Friday, January 04, 2013

China Buffet, East Meadow, New York

I have been to the China Buffet many times but not since the opening of Chen's Buffet in Levittown, New York. This seems to be the case for many of China Buffet's customers. Many have started going to Chen's. My last article about China buffet was in January, 2010. Chen's opened just about a year after that and took away much of the little business that this buffet had. Chen's has become more and more difficult to park for. They have a very large parking lot in the rear but it is used also by patrons of the bar next door and fills and stays full. We decided to go back to China Buffet and see if they have made any improvements to try to compete with Chen's to bring back their customers.

We went on a Saturday night. It was cold and windy but the sky was clear. The restaurant was almost empty. The immediate change is that the weekend price is now $8.99 per adult. The weekday price is $7.99. They have changed the light bulbs also as the room is now brightly lit and a lot more appealing than it had been though the tables and decor has not changed. There were perhaps four other tables filled in the entire restaurant.

We went up to the buffet and started with soup. There were the same three standard soups that they have always served. There was clear soup for wontons, egg drop soup, and hot and sour soup. My wife took the wonton soup and I took the egg drop soup and added two wontons. The wontons were large and full of meat. They were served in a tray along side the soup and were moist in the pan. This seemed to me to be a good sign starting out.

The soup was properly seasoned - meaning not too salty - and the wontons were pretty good. The soup could have been hotter, but was OK, and later someone who came in sitting a table near by made a comment that the egg drop soup was now cold.

After the soup, my wife went up for dumplings and I went to take some of the peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp was on ice and next to it there were raw half clams. There was cocktail sauce in a bowl and also a bowl of lemons. The cocktail sauce was very thin and sweet. The shrimp was fine. Just what you would expect. The shrimp were not large, but that did not matter.  My wife took the pan fried dumplings. They were a bit greasy sitting in the pan.

Gone are the crab legs that were once served here. You are not going to get crab legs for $8.99 a person at a buffet. Also gone were a number of dishes and some dishes had changed somewhat in consistency. The shrimp in lobster sauce was in an extremely thin sauce and I could not see any shrimp in the serving tray. There were basically four wok entree dishes including the shrimp with lobster sauce - chicken and broccoli, beef and peppers, bourbon chicken. There was a variety of appetizer items including nicely stuffed egg rolls but these were wrapped in thin wrappers and when fried soaked up oil like a sponge, chicken on a stick. boneless ribs in thick red sweet sauce, cheese stuffed wontons, fried shrimp, stuffed clams, a stuffed bun that was covered in baked mayonnaise that had just cooked carrots and corn inside, and fried chicken legs. The chicken legs were large and looked good. They turned out to be overly fried with some of the meat not easily coming away from the bone and parts totally inedible (this was one of the better things that I had). There was white rice in a steamer and also fried rice in a steamer. I am not sure why the fried rice would be in a steamer and not on a serving tray as it is usually served at buffets. There was egg foo young and egg foo young sauce. Both the patties and the sauce were cold and there was a bit of a vinegar tang to the sauce which made me wonder if it was actually safe to eat. There was a tray of fried fish that looked good but was so chewy that I could not really eat it. There was also a tray of fried calamari that looked like the fish that I decided to stay away from. There was a tray of lo mien. A lot of what I chose was more chewy than it should have been, including the lo mien. Temperatures were also just marginal.

With the few people in the restaurant one would think that there should be no problem keeping the serving trays full but when a tray emptied, it did not get refilled. This was not late and the restaurant had hours to go before it would close. Every so often someone would come out to fill in an empty tray, but there were too many empty or near empty trays of food. There was also a problem, it seemed, keeping food tended. I went past the condiments - duck sauce, Chinese mustard and such. The top of the mustard dish was dried and crusted over.

We both wondered how do they stay in business. There were far from enough people on a Saturday night to keep the place open. We wondered if they do a big lunch business, but where they are located- not really near any large businesses, I am not sure where a big lunch business would come from. Do they get an earlier than 7:00 pm crowd? I don't know. Or are they just holding on and aside from their now year long competition, they are not cooking in a way to keep people coming in once they have been back for a try - as we were.

I have not mentioned the "hibachi" grill - which has always been in the back of this restaurant. It was never especially good. There was no one cooking back there. There was a counter set up with raw vegetables, thawed out chicken, and small shrimp. The meat and shrimp did not look appetizing and I decided that I was not going to try anything there. No one while we were there went up to that grill. Unless you turned the corner to see the counter with the raw food you would have just assumed it was closed. One of the big features at Chen's is the hibachi grill and this was where this restaurant could have competed if they really wanted to. Obviously - at least now - they had no interest.

Desserts consisted of two types of small squares of sheet cake, cantaloupe that look over ripe or having sat too long, chocolate pudding, fried dough balls, hot apple strudel, orange wedges, an ice cream freeze with hard ice cream in the back where it could not be seen, and almond cookies. The almond cookies actually looked good. We each took one. My wife commented that this cookie was the best part of the meal. It was soft and had a good taste. I agreed that it was the best part of the meal.

Service was good. The plates were taken away quickly. Our drinks (soda is $1.00) were refilled without our asking. The soda, by the way, is neither Coke or Pepsi. They have always had some off brand cola here. The room was mostly clean. The table in the booth next to us was being held supposedly straight by a stack of napkins under one of the legs. As it was, the table sat on a odd angle.

I came with hopes. I can't say that it was even as good as it used to be. It is not. After the meal we are not ill - good point for the restaurant - but there was definitely too much MSG in the food as my wife who this does not bother is complaining about it. It is almost five hours later and I am still tasting the grease in my throat.

I don't recommend it unless you want a really cheaply priced Chinese buffet meal and don't really care about how the food is. If you want a lot of cold peel and eat shrimp for little money then you might want to come here.

The China Buffet is located at 394 Merrick Ave, East Meadow, New York and the phone number is (516) 489-2525.


songbird's crazy world said...

My guess is that they don't have enough income to stay open much longer, and we will soon be reading how they have closed. Not repleneshing trays may mean they don't have more of that dish in the kitchen because they couldn't buy the ingredients. But there's no excuse for poirly cooked food.

ML said...

This is now under new name and ownership. Its now called Yummy Buffet.
We went there for lunch yesterday and they have improved the serving area. The raw shrimp on ice was large size and very tasty.
The disappointment was at the end of the meal which was the $10 price (for lunch?) with nothing to make it more expensive than other local Chinese buffets (except for the shrimp?)
But the other thing is that they include a 15% tip on the bill! with no mention of this automatic charge anywhere including their flyer.
I went and spoke to the manager/owner and told him I wasn't happy with this charge without my consent and he did offer to refund it, but I told him to keep it because I would have left a tip as I always do but didn't like the "automatic tip" and he said its because many don't leave tips and that he would take care of me "next time".
Well, there will not be a next time as far as I'm concerned.They've only been open 2 1/2 months, if they really wanted to make a statement to bring customers back, they should have charged no more then $7.99 and NOT have a automatic tip

Writer said...

We went in when they first re-opened with this name, looked around and saw not much different. I asked what the price for dinner was and was told $19.99. We walked out. There is no way that this little buffet is worth $19.99.