Friday, October 26, 2012

A Tale Of Two Golden Corrals - Virginia PART II

In Part I I wrote about our not so great experience at the Williamsburg, Virginia Golden Corral. That night we got on the computer and looked for Golden Corrals in that area. The next nearest Golden Corral is in Newport News, Virginia. After that the next one was in Hampton Roads. We had been to the Golden Corral in Hampton Roads many years ago. It was nice, but Newport News was closer and straight down I64 and right off the exit in a shopping center. We decided that we would go there on one of the nights of this trip.

The Newport News Golden Corral was easy to find. The trip from Williamsburg was not that long. It is located in the parking lot of a shopping center with several stores. The shopping center was quite spread out and there was plenty of parking for the restaurant which stands alone in a corner of one of the parking lots. You are pretty much out of the tourist areas here and you are at this restaurant with local people - which can be a very good thing.

We parked and went inside to find a Golden Corral with what I am going to describe as a "normal" Golden Corral layout. The dining rooms across one side of the restaurant and the buffet server in one long row spread out across the rear wall of the restaurant. We paid and seated ourselves. At Golden Corral you pay as you enter and you order your drink at the cashier who then gives you the drink to take to your table. Refills are done by your server.

The restaurant was large and the tables were nicely spaced - typical of most Golden Corrals with the exception of the Williamsburg location.We seated ourselves and went right up to the buffet. As I said, this is the typical Golden Corral buffet layout. The buffet spreads across the entire rear wall of the restaurant in one long line of serving areas. The salad bar starts at one end and the hot foods then carry along. Here - unlike Williamsburg - there was a Chinese station with four serving trays of Chinese food. The hot buffet continues along with a bump out for the grill and here the grill is out enough in the open that there is plenty of room to be able to wait for your steak to be cooked as you like it without holding up others who want their steak differently. The hot buffet continues around and along with the bakery next - a selection of hot breads and rolls - and then this connects to the dessert section with its broad variety.

Here there were no bottlenecks. There was no confusion. There was no waiting on lines just to get up to a serving tray of food.

The buffet also still had the seafood saute, but here it did not interfere with any other part of the buffet - including the grill which it is located next to. There were a few people getting that - and this does involve a wait on line because each person's dish is cooked to order and they can do one or two at the most at one time.

This Golden Corral also had the Tropical Grill feature - and just to see if it would be any different than my taste at Williamsburg, I took a very little bit to try. I did not like it here any more than I did there. I know that by now this feature is gone - as a new one has been announced -but if you did not like spicy or sweet, this was not for you (or me).

I just mentioned a new feature and that feature may have been getting its start in both of these Virginia Golden Corrals - though had I just gone to Williamsburg and not Newport News, I would not have realized that now. The new feature is Carvers - various meats being carved including a whole turkey. In Williamsburg, there had been the remains of what had been a whole turkey. What was left - and what had not been replaced with another turkey, was the carcass of a turkey with some remaining shreds of meat on the side. In Newport News there was almost a whole turkey to be carved - obviously recently brought out. They could have done a better job of having someone there to carve it but all it really took was getting someone's attention that was behind this counter near the grill and ask for a piece, and you would get a slice or a part like a drumstick if you asked for it. This seems to be what the new feature is all about - and if I can get to another Golden Corral before this feature ends, I will let you all know more about it.

I have to also mention that they had some really good ribs here. There were no ribs at the Williamsburg location. These were tasty and close to fall off the bone ribs. Also, like at another buffet that I wrote about in Virginia recently, there was baked spaghetti on the buffet here. I had said this about this dish at the other buffet - this must be something local because I have never seen it anywhere other than in these Virginia buffets. Baked Spaghetti is like  baked lasagna using spaghetti. It is spaghetti mixed with tomato sauce and mixed with cheese and then covered with cheese and baked. It is actually quite tasty.

We had a very enjoyable and relaxed meal here. Service was good on this first night - it had been marginally fair in Williamsburg. I am not going to talk about price as prices seem to vary by area. It can be $9.99 and it can be $10.99. I do not believe it can be higher than that - price is something that Golden Corral advertises about. The soft drinks with refills are additional and this was a bit high  for sodas - $2.09 per person.

We wound up making the trip a second time to Newport News to go to this Golden Corral again during this trip. I might have made a better choice than I did of tables as this server was just OK - and she wound up leaving during the middle of our meal - and her replacement was much better. And while she was still our server I could see other servers really hustling around doing their jobs and she was very casual about it spending more time on her cell phone hiding near the soda machine than working her tables. Her replacement was a pleasure.

We would have gone back a third time, but as I said in Part I, there was a storm that badly flooded Newport News that day, and we were not going to chance going into that.

Our next trip to Williamsburg - and we go there often - we will be making the drive to Newport News when we want to dine at Golden Corral. If you are in this area or going to this area, I suggest that you do the same!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Tale Of Two Golden Corrals - Virginia PART I

We were in Williamsburg, Virginia and we decided to go back to a Golden Corral that we know has problems. Why were we going back? Because we were in this area for ten days and wanted to eat in buffets - as we usually prefer to do. 

The Golden Corral in Williamsburg, Virginia has a problem in design. The hot serving section of the buffet forms a closed U and this U is surrounded on all sides. On one side there is a half wall just a few feet from the buffet counter that separates the cashier and entrance from the buffet. On the end of the U, where the grill is, there is the salad bar island just a few feet away. On the other side of the buffet is another half wall about six feet away from the buffet counter that separates the buffet from part of the dining room. What should be the open end of the U is accessed by kitchen and cooking staff and the inside of the U is for employees to refill serving trays and access the grill at the end. Get the picture? This is not the standard "new" Golden Corral layout. In most Golden Corral's the serving counters make one long and almost continuous line with plenty of room surrounding them to walk up. Here because the serving counters are boxed in, people form lines and these lines complicate the problem because you could wait a very long time just to go up and get some more mashed potatoes, or whatever.

If you go here on a Saturday night or you go here during the week during tourist season, the restaurant may not seem crowded, but there is a mob of people at the hot buffet counters. And with some waiting for steaks to be cooked to order and some waiting on another line for the seafood saute - yes, this is still around - it is just ridiculous to get anything onto your plate.

I have to admit that we went twice - and I will explain the second time as we go along in this tale. The first night was mid-week. It seemed to me that it should not be too bad. It was. Not the food, but managing the crowds at the counters of the hot buffet. I found myself waiting on a line just to see what was on the buffet on one side. After more than ten minutes and no where near to the food, I got off the line and just walked along the people on line - just to look. There was nothing there that I was interested in taking. I headed around the the other side. Because the dining room side is not as close to the dividing wall, I was able to walk around close enough to see what was there - and despite some people's need to have to create a cafeteria-like line, I just walked up to the trays that I wanted something from. (Buffets are not cafeterias - there are no lines - walk up to a tray, take what you want, and walk away to another spot.)  One poor teen was so confused by the lines, that when I was just passing this area and he asked my permission to go over to the end and get something off a tray that no one was near. I looked at him and just said. "Of course!" I guess he figured he could blame me if the crowd attacked him. :)  He was fine...

With all of the confusion here, the seafood saute station and the steak grill cause even more problems because here there are legitimately two lines - one going in one direction toward the seafood saute and the other going toward the steak. All of this with the salad bar right against it. And the two lines converge into one as you get further to the back - and no one really knows what line is which.  Well, I got on the end of the line that finally separated toward the steak grill. Twenty minutes later I saw what the problem was. The steak chef would ask the three people at his end of the line what they wanted. They would say for instance "well done", "medium well", and "well done". OK, but he only had steaks that were rare and medium rare, and medium. Instead of calling over to the next several in line to see who would like steaks cooked that way, he would just wait until he had steaks cooked to those three at the front. Now. when you get up to him and want rare, medium rare, or medium, he is putting raw steaks on and cooking those to the doneness of those three. Do you see the problem? I have seen at other Golden Corrals that the chef will tell the people who want a more done steak than what is there at the moment to just step aside and he will take the next few to give the steaks he has - and cuts pieces of steak for those who are waiting to keep cooking. Here, there really is no place to wait to do this - the people waiting would be backed into the line coming around the cashier side of the hot buffet. But he could have taken some people that were right there looking for less done steaks. When I got up finally and asked for rare, he had to start a new raw steak on the grill. I had come that far, but my wife who was back at the table waiting for me, was not happy.

The sad thing is that the food is good. It is pretty much the same as any other Golden Corral. The salad bar has less on it than other Golden Corrals.

We were there in August when the current feature was Tropical Island Grill which I had an article about in August, but had not tried it yet. I believe it is past now, and you did not miss much. Everything was either too spicy or overly sweet. I tried a few of things from this - the teriyaki steak, the key west chicken, and the talapia and I have to say they were terrible. I only took a very small taste of each and did not finish any of it - even the less than a forkfull that I took.

They also had the new Cotton Candy feature and this was served off the dessert bar and unlike the chocolate fountain, which is still there, it is not a do it yourself item. There is someone behind the counter making up the paper cones of cotton candy and either handing them to you directly or placing them in a serving tray.  Cotton candy is a sticky thing and if a small child rubs against you with it - which happens, you will get full of sugar. It was a big hit with the kids - and considering all of the pitfalls of the chocolate fountain, cotton candy was a much better addition.

We left very unhappy and determined to find another Golden Corral that is not too far from Williamsburg. The closest one is in Newport News which is about twenty miles further east on the peninsula and if it was better than this one, the distance was OK with us. I will tell you more about that Golden Corral in Part II of this article which will appear next week.

Oh yes, we did go back to the Williamsburg Golden Corral before we left the area. There was a major storm that came through and Newport News was flooded with cars up to their windshields in water. We decided not to chance going there for dinner so we went back to the Williamsburg Golden Corral. (We had been to the various other buffets - primarily Asian buffets just too often that week.) Well, on that second visit there were the same problems. There were less people but the lines, the problems, were all still there.

End of Part I.

Part II next week.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Return to Wood Grill Buffet, Charlottesville, Virginia

It has been six years since I have been to the Wood Grill Buffet in Charlottesville, Virginia. The only reason for this long absence is my schedule when I travel. This is one of my favorite buffets and has been since we first found it many years ago when it was in a different location.  Wood Grill Buffet is still part of the Western Sizzln' chain but appears to be run as a separate entity with only four locations - all in Virginia. There are locations in Harrisonburg, Norwalk, Hesperia, and this one in Charlottesville.

The layout is just as it was when I described it six years ago, so I am not going to repeat that here. You can read the link above to get an impression what the buffet looks like. The decor is western and pleasant. We returned this August and were there on a weeknight. There was a small group at the door coming in before us but we really had no wait. The restaurant inside was crowded. We were taken to our table and our server actually took some time to come over to our table and take our drink orders. I will put that up to the crowded dining room. The price of the buffet is now $10.59 for dinner Monday to Thursday and $10.99 for dinner Friday to Sunday. There is a $1.00 discount for seniors. Soft drinks with refills are $2.09 for adults and $1.39 for children up to age 12. The children's price is based on age and they charge $0.60 per year of age from age 4 to 12. Over 12 pays adult price. Soda price is a bit high compared to most similar buffets, but only by a dime. Compared to other chain American food buffets, the value here is exception for what the buffet offers.

We started as usual with soup. There were two soups and they are located on the counter that sits directly in front of the grill. The soups this night were Chicken Gumbo and New England Clam Chowder. Both soups are soups that my picky eater wife does not care for so she went on to the extensive salad bar and I took the Chicken Gumbo. The soup was hot, good and tasty though it was slightly spicy. If you only know Chicken Gumbo from Campbell's in a can the taste is similar but there is more heat in the real thing.

The salad bar is split between two cold servers at opposite sides of the buffet area. One has a variety of lettuce and greens and a lot of toppings and dressing. There were also cold meats to add to your salad. There was also everything you would want to make a Caesar salad. On the other there was a variety of prepared salads including the usual potato salad with large pieces of potato, macaroni salad, pasta salad, and coleslaw, but there was more. There were deviled eggs, chicken salad with large chunks of chicken, tuna salad, cucumber salad, and three bean salad among others. There was also a crab salad with real crab (not the fake stuff). The chicken salad was very good and I could not resist the crab salad. There was so much more to come, but it would have been easy to stay with the salad bar.

The hot entrees and side dishes are extensive and they are served both from hot buffet servers and from the counter that is in front of the grill which takes up just about all of the back wall. There are chefs cooking on the grill and continually replenishing the serving trays on the counter. This buffet serves steak and while it is not cooked to order, it is cooked in various stages of doneness and  placed out on a hot tray on the counter. There is rare, medium, and well done for the taking. In my last review six years ago I had found the steak that I took to be dry - but not this time. The steak was nicely medium rare, juicy, and tasty. At another end of the grill counter there is a taco and burrito bar with soft flour tortillas, fried corn tortillas, nacho chips, and all of the makings for tacos and burritos. Next to the steak were ribs- real, fall off the bone, barbecue ribs. These were excellent and close to what I had at a smoker pit barbecue non-buffet place several nights later in another part of Virginia. They were moist and properly sauced.

There was so much on the hot servers and at the counter I will just list what there was for you. There were in addition to what I have already told you about - meatballs, riblets, fried chicken (very good fried chicken and better and more Southern than any other chain buffet), pot roast, ham, roast beef, hot dogs, chicken teriyaki, fried shrimp, fried fish, grilled chicken pieces, grilled chicken breasts off the grill, two types of wings, chicken livers, meatloaf, cheeseburgers, crab cakes, lasagna, baked spaghetti and cheese (something local to Virginia perhaps because we encountered this in other buffets) and pizza that was at the bakery counter.

There was a multitude of side dishes as well. These included mashed potatoes, kernel corn, corn on the cob, Lima beans with ham, wild rice, white rice, sauteed green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, turnip greens with ham and onions, green beans with bacon, onion rings, fries, hot carrots, fried apples (so good!), fried green tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, cabbage, broccoli casserole, potato casserole, broccoli, and sweet potato souffle.There was also a baked and sweet potato bar with toppings.

You are in the South and a lot of what is on this buffet is southern cooking with dishes that you will rarely see anywhere but the South. Yes, fried green tomatoes is not just the name of a book and a movie made from the book. You can eat them here.

I tried little bits of things and took more of what I know that I enjoy and I was stuffed at the end of the meal. Everything that I tried was good with one exception. The pizza looked good but it had been sitting too long and the crust had dried out and I ate only a taste. The steak was good and better than many. The ribs, as I have said, were exceptional. There was no pork barbecue as there had been six years ago but that may appear on another night. Selections do change from night to night at some buffets. My wife was just as happy with her plainer selections. There was more than enough to please most.

There is a large bakery counter which is a large half circle with bakers inside replenishing desserts, bread, and pizza. There were several breads including corn muffins, large rolls, and cheese rolls. I know that many of my readers want to hear about the dessert selection and they have a very good selection of sweets. There was fresh pineapple, fresh oranges, melon, and fresh grapes, and mandarin oranges over on the cold buffet server. There was carrot cake, several types of cream pies, chocolate cake cupcakes with vanilla icing and yellow cake cupcakes with chocolate icing, a variety of cookies,coconut cake, banana pudding, strawberry shortcake, pecan pie, Oreo pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie (in August!), lemon meringue pie, and three different cobblers including blackberry. There was soft serve ice cream and a sundae bar with ice cream toppings, There was also a chocolate fountain right in the middle of the bakery counter within view of the people working behind the counter. I will not get into my feelings about chocolate fountains at buffets again, but this one was subject to the same problems as all of them are.

I am getting hungry and wanting to go back again just writing about all of this.

Service was OK - she could have paid a little more attention to our table, but it was not bad.

I want to talk about the people eating here. I have been to many buffets as you know and all types of people come to eat at buffets. It has been primarily in New York, however, that I have seen the most immensely large people eating at buffets. What surprised me here - and different from other buffets that I have been to an went to recently in Virginia - that there were a good number of immensely large people eating here. No problem - everyone is welcome everywhere and I don't care who is sitting at the table next to me, but it just struck me as interesting here seeing this. I only share it because it is interesting.

Well, I am sorry that it took me six years to get back here and I will be sure to schedule more time in this area when I return so that I am in Charlottesville at dinner time. They are open on weekends to 11:30 pm. I recommend this buffet. Go there! There is a lot to see and do in this city including the University of Virginia and you can eat at this great buffet!

The Wood Grill Buffet in Charlottesville is located at 576 Branch Lands Boulevard, Charlottesville, VA 22901 and their phone number is (434) 975-5613. They now have a website and that is linked at the side of this page in our listing of buffet links.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Prime Buffet, Williamsburg, Virginia

In September 2011, I wrote about a Chinese buffet in Williamsburg, Virginia called Rainbow Buffet. We were in Williamsburg this August and we went to have dinner at Rainbow Buffet and discovered a new name on the front of the restaurant- Prime Buffet. Looking in through the window, everything looked exactly the same. We went in for dinner. We actually went to this buffet twice in one week and my article will reflect both visits.

I am not certain that this buffet is not run by the same people who ran Rainbow Buffet and have just changed the name. There are some differences and the price has been lowered. That is correct - the price at Rainbow Buffet for dinner was $9.50 which is extremely good. The price at Prime - all nights for dinner is $7.99! Unlimited soda is an additional $1.89. This is an exceptionally good price considering what you are getting at this buffet. In the local tourist give away magazines found at all of the hotels and gift shops, the advertisement for this buffet includes a coupon - 10% off! Imagine $7.99 to start with and then 10% off!  There is also a local app for your smartphone with restauant coupons and Prime is included on that app - all you do is show them the ad on your smartphone display at the cashier and get your 10% off.

I will tell you up front that gone are the snow crab legs (which were an additional $5.00). There are no crab legs. There is however a great deal to eat at this buffet.

Let's start with soup - there were the three basic Chinese restaurant soups - Wonton, Egg Drop, and Hot and Sour. I tried the egg drop and my wife had the wonton. She felt that the wontons were seasoned on the spicy side. The egg drop soup was standard with large pieces of egg in a semi-thick soup. The egg drop soup was good.

There is a salad bar but frankly most people skip the salad bar at a Chinese buffets and we did. It was the standard greens, toppings, and dressings. It all looked fresh and crisp.

There is a sushi bar and there was a man behind the sushi bar making sushi to put out. The selection was small and was mostly varieties of vegetable sushi. There were some tuna and salmon rolls with small pieces of fish in them. The sushi was fine, the selection was limited.

I am going to list the dishes that we found on one night and then tell you the different dishes that were there when we went back. Since going I have read internet reviews that criticize this buffet for having a limited selection. You judge that for yourself from this list. On the buffet were pan fried dumplings, steamed peach buns (they look like peaches - these are steamed dough with a sweet filling), fried cheese wontons, steamed founder, stuffed shrimp, egg rolls, wings, steamed small clams in the open shells, seafood delight served in a shell, sauteed mushrooms, vegetable mei fun (thin rice noodles with vegetables), American macaroni and cheese, fried crab cakes, shrimp with onions, peas, and carrots, tofu in a sweet sauce, cut up barbecue chicken pieces, chicken on a stick with teriyaki sauce, ground meat taco (this looked to me like pizza, but was labeled as a taco which was cut into wedges), Krab (not crab but the fish substitute that is common in almost every Chinese buffet that I go to), fried frogs legs, fried scallops, fried shrimp, chicken and broccoli, curry chicken, "vegetable delight", brown rice, white rice, fried rice, lo mien, honey chicken, pepper chicken, General Tso chicken, beef and broccoli, chicken in garlic sauce, beef in garlic sauce, barbecue spare ribs (the type in sweet red sauce), Mongolian pork, sesame balls, rib tips, fried potatoes with onions, sweet and sour chicken, half baked potatoes with cheese, Chinese green vegetable, yam slices, garlic bread, AND peel and eat shrimp. On the second night there was coconut ham, steamed crayfish, corn nuggets, chicken nuggets, and corn on the cob taking the place of five of the items that were there on the first night. Other than that everything on the second night was the same on the main buffet servers.

Now, if all of that is not enough, there was also an hibachi grill. This was a large counter grill next to the sushi bar, both of which took up a wall at the rear of the buffet area. The food for you to select for the grill was one of the cold buffet servers that was next to the grill. There was no one at the grill but there was a bell to ring. The kitchen door was next to the grill and there was no problem on either night for someone to come right away. The items to select for the grill were raw beef, raw chicken, raw pork, and fish. There were noodles to add to this along with vegetables like bean sprouts, onions, mushrooms, etc. There were two sauces to choose - garlic sauce and teriyaki sauce. I had the hibachi grill on both nights. The first night, the man at the sushi bar came over to cook for me. I had picked chicken and a variety of vegetables. I did not want garlic sauce or teriyaki sauce and I asked him to just put soy sauce on it while he cooked it. This was no problem for him. He cooked it and placed it on a plate and handed it to me and it was good. On the second night, a woman came out from the kitchen to cook for me. She was very pleasant and took my dish of the same things that I had chosen on the first night. I asked her for just soy sauce and this seemed to confuse her. I am not certain that there was a problem understanding English. That is fine - I would rather a real Chinese chef than someone who is not Chinese cooking at the Chinese hibachi grill. I tried to help her to understand but it was not getting very far - there were, after all two sauces on the sign - garlic sauce and teriyaki sauce. She was pleasant throughout. I just said, I will have it plain. This caused her concern - in a nice way. She understood this - she could not understand how I could eat it plain off the grill. She had to be a mom because that is how she reacted and kept asking me if I was sure. I said yes and tried my best to explain that I cannot eat the sweet teriyaki sauce and I don't care for garlic sauce. She seemed to understand that and proceeded to cook my grill plain. It too was good and I added my own soy sauce at the table. It really was not a problem. Sometimes you should just not stray from the menu.

There was an assortment of desserts - nothing elaborate, but more than adequate. There was fresh fruit, pudding and prepared desserts, tarts, home baked almond cookies, fried donuts, and hot apple pie served from a hot tray in the hot buffet server. There was also hand-dipped Hershey ice cream. On the second night there were also bananas in sweet red sauce.

The food was good. It was not the best Chinese buffet food that I have had, but it was cooked properly, well tended on the buffet - nothing was dried out, and it tasted good. It was no different in quality from most of the other Chinese buffets that I have been to all over. Food that needed replacing was replaced. If it had not been good we would not have gone back a second time!

The servers were pleasant and the plates from the table were removed promptly. Sodas were refilled, though on the second night, the table next to us with a rather unusual and large crowd kept the server so busy that at one point I did have to wait until she was finished making them happy before she could get back to us. She was not to blame.

One of the things that I look for in an ethnic restaurant and especially an ethnic buffet is to see if people of that culture and background are eating there. On both nights there were several tables of Asian people eating.

We almost went back a third time. We decided to give another buffet that we were uncertain about a try - which I will write about in another article.

If you are in this area and you want to eat very inexpensively in a decent Chinese buffet with a lot of choices, then try Prime Buffet. Prime Buffet is located at 3044 Richmond Road (Patriot Plaza), Williamsburg, Virginia 23185. The phone number is 757-220-1666 . There is no working website.