Friday, November 02, 2012

Another Try at Peking Restaurant, Williamsburg, Virginia

In October 2011 and then again in February 2012, I wrote about an Asian buffet restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia that had been one of our favorites. It is the Peking Restaurant and in 2007 it received a Best Buffet award from this site. Before October 2011 we had not been back to this area in several years and when we returned we expected to find this favorite buffet just as it always had been. It was not. You can go back and read the articles in October and February. I am not linking them here because I want to associate this article with the negative experiences that we had in those articles. I will say that after the last visit written about in February we decided that we would not go back to the Peking Buffet.

Since then I have learned what happened there. The general manager who had been there all along was no longer there - apparently, not by his choosing. He did go to open another buffet restaurant in the area which I have written about - Wasabi - and that buffet was very good. I have said on this site many times that the manager can make or break a restaurant - and especially a buffet! We are experiencing this with another buffet that we frequent whose excellent manager was let go for unknown reasons and the good buffet has nose-dived to barely a fair buffet. Others who liked Peking Buffet also noticed what I did last year and agreed with me. Things were not good there anymore.

We found ourselves in Williamsburg, Virginia again recently - as those of you who are regular readers know from the recent Williamsburg buffet articles. We had intended to have more than one dinner at Wasabi - the restaurant that the former Peking Buffet manager opened. We we got there we found Wasabi closed. There were advertisements everywhere for Wasabi. The building was dark and a sign on the door indicated renovations were being done. What I later learned was that the owner - the man from Peking Buffet - was made an offer by a Virginia "name" chef to buy him out, which he did and the owner left the US to go to Taiwan. Perhaps good for him, but not so great for those of us who really liked his buffet. The new restaurant that has opened at Wasabi's location is not a buffet and an up-scale Oriental menu restaurant with high prices.

So, I told you all that to get to this. We got to a point that we did not know where to go for dinner. We had been to the other buffets enough and could not really afford the menu restaurants around town other than the chains and did not want to do that. My wife, with reluctance, said to me do you want to try Peking Buffet again? My first response was no. I thought about it and found myself driving to Peking Buffet. I knew that nothing really would have changed there, but perhaps someone there read one of my more recent articles and maybe it might be different.

In terms of layout and serving areas, everything is the same.  One of the things to understand about the food here as I, personally, am concerned, is that on the buffet now there are an overwhelming number of items on the buffet that are either very sweet or extra hot and spicy. There are dishes that I can take at other Chinese buffets and not have a problem with, that I cannot take here because they are over-spiced. Some may find this as a good thing. I want to taste the food and not the spiced heat. Going up to the buffet for food, I had to be sure to select things that I was going to be OK eating. My wife, as the regular readers know, only eats "plain" foods - not just not spicy but beyond that. I decided that I would follow what she was taking and eat similarly - and perhaps I would have a better experience here than I have had on my last two visits.

We started with the noodle soup station which will create a soup to your order using any of several noodle types. This has always been good here - and was equally good on our last two visits. We like Vietnamese pho soup and that is what we had the soup chef at the counter make for us. It was good - it always has been good.  It still is.

I moved on to the "Sushi Train" which in my last two articles I explained is a moving counter with sushi on plates that move past you and you take the plates that you want. This concept does not work well at a buffet. First, you can stand there an overly long time waiting for something that went past to come back around again. Second, if you want five pieces of sushi, you are picking up five small plates. How are you supposed to carry all of these small plates back to your table. There are no trays. I went up with a large plate. I had decided that I would do one of two things. I would either take a small plate and dump the contents onto my large plate - and then have to get rid of the small plate - or I would use the large plate as a tray to carry the small plates stacked up. I went with the plate as a tray idea as I decided it would be rude to stack the little plates up on their counter and leave them. It would make a statement to how this idea does not work, but I would not do that. I took several plates of sushi and carried them back carefully on top of a dinner plate. The variety of sushi is broad. It is not well labeled and it is often a surprise when you find out that what you thought you were taking is not at all that. They have enough area to make a nice sushi serving area - but they continue with this "train" idea.

I went on to main courses and side dishes. I completely skipped the Thai section. These are beyond hot and spicy. The Japanese hibachi area is serving teriyaki and that is also made spicy. I am not sure why. I skipped that as well. There were some dumplings, noodle dishes, and rice dishes there that were fine. On the main buffet server between the Mongolian BBQ and the Japanese hibachi, there was a mix of standard Chinese dishes such as chicken and broccoli, pepper steak, and the like and then a number of hot and spicy dishes, and then a number of sweet dishes. As I said, I watched my wife and chose dishes that were plain to mild. One dish looked plain enough until you saw that the pan was lined with chili peppers. But there at least were things this time that were there to take that were not spicy. If you like sweet, there were a number of dishes cooked in sweet sauces.

I also went over to the Mongolian BBQ and remembering my last visit I made my plate up of meat - I took chicken - there was also beef, pork, lamb, and shrimp - and raw shredded vegetables and bean sprouts and put none of the sauces that were there on top. The sauces - even those that should not be  - are spicy. This was cooked for me and when I got back to the table I added soy sauce to moisten it. As I had it made, it was fine for me. Again, if you like hot and spicy, you can go to town with mixing the sauces that are out to have your meat and vegetables cooked in.

On one side of the round Mongolian grill serving counter there is a cold section and there were steamed shrimp on ice there. These shrimp are served with the heads on. This is how they would be served in the Orient. Most Americans don't like to see shrimp with the heads on. If you break off the head, it is just the same as the cocktail shrimp you usually fine.

The desserts here are typical Asian buffet desserts - little squares of cake, fruit, ice cream. One does not go to an Asian buffet for the desserts.

The restaurant is clean. Service is fine. At this meal we both had enough to eat. I did not feel hungry after we were through and we were both fine. I was able to find enough to eat this time even being careful in what I was choosing.  Overall, this was a much better experience than we had on the last two visits and meals eaten here.

Would I go back?  On this experience, I would go back and likely, will. Do I recommend Peking Restaurant? After your reading what I have written here in regard to the level of spice used and the types of foods that you will encounter, if you like spicy and/or sweet - or if you have no problem with picking and choosing to find what you can that is on the plain side, then yes, try it. I eat at a lot of Asian buffets. I have not had to pick carefully at any other as I find I have to here. Again, this is me - and there are others out there just like me. If you have food restrictions, it gets a little harder.  I do miss the Peking Restaurant that I once knew. There was a far wider variety of foods and the emphasis did not used to be on spicy and sweet.

The price of dinner here is $11.99. Lunch is $7.99. Thai food is only brought out after 4;30 pm. Sushi is served after noon. Soft drinks with refills are additional. The restaurant is open 7 days a week. Unlike many family buffets, there is a full service liquor bar.

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

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