvings.

I went straight to the Barbecue section. There were fixings to make tacos and there was barbecue which included barbecue brisket, Kansas City ribs, and barbecue chicken. On the weekends you will also find steak here. I took a piece of the brisket and a piece of the ribs. There were sweet potato french fries that I could not resist and I took a very small sampling of those. I went around to the other sections and added a piece of Italian sausage from the Italian station with a small sampling of the baked manicotti. Passing the Chinese section, I spotted a wok server with Japanese noodles with seafood and took a small spoon of that. I had not seen any vegetables that appealed and at the Chinese station there was a wok of string beans sauteed with tofu. A small spoon of that went on my plate. My plate was beginning to resemble an international platter and I went back to the table.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Buffets Inc. Management Get Bonuses After Putting Company into Bankruptcy

I was led to this story by one of our readers, and it is true. The Bankruptcy Court approves bonuses for Buffets, Inc. executives. This follows the closing of so many Old Country Buffet and Ryan's Buffet restaurants owned by the corporation in January 2012 and putting thousands suddenly out of work - and these closings are still happening.

The recipients of these bonuses are the same executives that put the corporation into bankruptcy. One would think that these execs would be fired from their jobs - and join those that they forced out suddenly out of work at the restaurants - but no, they have been rewarded!

The sum to be split among the executives who will receive these bonuses (which includes the top two executives and sixteen other executives is $2.3 Million. How many restaurant employees' jobs could have been saved with $2.3 Million?

This is not the first time the Buffets, Inc. following bankruptcy has applied to the Bankruptcy Court for permission to issue executive bonuses. They did this following the first bankruptcy as well and the chief executive officer, Michael Andrews, and fourteen other top executives at that time received a split of a million dollar bonus. The same execs will be receiving the current bonus. The approval by the Bankruptcy Court is dependent upon the company meeting five specific financial criteria. You and I know that they will.

Lenders to Buffets, Inc. may object to the bonus plan and the court would take those objections into consideration - but so far there has been no report that they will.

Here is an article link that gives all of the details about the bonuses. I do not know how long this link will stay live.

If this company is closing its restaurants and putting its restaurant managers and employees out of work in these so very difficult economic times, where is this bonus money at the top coming from?

One thing that I want to say to my readers is that by taking your anger out on the company by not going to their restaurants will only hurt those at the lowest level - the manager and employees at the restaurant you boycott. This will not hurt the corporation, because they are continuing to close locations of Old Country Buffet and Ryans based upon individual restaurant income. Several additional restaurants have closed since the big January wipe out - maybe more than several. And it is always done the same way. No one knows anything including the manager when they come to work that morning and then the "suits" arrive and tell everyone - (paraphrasing) "Guess what, you are closed and all of your are fired." So if you boycott the restaurants you will hurt the people who don't even dream about bonuses and just hope day to day that they still have a job. You are not going to hurt the corporation or the people at the top - who will continue to be rewarded for destroying the lives of the people who work for them. It is all very sad and frustrating, but true.

Shame once again on Buffets, Inc.!

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Manager Can Make All The Difference

I have said on this site before that rather than go to the Old Country Buffet that is less than four miles away, we drive about 20 miles each way to another Old Country Buffet location - and we do this fairly regularly- at least once a week. The reason is that the closer OCB is terrible, has poor staff, and poor management - and has been this way for a long time no matter what change in manager takes place. A few weeks ago, we went to what is now our regular OCB, and the manager there that is one of the best buffet managers that we have ever observed, was no where to be seen. This was odd as it was one of his usually scheduled work nights. This is the manager that I referred to as "Mr. Smiley" in an article written some time ago. The next week he was still not there and someone else was evident as the manager. I asked one of the staff that we know and, with a chagrin on this employee's face, we were told that he was gone. Both my wife and I looked at each other and said, "Oh boy!" I should say that this is not the general manager of the location. This is the secondary manager but it is he who seems to have complete charge of running the floor and the kitchen, training the staff, and doing a far better job than the general manager does when he is the only one there. The employees here responded to the gentleman who has left - he commanded their respect and it is very evident in their work. It was also very obvious when he was not working - things did not run as smoothly. We, of course, were going to give the new manager the chance that he deserves, and we would keep going. It had to be better than the other OCB.

A week later we were there on a Saturday night. We have been there before on Saturday nights, but now there was a new manager. The restaurant was crowded (though not much more than other nights we have been here), but he seemed to be handling the waiting line well and was doing a good job in getting people seated. That night, seating was the last thing that he seemed to do right.

Several times that night there were no plates - at all - out. Of course, they were being washed in the kitchen but no one was directing the kitchen to continually make sure that plates were being washed and put out. At one point, there were only salad plates, and people were taking these for lack of dinner plates. During this, the new manager came out, pretty much ignored the comments of where are the plates, picked up a salad plate himself and filled it with food from the buffet, and then went back into the kitchen, presumably to eat. The former manager always ate in the dining room, keeping an eye on everything. At this point there were empty tables and there was no apparent reason for him to not be visible - as any good manager should always be. The plate situation got worse. He came out for a moment, but despite people coming up to ask where are the plates, he went back into the kitchen. After a short while the hostess, decided that someone had to get involved and came to the area where the plates should be, reassured people that plates would be coming out very soon and then went into the kitchen to confirm this, came right back out and kept talking to the guests who were getting more and more upset. She was doing what the manager should have been doing - but he was no where to be seen.

Then the food started running out on the buffet and nothing was being replaced. Again, he came out of the kitchen, looked around, said nothing to the people getting upset with the lack of what was out, and then went back into the kitchen. What was going on?!? This was the worst that we ever experienced this particular OCB. This would never had taken place before. The manager would never have allowed it to get this far. He was excellent at anticipating. He would stick only his head in the door and shout what was required out on the buffet, and wait out on the floor to be sure it was out and out fast. We looked at each other that night, and realized that our "oh boy" may have been justified that "Mr. Smiley" was no longer there.

We went back the next night. Yes, we did. I had to see what would happen. Things were a little better. There were plates. Most of the food was out and replenished, though the assortment was a bit odd for the usual Sunday night. But again he was no where to be seen on the floor. He did come out of the kitchen a bit more often. But over all, he was not visible.

The next Saturday was St. Patrick's Day and I enjoy the corned beef and cabbage buffet that OCB has on St. Patrick's Day. I was a little hesitant because again, this was a Saturday night, the crowd would be heavy due to the holiday meal being served and the coupons that were put on the OCB Facebook page for $3 off a meal, and I had our experience from the last Saturday here in mind.

When we arrived there was a long line to get in. We decided that since Saturday hours are a little later than weekday hours, we would wait a little before going in. We waited about a half hour and when we went back, the line was much shorter. We were seated by this new manager and the hostess that had come to everyone's aid the week before. I have to tell you that on this holiday night things were much better - and one of the reasons is that he was on the floor almost the whole time we were there - to the point that he had on rubber gloves and was helping at one of the cleanup stations. He had an eye on everything that was going on and for the most part, food was refilled and there was no shortage of dishes. I don't know if someone clued him in to what is necessary to run this type of restaurant well or he figured it out for himself.

As I have always said on this site - the manger can make all of the difference between a good buffet and a buffet that no one wants to go to. I have seen this many times at many different types of buffets. When a buffet is good, the manager is always visible - and active.

Hopefully the new manager will keep up with his change in management. There are a number of regulars at this particular OCB and we have yet to see him make any move to be friendly with them as his predecessor was. Maybe soon he will get the idea that you need to go out of your way to welcome your guests - regulars or first time visitors. We like this buffet and want to keep liking it. There are no other OCB's, or American buffets for that matter, for a hundred miles that involve a lot of money in tolls.

We wish all of our best to "Mr. Smiley", wherever he has gone. I certainly hope that it was his decision to leave. We do know that he would talk often about getting offers from other restaurants. He was that good. OCB and Buffets, Inc. lost one of the best when they lost him.

We went back another night... The manager was there and once again did a good job in getting tables seated. Following that he was nowhere to be seen on the serving/buffet floor. Part way through the meal, I saw our server go and fill a plate and on the other end of the dining room sit down to eat. Another server adjacent to her area was actively taking care of her tables. Our server is new - hired since the new manager started. She said nothing to any other server to cover her tables while she had her dinner break. I have no problem with her having her diner break, BUT her tables still needed to be covered. Proper management would have instructed her to make sure when she goes on a break, she alerts other servers to cover her tables for her - which she would do for them when they take their break. She did not do this. She was off for some time. Here is the result on our table- just one of several tables like this. Eventually she finished eating and then got around to the tables - but stopping first to clean unoccupied tables that were not needed for the rest of the night, due to the hour near closing. She then was off again, in an empty part of the dining room on her phone. I know from observation of past nights at this restaurant watching the former manager in action, that this would never have been tolerated, nor would any of it have taken place as he was always out on the floor and aware of what each of his staff were doing - and not doing. I have never had dishes stack up at this particular OCB like this. By the way, a fifth plate was added to the stack before she picked up the dishes. It is very evident that at this Old Country Buffet, things are starting to slip in operation.