Friday, May 31, 2013

China Buffet is now Yummi China Buffet - East Meadow, NY

I have written about China Buffet in East Meadow, New York a number of times. The last visit was not good as I wrote in this article. About two months ago we drove past the restaurant and it was closed. It appeared to be closed for good. Any time then that we past the restaurant it was dark.  A few weeks ago we drove by and the restaurant looked open again. We wondered what went on. There was no sign that said under new management or under new ownership. There had been no for sale or for lease sign in the window previously. It just appeared that it was back open as it was before.

One afternoon driving by we saw a new bright color awning over the door. The name on the awning read Yummi China Buffet. The name on the building was the same sign that it has always been that reads China Buffet. Interesting.

I looked for a website and found one for Yummi China Buffet at this same address. The website talked about Sushi and Buffet but there was no mention of any details about the buffet on the site. The site was very incomplete with not all of the pages working yet. The main focus of the website was to place orders on line for take out from the restaurant. There was a menu page and it showed overpriced takeout dishes (overpriced compared to other local Chinese take out restaurants - and in this area there are many).

I was intrigued. I decided that despite the bad experiences we encountered there during the past visits perhaps with this new name it has changed. We went on a Friday night.

We arrived a little after 7:00 pm and went in. The inside looked no different than it had before. There appeared to be the same worn and aged furnishings, booths, and tables that there always had been. The room was dark as it usually was - and there appeared to be few if any customers inside. A woman who looked familiar as one of the servers who has been here came up to us to seat us and before we went any further I asked my wife to look at the small printed sign that was at the front counter with the prices. It was small and I could not see it clearly from where I was standing. She said - "$19.99".  $19.99!!!!  There is no way that I was going to pay $19.99 for a Friday night dinner at a buffet that had no clear indications that it was any different than it had ever been other than the word "yummi" added to the name. I went up to the sign, myself, to see that the price is $19.99 every night for dinner! I looked at the woman waiting to seat us, shook my head, and turned around and walked out the door. We went to Chen's nearby with its extensive offerings with hibachi grill, sushi bar, etc., etc. for $11.99.

So this is a very short review. At this point, unless I find conclusive evidence that this restaurant has improved without my risking $40 plus tax and tip to find out, I continue not to recommend this buffet. I suspect that the lack of people inside on a Friday evening shows that my opinion here is shared. When we got to Chen's there was a five minute wait to get in and it was packed as always. And considering that International Buffet, which is close by to this buffet in the next town, is less than $20 on weeknights and just $5 more on weekends and offers an extensive buffet including lobster, that is a much better choice if you want a buffet that costs a lot but is worth the money. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Back to Golden Corral, Hagerstown, Maryland

I was first at the Hagerstown, Maryland Golden Corral when it had first opened. I was impressed them with this Golden Corral, and I still am. We recently went back for dinner on a Friday night.

The restaurant is in the back of the Valley Mall parking lot in Hagerstown. This was one of the Golden Corrals that started putting out the plates in racks for customers to take without relying on a server to bring clean plates when needed. This was a big deal, as a poor server at a Golden Corral in the past could be a real problem to the progress of your meal if there are no clean plates being brought to you. The plates out and available has now come to all Golden Corrals. This location also had the Asian Wok food area that has now come to many other - but not all - Golden Corral restaurants.

Since the take over of Ryan's by Buffets, Inc., I consider the Golden Corral chain as the top national buffet chain. What is served tends to be of a better quality and the presentation is certainly more grand than Old Country Buffet and what Ryan's has now become. One of my top reasons is the char-grill at the buffet and steaks served to your order. You want rare, you get rare. You want well-done, you get well done - providing the grill chef knows what he is doing. The meat is tasty and the steak generally is tender. When Golden Corral is carving turkey, as they were doing on this night, they are carving an actual turkey on the bone, and not a plumped up, reconstituted turkey breast.

There was one noticeable difference on this visit and that was that the salad bar was somewhat abbreviated from what it is at other Golden Corrals that I have been to - and this was not as it was the last time I was at this location.  There were items on Golden Corral salad bars that my wife regularly takes, that were missing here - and no place for them to be. There was a good salad bar but it was not as complete as we expected it to be based on other Golden Corrals. It may be that they made room for the Chocolate Fountain which sits in this restaurant between the salad bar and the desserts along the same serving counter.

I was glad to see that the pan fried seafood that was the feature at Golden Corral restaurants for the past two summers is now gone. No more lines at the grill while one chef cooks one fry pan at a time for each customer waiting on line for fish cooked to order.

The feature that was current when we were there - and these features seem to change now at Golden Corral very frequently - was hot wings and they had several types of hot wings on the buffet with various sauces on them. This feature is called Wing Fest. There were barbecue wings, teriyaki wings, boneless wings, spicy garlic wings, Buffalo wings. While it lasts the feature is served every night of the week after 4 pm for dinner and on Sundays after 11 am.  I am not a fan of wings and I did not try them but there were many guests taking them and enjoying them.

The only thing I was not happy with on this trip were the barbecue spareribs. They had little meat on them and they were cooked to long which dried out the meat that was on them rather than making them fall off the bone tender. The over done meat had to be scraped off the bone, and along with the meat came shards of bone. I usually like Golden Corral's ribs. Those on this night were a disappointment.

Ribs aside, I had a good meal. I enjoyed the steak. I enjoyed the turkey. There was plenty to choose from and the food was good. Desserts are more extensive than at other chain buffets.

The restaurant is still well maintained and clean. Our server was very good. Management was also making announcements that children under 10 should not be up at the buffet alone - if only the parents of the children who were up there paid attention to the announcements and did as they should and accompany their children.

I recommend this Golden Corral. There are not many buffet choices in Hagerstown any longer and this was a much better meal than our meal at Ryan's the previous night. The address is 17635 Valley Mall Road, Hagerstown, Maryland 21740. The phone number is (301) 582-6209. There is a link to the chain's website at the side of this page. You will see whatever current feature they are offering on the webpage.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Back to Ryans Buffet in Hagerstown, Maryland

A year ago I was at Ryan's Buffet in Hagerstown, Maryland and things there were marginal in terms of the cleanliness of the dishes, and a few other things that you can read about here. I ended that article saying that if I got back there, I would try it again and recently, I was in Hagerstown. I was reluctant to go back but decided that maybe it did improve in a year's time. We went and for the most part it has improved.

Starting right off, the restaurant was cleaner and the dishes were clean - as were the tables, the dining room, and the serving area. This was what I was concerned about the most and there was no problem in this regard.

This Ryan's could easily be renamed Old Country Buffet and other than the grill in the serving area and the noodles in the chicken soup you would see no difference. This Ryan's has become the most like an OCB of the Ryan's that I have been to since the take over several years ago.

We went on a Thursday night - Family Night when all kids eat for 99 cents. Other than what was paid at the register, one would not have know it was Family Night by what was going on in the restaurant or by what was served on the buffet. There was nothing kid-oriented about the food that night and there were none of the  kid activities that have gone on at the OCBs I have been to on a Thursday night. Between you and me, this was just fine with me. The nicest thing was that there were no children running around the restaurant as if it were a playground - which I have experienced at OCBs on Thursday nights since this promotion started.

There were none of the foods that I have known Ryans for - regardless of the night - found here on this night. No chicken pot pie. No smoked sausage. There apparently had been chicken fried steak, but the sign remained but there was none to be found. There was a grill chef cooking steaks on a charcoal grill and you could ask for your steak to order - but he was not cooking anything special. He just cut open a steak that appeared to be as you wanted it, and offered it. Rare was more medium well with the first piece of steak I tried. The steak was tough and grizzled. The heavy pepper seasoning that is put on the steaks was overwhelming.  Later for lack of anything else, I tried another piece. This time the steak was closer to rare - and acceptable medium rare, but half the steak was fat - not fatty, but solid fat.Ryan's steak used to be so good. Sadly, it is now the same steak that Buffets, Inc. serves at all of their chain names and this steak is far from what they promote it to be.

The usual OCB menu was out and is fine if you are at an OCB, but at Ryan's, even after the takeover, I expect more of the Ryan's menu. As I say, other than good doughy noodles in the chicken soup, a salad bar that was a lot more extensive than an OCB salad bar, and a few layer cakes out for dessert, it was not Ryan's as it once was.

The service was good and the server was there to pick up plates and offer drink refills - unlike OCB you still get your drinks from your server at Ryan's.

All in all, the meal was fine.The important thing was that the restaurant is now clean. If we are in Hagerstown again, we may go back and next time I would not hesitate as I did this time because of last year's experience there. There are few buffets now in this area so there is not much of a choice as there had been years ago.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Return to Mountain Gate Family Restaurant, Thurmont, MD

We recently went back to the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Thurmont, Maryland for their buffet. This was our second visit to this location and as I wrote last week, the Pennsylvania location has closed. Our first visit to the Mountain Gate in Thurmont was one year ago and that article appears here.

We came again on a Saturday night at just about the same time - 6:30 pm for dinner. The restaurant was busy and there was a short wait of about five minutes to be seated. There is a small gift shop to walk around in while you wait.

We were seated in the large dining room which is in a room behind the buffet serving room. The dining room was busy but there was a very large group of teens from a bus tour or school group that filled most of the rear of the dining room. They were well behaved and this caused no concern. Our server came over and saw that the table that we were seated at had not been wiped down or reset from the last guests, so she told us to go up to the buffet while she cleaned and set the table for us. We went to the buffet and she set the table.

Reading my review from last year, I see that that everything then is just about the same now. The same impression that I had then - that there is less being served on this buffet from what there had always been at the Waynesboro, PA restaurant. There is one long buffet server with entrees and side dishes. There is another with salad. The desserts, breads, and soup go around part of two walls, and at the end there is a carving station. While we were there I discussed this with my wife, in case I was recalling the offerings at Waynesboro incorrectly. She felt as I did and commented to me that where there would have been two trays of different items in the space of one double tray with one item at the other location, here there was only the one item in the larger tray. This comes down to the same amount of food out but less variety. Because of this selection is limited.

I always start with soup and there were two soups out - one was a red crab soup and the other was cheese and broccoli soup. My wife does not eat either of these soups so she moved right on the the salad bar. I had the crab soup and it was excellent. I thought about going back for more of it but decided to move forward with the meal.

The salad bar had a variety of types of lettuce to choose from, a number of prepared salads, and a large variety of toppings for the lettuce. The chicken salad that was on the salad bar was exceptional. I made myself a salad with romaine lettuce and chose the ranch dressing. There was no Caesar dressing. Everything was there to make a Caesar salad BUT the dressing.  There had been a year ago. There was no ham salad as there had been last year. Too bad!

Getting to the entrees, there was not that great a choice. There was fried chicken, pork with sauerkraut, and what is called here - "slippery chicken". "Slippery chicken" is the chicken stew with dumplings dish that would be called "Chicken Bot Bie" in the PA Dutch areas. At the carving area there were three carvings - roast beef, turkey breast, and ham. On the end of the hot buffet server was a hot table with a clear cover over it with an opening in the front of the cover and inside was thinly sliced salt ham - what one would consider "Smithfield" ham in Virginia. Mixed in with the entrees were macaroni and cheese, carrots, string beans with ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and scalloped potatoes with cheese. There was no stewed tomatoes as there were last year. As before, there were turkey gravy and beef gravy.

I walked around the hot serving table several times to see if I was missing something to choose from. I wasn't. I did try an assortment of what they had but it was a small assortment. I had read on their website that they are known for their fried chicken so I had to try that. It was nice, but nothing special. The chicken was a bit dry and the pieces to take all were split backs. It was fine. I was drawn to the salt ham. This is something that I rarely get to have as it is rarely served in most places I dine at including at buffets in Virginia. I took some of this ham and it was - as anticipated - very good. It is an acquired taste if you do not often eat very salty things. The "Slippery Chicken" was good - perhaps more potato than dumplings, but good. The pork with sauerkraut was good. I had a slice of roast beef and put gravy over it. It was fine. The green beans and ham was good. The macaroni and cheese was excellent. My wife had the turkey breast and regular ham. She liked both. She also took some of the "Slippery Chicken" and liked that. She then made herself a vegetable plate not wanting to repeat what she already had and the rest were things she does not eat. It was all good. We had enough to eat. We did not have the variety we would have liked to have.

Now dessert. I will say this again - the Waynesboro, PA Mountain Gate had the best dessert buffet I have encountered - and that is saying A LOT. The Thurmont Mountain Gate does not come close. There were a variety of pies, a few types of slices of cake, and some hot and cold prepared desserts. I wanted to try a dessert. There were some half donuts on the side in a covered serving dish. There were two halves left. I went to take one of those and felt through the serving tongs that it was hard. I passed on that. I decided to take a small scoop of bread pudding. My wife likes bread pudding. This was was more custard that bread and she decided she would not have any of the desserts and took a slice of cinnamon bread for dessert. The bread pudding was very good and very much the consistency and taste of a very thick egg custard. The cinnamon bread that my wife took was dry and she said the baked breads were very disappointing.  Gone forever is that wonderful dessert buffet that only was in Waynesboro!

Service was very good. The server cleared plates away fairly promptly - more promptly once the large teen group had left. Drink refills were offered several times and brought right away. 

The food was good. Some was excellent. I liked the food. I recommend the food.  Choices are more limited than they should be compared to other buffets and compared to their former location. This was a Saturday night. I expect that a buffet will offer the most and best of their dishes on a Saturday at dinner.

The location is very much out of the way - unless you are local to this area. To get here when I am in Maryland I have to drive out of my way to go here. What is odd is that the closed PA location was closer and easier to get to from the Hagerstown area of Maryland than this is. Do not be fooled by the shorter route through the mountainous Catoctin Mountain Park. Anything but a small car will be on the edge of cliff drops driving through that park to the town of Thurmont. Once again this year my GPS wanted to take us through this and we routed the trip ourselves with a map.

Should you go? - If you are near here, you should go. You will like the food. You know what the choices are from reading here and if that is fine with you, try it.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Mountain Gate Restaurant in Waynesboro, PA CLOSED

A year ago I returned to the Mountain Gate Restaurant in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania after being away for about four years. As I wrote after that visit, the Mountain Gate Restaurant there never disappoints. We were able to arrange a trip to that area again about a week ago and I looked forward to returning again. About a week before the trip I check the website of the restaurant to see if there were any changes. Everything looked good to go. A few days before the trip I went to the website again, and did not see the Waynesboro location of the restaurant listed any longer. The Thurmont, Maryland location was the only one listed. This was strange as it was listed just a week before.

I started doing some searching to find out what was going on and came across a news article that the Mountain Gate in Waynesboro was closing in the second to the last week in April. I was shocked! The article explained that the owners of the Mountain Gate Restaurants had decided that the operation of the two restaurant locations and a conference center that they also own was too much and that as they were spread too thin, the operation was going to suffer. The decision was to close the Waynesboro restaurant. The property has been leased to someone who will be opening an Asian restaurant - apparently not a buffet - in the building that now formerly was the Mountain Gate, Waynesboro.

The Thurmont restaurant will continue to be open for business as always. I had visited that location also last year and was not as impressed with it as I have always been with the Waynesboro restaurant. In addition, the two restaurants are not really close to each other so being near Waynesboro means being a distance from Thurmont. 

So gone is the Mountain Gate Restaurant in Waynesboro, PA. Gone is the overwhelmingly great dessert buffet that was included in the buffet meal. Some time ago, I wrote that this was the best dessert buffet that I had come across at any buffet. Now, it is just a pleasant memory. A lot of good buffets are closing. The economy is bad, but these are buffets that always seemed to be busy.

I was so set to go to Mountain Gate during this trip, that I did make the trip to Thurmont. You can read about that visit next week.