Friday, January 03, 2014

Christmas Dinner at D. J.'s International Buffet, Garden City, NY

For the past several years we have enjoyed a very special Christmas dinner at a buffet that is no longer open - Best Buffet in Huntington, NY. When we saw during this past year that Best Buffet had shut its doors for good, we wondered where we would find a reasonably priced and good buffer for the holidays. We decided at the very last minute to go to International Buffet in Garden City, New York.

I have written about this Asian buffet restaurant many times over a number of years - from its first management, to its closing, to its reopening under different management. It is a buffet that has varied from good to fair and my last visit was not so good. When it reopened with different management, the "International" part of the buffet was pretty much gone. We had never been there on a holiday before this Christmas. I suspected that they would be open - but I was not sure. I called before we went to ask to what time they would be open (the regular closing of 10 pm) and how much the buffet cost ($28.99 - "special holiday dinner" which is three dollars more than their usual weekend price). I actually was not certain that we should go when I heard the price.

We went at 6 pm for dinner. The restaurant was busy but not full. Most of the people eating in the restaurant were Asian. The dining rooms were decorated for Christmas. As we walked through to be seated I looked quickly to see if there was anything special about the "special holiday" buffet. I saw the usual as I looked with the exception of a chocolate fountain and cotton candy. They could have been charging even more to be open on Christmas, so $3 more for the usual weekend dinner was fine.

We started off with soup and I was disappointed to find that the soup they are most known for - lobster bisque that has always been on the buffet from the first opening of the restaurant through the new management. In its place was a thin, milk based clam chowder which while tasty consisted sparsely of pieces of onion and a few pieces of clam.  It was fine but not what I expected as calm chowder. There were the usual hot and sour, wonton, and egg drop soups. There was also a soup labeled "Sickie Chicken Soup". I looked into the tureen  to see very greasy chicken soup. It was too hard to see if there was anything added to the chicken broth. Just the name made me decide not to try it. Perhaps it means something else in Chinese.

There is, and always has been a nice salad bar here with salad fixings and prepared salads, including a nice Mediterranean olive assortment. With so much, we skipped the salad -and it was not until dessert that I remembered that they have these olives.

There is a large sushi bar with a broad variety of sushi that includes some sashimi (just raw fish with no rice). The sushi bar was no different than it has been and the fish is good. There is also a raw seafood bar with clams and oysters and I decided to stop off there on my way back to the table to add some raw oysters on the half shell to my dish. There were two Asian young women serving themselves there and I politely waited my turn. When I had gotten there, the ice bed was covered in oysters. By the time they filled their plates piled with oysters, there were no oysters left. This was my first encounter with what was to be repeated several times during the course of our meal. I went back to our table and watched to see when more oysters were brought out again. I went back up and there was an Asian man who filled his plate piled hire with oysters. I was able to get six oysters from what he left.While I was there, a non-Asian man was pushed out of the way by a young Asian woman who wanted to get to the cocktail sauce. He had something to say about it - she just ignored him.

There was a great deal of seafood on this buffet - which is common to this restaurant. One dish that was particularly good - though very salty - was the salt and pepper crab which was half blue crabs fried in batter with salt and pepper - a great deal of salt depending upon the piece.  Another dish that looked interesting was scallops in a white sauce served on large scallop shells, but when I went toward the just refilled tray, a young Asian man with two young Asian women just got there before me, and as I waited for my turn, the three of them emptied the full tray. I just shook my head and walked away.

 One of the features of the weekend dinners - and of this "special holiday dinner" as well, is lobster in ginger sauce. While it was being brought out to the buffet servers regularly- and placed in different spots each time - if you wanted any of this lobster it was necessary to ignore eating anything else and just stand around the buffet watching for the cart to come from the kitchen that might have more lobster on it. As soon as it would come out, the tray would be descended upon by two or three people - Asian people - who would empty that tray onto their plates - piling the lobster high on the plate despite the sign that would accompany the tray that said "Please take no more than four pieces of lobster at time so that others may have some". I pretty much gave up on having any until just about the end of our meal I happened to be in the right place at the right time and got next to two Asian women at the newly put out lobster tray who only took half of the large tray. At that point I decided, polite was not the order of the evening and I picked out the rest of the tail pieces which are the only pieces that any decent lobster meat can be gotten out of. The lobster tray was another spot that tempers flared between the non-Asian and Asian diners. It looked very much like at various times through the night that there would be an actual fight - all over someone taking a lot more at one time of something than anyone should when there is a crowd. It certainly was not because the restaurant was wasn't trying hard to keep all of the trays full as fast as possible.

This competition for food was not going on over all of the food. There was plenty of dished to just walk up to and take. There were two carvings - roast beef and a rope of grilled Italian Sausage. This was not carved for you, but large carving knives and serving forks were out with it for you to carve yourself. The sausage was very good. I did not try the beef. There were skewers of hot meat - beef and chicken - also shrimp, and spare ribs at the grill.  The spare ribs were burned and covered in a sweet glaze. The skewers were glazed as well. There were three types of dumplings - shrimp, shumai, and fried meat dumplings. Near the dumplings was a sweet coconut soup. There were large steamed fish in ginger sauce continually replaced. There was ox tail stew and also a beef stew. Shrimp was plentiful and large - cold steamed, fried in a crunch batter, and in a variety of dishes. There was plenty to eat and most things were very good. There was good labeling also with one exception - on one side of the buffet server a tray was labeled Country Frogs Legs and on the other side of the buffet server the same tray was labeled crab cakes. These were large fried frogs legs and I am sure that someone took them thinking that they were an oddly shaped crab cake - and perhaps had no idea that they were eating frog. Frog legs are good if you get past the idea of Hoppity Frog. There were also steamed snow crab legs - with no great rush to take what was put out. These were not whole clusters but a one leg or two legs joined together.

There is a large variety of desserts here. Scoop yourself hard ice cream, cakes, fruits, prepared desserts in two different sections - cold and not. Some of the cakes are the typical "Little Debbie" squares that are common at Asian buffets. There was a regular layer cake cut and put out as well. My wife tried that and said it was fine. The usual Asian buffet hot apple strudel was good and not overly sweet.  They were also making hot crepes to order at the side of the grill section.

I have not seen what I saw here on this night in the same way - and attitude - by those dining at another buffet before. There is always a competition to get to the lobster at buffets that include lobster and partly that is a reason (besides cost) why you don't see lobster too often at buffets any longer.  Years ago, I wrote an article here called "The Lobster Grabbers". Here it was just so frequent at items besides the lobster and then to come to near blows was way above and beyond. I have never seen this at this restaurant before.

As I said at the beginning, the price for adults for this "special holiday" buffet was $28.99 per adult. Soft drinks with refills were an additional $1.55. Service was OK. Dishes were taken away promptly from the tables, but we were never offered a refill of the water that we had instead of soda, and I did not see other tables around us get offered refills of soda though the refills were included with the soda price.

Would I go back on another Christmas? Maybe. The food was certainly good and we were full when we left. Is is worth $28.99  - not really. When we come here we usually come on a special occasion during the week when the price has been $17.99 - still expensive but not as expensive as the $25.99 weekend price. My suggestion is that if you would like to try this buffet, come on a Monday through Thursday. The only thing that you will not get is the lobster. 

D.J.'s International Buffet is located at 1100 Stewart Avenue in Garden City, New York. Their phone number is 516-227-2472. The hours of the restaurant are Lunch Monday to Friday, 11:00am to 3:00pm; Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30am to 3:00pm; Dinner Monday to Thursday, 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Friday to Sunday, 4:00pm to 10:00pm. There is now a website, but I must warn you, there is music that cannot be shut off unless you mute your speakers. The website is linked on the right side of this page.

1 comment:

ML said...

I loved the original International Buffet, service was great prices (even on weekends) were good, but this "New" one we tried once and found it not worth the extra money when its plainly the same buffet selection