Friday, February 24, 2012

Do Low Priced Buffets Mean Poor Quality?

We have had several commenters lately insist that if the meal does not cost over $20 -$25 per person, the food is of poor quality AND it has been stated 0r implied that if you eat there you will get sick. So I decided that I would set aside other articles that I have in the works, and write an article about buffets, quality, and risk.

If you use price as a determination of quality and a factor in risk of getting sick eating at a restaurant, then do not eat at most of the buffets that you will find reviewed on this site. About 95% of the buffets that I review on this site are priced at under $20. The range in prices of buffets on this site for the most part cost between $10.99 and $17.99 with most closer to the $10.99 price. There are a number of very good buffets that I have been to and written about that were even lower in price - as low as $4.99. Of course, I do go to and review buffets that cost more than this range in price - but it is rare and for us and many of our readers, we cannot afford to dine at restaurants with a meal price of over $20 on any regular basis. For us, these are reserved for special occasions or when traveling to try a buffet that looks promising and will be a something special to include in the vacation. No, if it is not in the lower price range of $11 to $18 (with the $18 almost as rare) we are not going regularly - and we (my wife and I) eat at buffets often more than once a week. That stated, I have very rarely gotten sick at any of these buffets. When I have, I have shared that with the readers here. I also have learned what will trigger indigestion, and for me that is overly spicy foods and I avoid those foods in my selections from a buffet.

I have had food poisoning several times in my life - and these instances were not from buffets that were lower priced. In fact, the two worse cases that I had were after eating at very expensive menu restaurants. And while I have felt ill after a couple of buffet meals over the years, my wife has been there dining with me and she has not gotten sick. So, it was something that I choose and she did not, something that did not agree with me, but did agree with her, or it was just my luck to get that one bad piece of whatever in the serving tray. None of these instances required that I seek medical attention and all were over within several to 24 hours. No, it is not by any means a pleasant experience, but I would not blame the quality of the food based upon the price.

Many of my readers tell me that they are looking for a good place - a buffet - to take a family to that they can afford. When I have reviewed or reported on buffets with high prices, comments and emails often come that the price is way beyond what they could go to. And I completely understand that. Many eat at fast food restaurants because that is what they can afford and do so every day. The chain buffets are often an extension of the idea of a fast food restaurant and provide families with meals at affordable prices. Without the low price buffet, a sit down meal at a restaurant for some would happen on only rare and special occasions. And they go and enjoy themselves, without any feeling of illness following. A family of four at $25 a person makes dining out an impossibility other than for only the rarest of occasions.

Some may equate price with quality. Some will pay three times for what something is worth because the name on the label is one that they have been told is a sign of quality and distinction. It is not really a surprise to me that people will say "I would never eat at a buffet because the food is not of good quality!" These are the same type of people who would say, "I would never eat at a restaurant that was not in Zaggets." These are also some of the same type of people who say. "I would never eat in a buffet because of the type of people that you find eating there." Oh yes, I have heard that one more than once.

Am I saying that the food purchased by buffets is always top quality - of course not. But the food purchased by reputable buffets is food that is perfectly fine, edible, and enjoyable. There are excellent restaurant buffets that are not chains that many enjoy that I have reviewed on this site that also have menu options - and those restaurants are well respected in their communities - and no price on the menu for a full meal is even near $20. Locals and visitors eat at these restaurants every day - come back often - and don't get sick.

Restaurants where I am located are, in general, very high priced. They are over-priced. Some are proud of it. They run ads in the newspaper - "Three Course Lunch $25.99!" Surveys have shown that restaurants here are the highest priced in the nation - some even higher than New York City - and the prices there are ridiculous. Serving portions are also small. Is the quality any better at these restaurants because they put a high price tag on their so-called "ambiance" and their location? No, these restaurants want a certain clientele and they price accordingly - and that clientele is likely not the same people who are going to be happy going to even the best buffet.

So I will continue to recommend buffets at all price ranges, tell you the good and the bad, and warn about anything that needs to be warned about. I will always look for value - and let you know when the price is high, if you are getting value for that price. Money today is hard earned and for many, every dollar spent must be spent on value. And even people with limited means, want to go out to eat. I will help them do that - along with everyone - else by helping you all find where to go for a good buffet meal.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Swedish Easter Smorgasbord at IKEA in March

Before Christmas I wrote about the special holiday smorgasbord that IKEA store restaurants were serving for two seatings on one night only. I mentioned at that time that there is also similar smorgasbord served at Easter. These two special all you care to eat meals are annual events at IKEA. They take place at all IKEA locations. I was not able to go to the Christmas meal but we are planning on going to the Easter event.

This year the Easter Smorgasbord will take place on March 23, 2012. There will be two seatings. The first seating is from 4:00 to 5:30 pm and the second seating is from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Each, obviously an hour and a half. IKEA restaurant dining rooms are not large so there is a limited amount of seating available at each meal. You must purchase tickets in advance. IKEA is saying now, which they did not say at Christmas (I don't recall) that no tickets will be sold the day of the event. They are saying that now - no tickets will be sold on March 23. If you want to go you must decide in advance, and don't wait too long to purchase tickets. The price of this special all you can eat buffet is... $9.99. Children under 12 are just $2.49. The price is unbelievable.

What will be served is traditional to a Swedish Easter celebration dinner. The meal will include:

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, Lingonberries
Swedish Ham with Mustard
Gratäng Jansson
Assorted Swedish desserts and cookies
Fountain Beverages, Hot beverages

If you are Swedish or Scandinavian you know what some of these things are beyond the obvious items written in English. I have no idea, but it all sounds good. While I have never experienced one of IKEA's smorgasbord special events, I have eaten at IKEA restaurants many times and the food is fine. There are several things on this menu that are not usually offered and there are a number of items that are standardly served at the IKEA restaurants. You cannot beat the price. Just an order of the meatballs and an order of the smoked salmon together cost more than the price of the entire smorgasbord! This sounds like a good and unique experience for a great price.

We will be there this year and I will tell you all about it after the meal. If you are interested go as soon as possible to your nearest IKEA store and purchase your tickets.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Return to Wasabi Oriental Buffet, Williamsburg, Virginia

I first found Wasabi Oriental Buffet this past summer and wrote about it in October. In that article I was pleased with the meal that we had there and recommended it to you all as a great place to go in this area if you are looking for both a buffet and a Chinese meal. We were back in Virginia in early December and went back to Wasabi Oriental Buffet. I say, very happily, that it was just as good - and perhaps, better.

We were there on a winter weeknight. There were few people in the restaurant. In my first review, I noted a concern that some of the foods were just warm and not hot. That was not the case at all on this visit. All of the food was the correct temperature. If there was going to be an issue with food sitting or food not being kept hot, it would happen on a night like this. There was NO problem at all.

Since this was not my first visit to this buffet, I took items that I recalled I liked here, and was not as concerned as I would be on a first visit to take a broader sampling of the dishes offered. One thing that I wanted to try again was the Hawaiian BBQ. This is something that is featured in this restaurant's advertising. On this visit I took the chicken and the pork. Both were very good. They were not that sweet - and they had a nice flavor. I liked it enough to go back for more.

When I was here in August, I mention in my first article that there seemed to be the making of a made to order soup bar. At that time it did not seem to be operational. It was all set up this time in the back behind the Mongolian BBQ counter. No one was there when we went to get one of the soups out on the buffet in soup servers, but I am sure had I called someone over to make noodle soup for me, someone would have come right over to explain what they had and what they make. This was a very quiet night. I am sure on a busy night there would have been someone there - and in fact, the chef for the Mongolian BBQ who must be the soup chef as well, was behind the counter at various times during our visit - including when I went up for Mongolian BBQ.

The Mongolian BBQ is good here. There is the usual variety of meats and vegetables. The sauces are nicely seasoned and if you do not want hot and spicy, you have no problem here. I like being able to take my own selection of things I like and create a dish - and, I did go back up twice on this visit.

The sushi bar has a nice variety and on this visit there was more than just rolls. There was fish on rice. While some Asian buffets frown on taking the sushi and not eating the rice, there was no problem with that here. I love rice. I can't eat rice, and I like sushi. When there is no choice of just taking raw fish (sashimi?) - which is offered in some Asian buffets, I take the fish on beds of rice and do not eat the rice. I did this here - no problem.

Bottom line. It was good in August. It was good in December. I will be going back - and I travel through here at least twice a year. With our poor experience twice at what had been our must "go to" Chinese buffet in this area, we are very happy that we have found Wasabi. I like it and my picky eater wife likes it. If you are in Williamsburg, Virginia, try it!

Wasabi Oriental Buffet is located at 1203 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, Virginia. This is right near Colonial Williamsburg and William and Mary University. Their phone number is 757-645-3988. There is a website and there is a link to that website at the side of this page.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Another Visit to Peking Buffet, Williamsburg, VA

In October 2011, I wrote an article about Peking Buffet in Williamsburg, Virginia. This is a buffet that I have written highly of in the past and in fact, was our Best Asian Buffet one year, several years back. As I had said in the article in October, I had not been back to the area to go to this buffet for about two or so years. In December, we were in Virginia again, and we made a point to go back to Peking Buffet to see if our poor experience there this past August was just an anomaly or was it typical of how this buffet now is.

I am not going to go through the whole description and detail about the restaurant. Use the link in the first sentence to go to that article and read it, if you wish. What I will talk about is our experience on this last visit.

The best thing here remains the noodle soup station and the Pho. As I have written before, this is not a Pho to be compared to a true Vietnamese restaurant, but the noodles are right and the soup is close enough to be enjoyed by someone who likes this distinct noodle soup. But you cannot spend the night just eating soup - well, I guess one could, but that is not why I came in the past to Peking Buffet.

After the soup the rest of the meal was a problem for both of us. Let me state right off, because of the outcome of my last meal here, that my stomach did not become upset after eating at Peking Buffet this time. That is a good thing. I believe, it is because I chose my selections very wisely and avoided anything with spice and hot peppers. That was a problem because what that left were sweetened dishes and high carb dishes - and with the restrictions in diet that we are both on, this left little to nothing. Much of what is on the buffet is "hot and spicy". I thought that I could get around this by going to the Mongolian Barbecue to make up my own dish of selected raw vegetables, strips of beef, and I put on should have been a basic brown sauce which unlike other sauce selections should not have been spicy. I watched as chef grilled it and plated it. When I got to the table I took a forkful and immediately I tasted and felt the heat in my mouth - not the temperature but the heat of the spice that could only have come from the sauce. Frankly, and I hate to leave what I take over in any way, I did not finish the plate. I was not going to take any chances on this trip. I did go back and prepare a plate with no sauce at all. This one was not spicy and edible - though it had no taste at all. I added some soy sauce to give it a taste. I have been to many Mongolian Barbecues at buffets and I have never had this problem. I eat at many Asian buffets and never have a problem finding selections from the buffet that are not spicy, not sweetened, and are not pure starch. Here it was a problem. Now, if you like spicy Chinese food, if you eat heavily sweetened dishes, and you have no problem with dishes that are primarily rice or starch, then you will not have the problem that we had. BUT in the past at Peking Buffet - with the same diet restrictions, we never had a problem enjoying a plentiful meal here. Not any longer.

I did go back to the Sushi Train - again, see the October article. I thought that I would over come the awkwardness of taking little plates with one or two pieces of sushi on them by taking over a dinner plate and putting the contents of the little plates on that as I took them as they went by on the belt. Good idea, but there was no place to put the little dishes, so I was balancing several little plates, with my dinner plate and this just did not work. Again, the sushi as it went by was not properly labeled or not labeled at all. There was no way to know what was going by but guessing. If I saw something that looked interesting, but I missed taking it from the little door in front of me, I would try to follow along to get to it again, or come back to find it on the next loop, but every time, it was gone - and there was no big crowd here this night - in fact at one point I was the only one at the sushi train. I said this before and I will say it again - a sushi train has no place at a buffet. In the old days here, there was a serving counter, just like every other Asian buffet with a sushi chef behind filling serving trays with sushi. Some one here saw this Sushi Train (it is very popular in Japan where you sit in front of it at a counter and take what you want as it passes by) and decided it would be a great addition to Peking Buffet. That was a big mistake.

Since I was watching closely what I was taking on the buffet and avoiding a lot of things, I pretty much did not feel that I had all that I would like to eat. I even went back for more soup. I was a bit hungry when we left. A buffet needs to meet a broad range of diets. This one always had. What USED TO BE good here was the large number of basic Chinese restaurant dishes - chow mien, moo shu, a number of plain vegetarian Chinese dishes, and more. These all are gone.

We both agreed that Peking Buffet was not worth coming back to again. My wife had said to me later that she was surprised when I pulled into the parking lot, as she knew from the last visit that this was a buffet to cross off our list of places to go when we are in this area. I explained that I wanted to give it one more try - hoping. She was right - I should have gone back to one of the others - even her not so favorite Golden Corral, which is actually just across the the road. I said when I ended the last article that it would be wait and see until the next time. This was the next time and all they get from me is two strikes - and now they are out - for us. At least I didn't get sick. Again, if you like hot and spicy, you might like it.

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.