Friday, February 22, 2013

Ruby Buffet, Massapequa, New York

During the early summer of 2012 we saw signs in an indoor shopping mall not too far from our home about a new Chinese buffet "coming soon". The sign was posted next to the food court and we wondered where they would fit a buffet restaurant - and we were not sure if this would be a real sit down buffet restaurant or a counter buffet in the food court with per pound prices. Months and months went by with no sign of any buffet and no indication where it would be in the mall.  In late October we saw the first signs of the buffet - construction outside the mall building but attached to it - next to the food court. There was a sign - "Ruby Buffet Coming Soon". It would be attached to the mall but not in the mall.

In late December we saw an advertisement in the newspaper for Ruby Buffet and a coupon for 20% off. We finally got to try the restaurant in mid-January. The day we were going to go, I did an internet search for Ruby Buffet and found a webpage and also discovered that this buffet was part of a chain of Ruby Buffets with three locations in Pennsylvania, one in New Jersey, one in Maryland, and this one in New York. Each location had a webpage and I went to see what I could find out about Ruby Buffet. The first thing that struck me was the price - $14.99 which is on the upper mid-range of buffet prices in this area. Children are $8.99 (6-10 - over 10 pay adult price) and $6.99 (2-5). Under two are free. Soda with refills is $1.99. For a family this meal can get expensive. Looking at the website, I was taken with the photos of the food being served. Platters of sushi and sashimi, whole prawns with the heads (which are common in other areas, but not in New York), large crab leg clusters, a nice looking carved steak, and a tray of wonderful looking spare ribs were featured in the photos. They described themselves as international in one spot, as a Japanese and Chinese seafood buffet in another spot, and under their name on the sign it says "Asian Buffet". From the photos on the website I was eager to go and try this buffet. I had been thinking prior to that day that I would love to have good Chinese spare ribs. Not the type that most buffets serve - small ribs with no meat covered in thick red sweet sauce - but rather real Chinese restaurant ribs which I know only one Chinese buffet serves - Good Taste Buffet in Commack,NY (which I have written about several times on this site and you can find the articles in the archives). When I saw the photo of the ribs at Ruby Buffet they looked just like those. I thought that if we go instead for the first time to Ruby Buffet I could have those ribs and also try a new buffet that we have been meaning to try. I also saw a photo of a very appealing steak that caught my eye as well. It was with much anticipation that we headed out to Ruby Buffet.

The buffet is located outside the food court in the rear of the mall, right off the parking lot and has its own entrance outside. There is no entrance to the restaurant from inside the mall - and this buffet is open much later than the mall is - to 10 pm on weeknights and to 11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. We went on a Friday night. There were a lot of cars outside the entrance in the parking lot. It turns out that these were shoppers at the mall. When we went into the restaurant on a Friday evening it was almost empty. There were several tables tables filled out of many. This was a big surprise. Asian buffets in this area on a Friday night are packed. The weather was good. There were people in the mall. There was hardly anyone in the restaurant. My first thought was that at $14.99 this buffet was priced way too high for the location. This management was hoping that this buffet would hold its own as a stand alone restaurant without connection to the mall, but from appearances, that was not happening. Not far away is a larger Chinese buffet with a lower dinner price that has had lines to get in most nights - especailly on Friday and Saturday night - for the past year since it opened. 

We went in and were seated. The dining room is very nicely decorated. There are booths around the walls and there are tables in the middle of the dining room. Along the walls there are four other small dining rooms. These rooms had about sic to eight tables along the walls in each. The rooms seemed too small for party rooms and they had no doors to separate them for a private party. It was just odd that such small rooms would be scattered about. A server came right over and asked for our beverage order and we went right up to the buffet. I looked quickly around the buffet servers and I was not seeing what I had seen in the photos - well, let me put it this way - similar items were there, but they did not look anyway near prepared as they were in the photos. There were three, double sided hot buffet servers in the middle of the buffet area which takes up the rear of the restaurant. We went up first for soup. There were Oriental in design, square soup bowls. There were four soups. One was the standard wonton soup, another was hot and sour, the third was Seafood Soup - a white thin soup with a mixture of egg and pieces of seafood (not uncommon at some buffets), and the fourth soup was Seafood Bisque - a thick, orange color soup with what appeared to be flat noodles but I believe more to be pieces of Krab broken up into the soup, chunks of potato, carrot, and a few small lumps of what could be real crab,shrimp, or other seafood (it was hard to tell). I took the Seafood Bisque. My wife took the wonton soup.

My wife commented to me how good the wonton soup broth was. She described it as light and not salty. (Based on this, I went back toward the end of the meal and took some - by now it was more salty - perhaps because it was added to or perhaps it had cooked down in the hour and became more concentrated.) The Seafood Bisque despite the unknown seafood content was very tasty. Bisque should have a little bite to it and this one was just right. I very much enjoyed the soup! Around the point that we were finishing our soup, the manager who had been hovering around various tables came over to ask how the food was - we said very good - as it this point it certainly was.

We moved on to our next course, and my wife went to the dumplings and I went to the sushi bar. The small platters of sushi somewhat resembled what they had in the photos. There were no labels on anything. There was an assortment of rolls, fish on rice and one small platter of just pieces of fish with seaweed salad on the side. This platter emptied quickly - with the few diners in the restaurant - and did not get replaced until we were leaving, despite the two sushi chefs behind the counter. I am not sure what they were making but it did not seem to be actively replacing what was missing from the platters on the ice covered counter. In fact, later in the meal we observed one moving out empty platters and rearranging those left to look as if nothing was missing. The quality of the fish was just less than average for other buffets or equal or less cost. It was not bad but not full of flavor.

I next went up to try the dumplings and saw on the end of a long cold buffet server on the side that there were peel and eat shrimp, raw clams on the half shell, and raw oysters on ice. I am very careful about raw shellfish at buffets and it must be on hard ice and not look glazed, dry, or waxy in any way. The oysters looked wet and fresh. I took some of those and spooned some cocktail sauce on. (The rest of that buffet server had an extensive salad bar, fresh fruits, canned fruits, and puddings.)

I then went over to the dumplings and took a dim sum and two pan fried dumplings.  There were also bean paste buns and a roll of some type of leaf filled with rice and bean paste, tied with string in a bundle and steamed. The oysters were fresh and good. The dim sum was typical of buffet dim sum. The pan fried dumplings were light and in the style that I have had them at Japanese restaurants. They were good. My wife tried the leaf stuffed with rice and bean paste and she said that it was very good. She commented that the bean paste was not sweet as it is in a bean paste bun.  We should have ended the meal here and this review would come out much better than it will.

I had come for spare ribs and I went next to take some. The spare ribs that were out were nothing like the ribs that were in the photo. These were not Chinese-style spare ribs. These were an attempt at spare ribs from a barbecue restaurant. They had a brown sauce covering them and it looked like they had been baked rather than grilled in a flame broiler. There was little meat on the bones and what was there would not cut off or bite off. I took two ribs and had little meat to eat and what meat that I could get off was hard to chew and not very tasty. The sauce was an attempt at American barbecue sauce but not quite. I was very disappointed. Sometimes a restaurant should leave photos off their site that do not reflect what you will actually find when you get to the restaurant. Later, more ribs came out - replacing the two I took - and I decided I would try again. This time the two ribs I took had slightly more meat come off the bones but it was still hard to hack off and the taste was not worth the effort. (Good Chinese spare ribs are not hard to make - the ribs go under a flame broiler and are turned halfway through. They come out moist, crispy on the edges, and full of flavor. I have watched them made many times at the Chinese take out and they come out wonderful. Why is this so hard for a buffet to do?!?)

I went over to the crab legs. There were no large clusters as there were in the photo. There were small legs - the smaller two legs of a cluster attached. I am not sure where the rest of the cluster went. I took two of these paired crab legs back to my table. When I got there a server came running over with a wooden bowl. The size of the bowl would hold twice what was out in the serving tray on the buffet. Nice gesture, I guess. I broke the larger of the two legs off one of the pair and cracked open the shell with my hands and pulled out the meat - in one piece. I took a bite and my mouth filled with the taste of all of the salt in the ocean. I have had crab legs in buffets and restaurants for many, many years. I have never had crab legs that tasted as much as pure salt as these. Perhaps it was just the one. I tried the other - exactly the same. Not good. Not good at all. If crab legs are naturally very salty, everyone else must do something to rinse that salt off before they are boiled or steamed and served. I have never before had any this salty - even in the cheapest buffet!

My wife all of this time who is a picky eater - as you regular readers well know by now- was picking through the few actual entrees that were on the buffet. She tried a little of the beef and peppers. She even tried the steak - which by the way was nothing like the wonderful looking steak in the photo. This was a piece of steak that had been browned on top and only slightly on bottom and looked like it had some type of coating on top - though it was hard to tell what that might be and did not taste coated. In fact, (I tried it too) it did not much taste like anything. Ah, well. She eventually resorted to going back to the beginning items and took appetizer items like chicken on a stick and peel and eat shrimp. She did like the seaweed salad, but as I mentioned, it never came back out until we were leaving and she had taken what little had been on the original platter near the beginning of our meal.

It looked like there were a lot of things to choose to eat -and there were - but there were few stand alone entrees. There was chicken and broccoli and beef and peppers - of course, these are the two Chinese buffet standards. I am not sure how they came to be that but go to any Chinese buffet and there they will be as if these are the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine.  I will say that they were made well and these two dishes had a better taste than many other Chinese buffets. There was General Tso chicken - another buffet staple. There was honey chicken, chicken and shrimp with black pepper sauce, seafood scampi, salt and pepper crab halves that were primarily shell, coconut shrimp,
 I sounds like a lot but as we walked around and looked for what was not hot and spicy and what was not overly sweet, we were walking around looking and looking for what to take.

I tried some basics - an egg roll and lomein noodles. Buffet egg rolls are usually doughy. These were pretty much only the doughy wrapper with hardly anything inside. The not crispy dough wrapper was hard to bite into and next to impossible to chew. I resorted to scooping the little filling out with a fork and that had little flavor. The lomein noodles, themselves, were authentic and long. They were cooked in too much oil, and while they tasted good, they were too greasy. My wife tried the chow mei fun noodles and said that they were not bad. She also tried the fried rice and she said that it was lightly cooked - it did not look brown as most Chinese fried rice looks but more like Japanese fried rice.

I tried a crab cake. It was served with a bowl with what the sign said was honey mustard on the side. the crab cakes were small and thick. They were made with real crab. The first one I tried was tasty. The second one I took later - with a dab of the honey mustard - was more filler than crab and the honey mustard sauce was made with Chinese hot mustard. That ruined whatever taste there was in the crab cake.

There had been a tempting photo of a whole Peking Duck on the website. There was duck on the buffet, but what was out were two half drumsticks and little pieces of duck that were more bone and grizzle than meat. I tried one of the half drumsticks. It was OK. There were no Peking Duck pancakes or the usual vegetables that accompany the duck in the pancake - scallions, cucumber, etc. There was a bowl of the brown sauce to spoon on the duck.

This is a list of what was on the buffet on this night. To be fair there is a lot here, but quantity does not mean anything if the taste does not stand out for the better. Soups - Wonton, Hot and Sour, Seafood, and Seafood Bisque. Dumplings - Fried dumplings, dim sum, bean bun, steamed bun, gluten rice with bean paste. On the cold servers - seaweed salad, sushi, edamame, salad, "French salad", krab salad (not crab salad), pasta salad, shrimp, clams, oysters, seafood salad. Hot foods - chicken on a stick, lo mein, ribs, rib tips, spring rolls, egg rolls, seafood scampi, chicken and broccoli, pepper steak, fried shrimp, chicken fingers, NY steak with teriyaki sauce, garlic bread, spinach, honey chicken, General Tso chicken, crab legs, roast chicken, chicken wings, pasta with krab (not crab) and mozzarella cheese, pizza, string beans, shrimp and chicken in black pepper sauce, cheese wontons, sweet and sour shrimp, cheese puffs, corn on the cob, spiced crabs, salmon with dill sauce, fried Texas fish (catfish), baby clams with black bean sauce, coconut chicken, and french fries. Desserts - soft ice cream with cones and sprinkles, cakes, fruit, fried donuts, puddings, and almond cookies.

Desserts were three trays of the usual Chinese restaurant "Little Debbie" type sheet cakes, some cookies, soft serve ice cream and the fruits and puddings that I mentioned above. There was nothing tempting in the desserts. My wife had fresh melon and we both had a fortune cookie. I had decided that if there was something good I would try a dessert. They were all commercial and nothing was worth the carbs.

Service was good. There was a server at our table regularly to take our plates away - sometimes just as we finished with them. We were offered to refill our drinks. I was given the bowl for the crab shells. Everyone was pleasant and said hello when we came in and said good bye as we were leaving. 

Overall - the meal was a big disappointment. There were a few good things to eat. The Seafood Bisque was the best thing that I had in the whole meal. There were too many things that were just OK or not good. Nothing was bad. It was just not good. Had everything been cooked as it should have been and tasted as it should have - with all of the seafood, etc. the meal would certainly be worth the $14.99 ($16.96 with soda). But in the end - with how it all was - it just is not worth the price - and even at less of a price, it was not a place that I would go back to. It was just too disappointing. Perhaps this was why there were so few people in the restaurant. Perhaps those who would come here had already come and found what I did.

I cannot really recommend this buffet. I would love to be able to. Maybe they will improve. At some distant point in the future, I may go back - just to see if it gets better. But until then, this one was a big disappointment. (I have said that several times, haven't I? Hmm - must be how I truly feel.)

Ruby Buffet is located at Westfield's Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, New York off of Sunrise Highway. The address is 1 Sunrise Mall Suite 2152, Massapequa, NY 11758. The phone number is (516) 882 - 0300. There is a website and it is linked at the side of this page. I have no idea if my meal at this location is any indication of the food at the other Ruby Buffet locations.


Stan said...

Interesting review. Thank you. There is a link on their website for a "Coupon" but it didn't seem to work. My wife works at that mall, so she went down to the restaurant and they acknowldged that it didn't work so they gave her two grand opening $7.00-off coupons. With this discount, we will definitely try it. Too bad that you cannot just get the coupons from their website, apparently you have to ask for them.

Writer said...

They do - at times - put coupons in Newsday on Sundays.

Barbarabean said...

$7.00 off per person makes it worth trying.

Writer said...

i have never seen a coupon published in any newspaper or community circular for $7 off per person at this buffet. This may have been a one time offer when they opened - but don't expect to find more than a percent off or $2 coupon for this buffet.

Barbarabean said...

I was referring to Stan's comment about the $7.00 coupons that his wife picked up from the restaurant. I wasn't referring to any newspaper coupons.

Anonymous said...

If you ask the manager or his ass't., they will give you the $7.00-off vouchers. Everyone was doing it when we were there. Makes it almost half off.

Brett said...

I think that Writer was right on target. We were there the other night, we had a group of five. It was 'OK" not great, but OK. We were looking for better desserts and soups, not to be found. What made it worthwhile was the price, which was $7.99 per person with the coupons. You cannot beat that. We will go again on that basis. Thanks for the nice review.

Writer said...

A neighbor of mine went into Ruby Buffet in Sunrise Mall, Massapequa and asked for the manager. The manager was asked for two $7.00 off vouchers and my neighbor says that the manager looked at her like she was crazy. My neighbor explained that she read on an internet site that these discount vouchers would be given at this restaurant if asked for from the manager. The manager said there is no such discount voucher or coupon and acted as if there never was. SO - no doubt these vouchers had been handed out at some time as several readers received them - but they are no more.

Vyolah said...

Quite disappointing about those vouchers being handled out already. We got them once, made the meal cheaper then McDonald's. Must have been a promotion. $7.99 after coupon per person could not be beat.