Friday, March 29, 2013

Mongolian Stir-Fry at Old Country Buffet and Ryans PART 2

See our article of March 22, 2013 for PART I


The next visit was the night I would try it, but when I went up and that the young man who was being trained was gone but a very personable young lady was there in his place. I went up and she smiled - so rare at an OCB from many employees with very special exceptions. I asked for chicken with noodles and vegetables. She filled a large ladle with noodles - thin lo mein style noodles which OCB had previously been using when serving Lo Mein on the buffet. The noodles went in the pan and another large ladle of chicken went on top, followed by a large ladle of vegetables. On top of that a very small ladle with teriyaki sauce went on top and the frying pan went on the cooktop. As it heated she started stirring with a spatula. She mixed and stirred. Steam came up as it cooked and the noodles turned to a light golden color from the sauce. She asked if I would like it spicy and I told her no. There was a large bottle of hot sauce on top of the counter.   You bring your own plate up to the counter and hand it over when the stir-fry has finished cooking. She filled my plate - still smiling. The plate of food smelled very good. It tasted good too!Alright! When properly made this had possibilities and an addition to the buffet that was worthwhile.

My next OCB visit was to Levittown. I wondered if this would be just as good. I did not even bother to try it there. There was a small crowd around the corner of the dessert counter where the stir-fry is. I went over to look at how the food looked coming out of the pan. It was consistently a deep dark brown. They were putting in way to much sauce. I watched as they poured ladle after ladle of teriyaki sauce into each pan. Instead of a pleasant smell coming from the pans, you could smell the sugar coming from the cooked sauce and you could see the dark brown liquid pouring out with the food onto the plates. This was nothing like what I had enjoyed at the other OCB. This was not appealing at all.

I wondered if my stir-fry plate in Bay Shore was a one time experience. The next visit that we were at Bay Shore I tried again. This time the young women who cooked my food was not there, but a new young man was there. He was very pleasant also and had a good sense of humor and attitude as he worked. He was personable and chatted with the guests as he cooked. I asked for the same thing I had the first time. He followed exactly the same process as the young woman had and produced a plate that looked just the same. Then he offered me an egg roll on the side - a light flaky crust, fried roll with vegetables inside.  That was a nice compliment to the stir-fry and it was fairly good. Another visit here found the same good preparation and enjoyable plate - this time with two egg rolls on request.

I would love to say that this is how it always is - but I cannot. Another visit to Bay Shore found a long line at the stir-fry counter. So long that by the time I had finished my second plate from the buffet - after soup and salad - there were people still on the line that had been on the line when I went up to get on it. It was the same personable young man - but he did not seem to be cooking. He was out of multiple items that he needed to cook - and much of the time these people on the line were waiting with him for these things to come out of the kitchen so that he could do his job and fill their plates. This is not a good thing.

One thing is that this is not like a Mongolian stir-fry that you would find at an Asian restaurant or buffet. There the meat and the vegetables start raw and only cook on the grill where it is served to you. There you choose and assemble the dish yourself and hand it raw to the cook who cooks it for you. Here it is all pre-cooked and if something runs out - and there is not much kept on hand at the cooking counter  - the whole operation stops until trays are refilled. Whoever at Buffets, Inc. came up with this process had no idea of its pitfalls.

Has it struck you that the Mongolian Stir-Fry is a weak attempt to come up with a comparable feature as the Seafood Saute at Golden Corral? And that feature is one of the worst ideas that Golden Corral ever came up with because the process of cooking to order like this in a buffet has the potential to back up the entire buffer serving area. At Golden Corral this backs up the steak and meat grill as the Saute shares that space. Lines for both intersect into long waits and confusion of guests who cannot figure out where to stand or what line to get on for which one. Here, at Old Country Buffet, that started to happen on the night at Bay Shore where the line never moved - for lack of ingredients at the stir-fry to cook with. The line started to stretch into the long space blocking a buffet server and access to the buffet area from the dining room next to the stir-fry counter.

At best, I can say that the Mongolian Stir-Fry at Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, and Ryans is inconsistent. I can be very good if the people cooking are well supplied and know what they are doing - and following the recipe that has been set for this by corporate. It can be the opposite in the hands of cooks that are doing their own thing. The other problem is that there needs to be one or two employees assigned to do the job of cooking the stir-fry and nothing else. They cannot be called away to fill serving trays on the buffet, bring out plates for the buffet, or get ice for the ice machine. In a chain of restaurants that have cut back the number of employees that are necessary to properly maintain the buffet and maintain the dining room, a feature food that needs full attention is certainly not a good combination.

Before trying this feature - even in the same location - stop and watch what is taking place as it is cooked. See if they are doing it as it is supposed to be done - and from what I have seen and had come out successfully from the pan is a ladle full of noodles or rice, a ladle full of meat (avoid that odd beef), and a ladle full of vegetables, topped with ONE small ladle full of teriyaki sauce. If you want it hot, ask and they will add hot sauce - but from comments that I have heard by those who had the hot sauce added, don't let them put too much unless you really like to eat things impossibly hot. (Again, I get this from comments of those who thought it would be good.)

So - the Mongolian Stir-Fry is hit and miss. Hopefully, you will find more hits than misses. I have come across more misses than hits.

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