Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter Smorgasbord at IKEA

We went to another of the seasonal one night only smorgasbord dinners at the restaurants at the IKEA stores. We have been many times now since first discovering these wonderful dinners a few years ago. These are dinners for the seasons - one at Easter, one mid-summer, one that features primarily crayfish in late summer and one at Christmas. This past year they held one that was not announced with very much notice on Valentines Day - which unfortunately for us was in the midst of a heavy snow storm.

We have always enjoyed these dinners and they are a wonderful value for the money - in fact extremely wonderful for the money as they only cost $12.99 per adult or $9.99 with an IKEA Family Card which are given free. The children's price is $4.99 or $2.99 with the Family Card.  This price includes all you care to eat of the Swedish foods that are served along with desserts and soft drinks. As I have written before, many Swedes and Scandinavians attend these dinners and praise the food as authentic. The dinners are always held on a Friday night and there are two seatings - one from 4:00 pm to 6:pm and one from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

The foods served for the most part at each of the seasonal smorgasbords are basically the same with slight variations. What I have noticed at the last two or three smorgasbords that I have attended is that the selections have become a little more limited than they had been the first year, a few years ago, that we had started attending these dinners. Perhaps limited is the wrong word to use, perhaps it would be better to say that less is being put out. In the past there had been two complete buffet setups consisting of one very long and on short table for each setup with duplicate items. Lately this has been reduced to one very long table for each setup and a common short table for all of the buffet lines.They send you down the long tables on each side - reaching from side to side to take what you want. This means that four lines then converge on the one small table which this year held poached salmon.

This Easter Smorgasbord held the Friday BEFORE Good Friday was very crowded. The room was overflowing with guests (though as we were going in, they were still offering tickets meaning that the 7 pm seating had not sold out). The lines to the buffet tables were long - though they move quickly and at a steady flow. The staff that IKEA assign to these dinners are top-notch and go out of their way to make this a party atmosphere for all. At the Hicksville, NY IKEA where we attended this Easter Smorgasbord, we were near the beginning of the line when the buffet tables were opened and the guests were invited up to begin to dine. The tables were full of everything that was on the printed menu that is out (at the dinner and in advance) to tell you what is being served. There were two types of herring, a variety of salads, Swedish meatballs, Gravlox, marinated smoked salmon, platters of sliced ham, Prinskov sausages, poached salmon, cold shrimp with the heads on, breads, boiled potatoes cheese, shrimp stuffed hard boiled eggs and more. There are various toppings and dressings that go with specific dishes also out in serving bowls on the buffet tables.

I decided to start my first plate primarily with salmon and herring - though I could not resist my favorite Prinskov sausages and I took a couple of those. I took several spoonfulls of each of the two herrings and also several slices of Gravlax and marinated smoked salmon. I added some beet salad to my plate and went back to our table. My wife - as regular readers know - does not eat seafood and will not eat shrimp with the heads on - took ham, meatballs and tossed salad along with boiled potatoes. I was going to wait until my next trip up for ham. The problem was that on the second plate - which was not too far into the evening - all of the ham was gone. As was the herring. Now, there was plenty to take and they were replenishing what they had, but it was a great surprise to me that ham which is a feature of this dinner - and actually all of their dinners - was gone by 7:30! I filled my next plate with a couple of meatballs, more Prinskov sausages, poached salmon, and more smoked salmon (the Gravlax was also gone - as were some of the salads). I was glad that I took the herring on the first plate - and my wife was glad that she took the ham on her first plate! While they have run out of some things during past dinners, this was the first time that they ran out so early into the dinner. Perhaps the first seating overwhelmed them - BUT since this diner is sold by ticket in advance they know how many to prepare for at each seating.

The food was excellent. It always is - and we ate plenty. But we would have preferred to have had the choice that was on the table for most of the night. Something else was going on during this dinner - not by the restaurant - but by the people who were dining. People were filling plates of items and returning to their tables with them - not as in filling their dinner plate - but filling a plate with item x and another plate with item y. This was especially true when it came to desserts. Plates filled with six or more cupcakes brought back to the table as along with other desserts the same. We went up for dessert and there were no cupcakes left - and the table next to us had a plate of seven cupcakes which they did not eat - when they left, the cupcakes were still there and before they left they filled a bag with about thirty cookies which they took with them. This seemed to be going on all over. Just like at any buffet taking food away is not permitted. My wife commented to one of the employees what was happening whose reaction was "that is not allowed"  but nothing was done. The employees were trying hard to get out what desserts they had to be sure that everyone who wanted something got something - but those cupcakes looked real good and they were gone.

During the evening we purchased our tickets for the mid-summer buffet. We are looking forward to it and will know to be sure to take what we want ahead of time - we will eat everything that we take, of course. Of course, every IKEA is different. Nothing may have run out of any of the other buffets being served at all of the other IKEAs on that night or other things may have run out. No matter what - you can't beat what you are getting for ten bucks - a smoked salmon appetizer alone would cost you that or more in a restaurant.

Tickets are now on sale for the mid-summer smorgasbord. Go to any IKEA to the restaurant cashier and purchase your tickets. If you don't already have one get an IKEA Family Card at any one of the many computer kiosks around the store and you will save two dollars each on the smorgasbord and be entitled to reduced price specials in the restaurant and special discounts around the store.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Disappointing Dinner at Foxwoods Casino's Festival Buffet, CT

As I wrote a week ago, we delayed our day trip to Connecticutt a day because of the weather to go to dinner at the Festival Buffet at Foxwoods Casino. This has been one of my favorite buffets and it was given a Top Buffet award for 2012. I have always liked this buffet best on its extended menu night on Fridays and Saturdays and while the weeknight buffet has been good, it has always been better on the weekend.

Well we drove north to Connecticut, getting stuck in traffic on the Connecticut Turnpike as usual, made a stop during the afternoon at Cabellas Outdoors store - a destination store, and then drove east to Foxwoods for dinner. We don't gamble, but we do go to casinos for the buffets.  We arrived for dinner at about 7:00 and there was a long twisting line of people waiting to get into the buffet. We decided to walk around for a half hour and when we returned the line was longer. We got on the line and waited about twenty five minutes to get up to the register to pay for dinner and go in. Once you pay you get on another line to be seated. We were offered a table in the "patio" area which is a dining area outside the buffet room that is supposed to be like sidewalk cafe seating in the space where people are walking to go through the casino building to the various casino rooms, restaurants, shops, etc. There is a bar across from this with music. The music is loud and outside the buffet room smoking is permitted. We did not want to eat with cigarette smoke all around so we waited for a table in the buffet dining room. It was not a long wait.

We were seated and the hostess looked at the table for two that she was seating us at and told us that she had to get a cloth to clean the table. She said it first before I did. She came back a few minutes later while we stood next to the table and cleaned it. As we sat down she told us to go right up to the buffet as it would be some time before the waiter would get to our table. This was a concern right off though it did not prove to be a problem as dinner progressed.

This buffet is divided into serving counters with different theme foods - seafood, international, Italian, Chinese, and BBQ. In the center there is a soup and salad island. I always look around the counters before going to the soup section because there are often other soups at the theme counters. The only soup like that on this night was wonton soup, so I headed over to the soup bar. I chose what turned out to be the best thing that I had at this meal - sausage and broccoli rabe soup. My wife took chicken rice soup. There were two other soups - both cream soups - one was New England clam chowder and the other was corn chowder.  The sausage soup was excellent. It was crumbled sausage meat in a broth with broccoli rabe all cooked down together. It had a pleasant taste and was not greasy at all. My wife's chicken rice soup was terrible. It was very dark yellow in color - and she had commented about that to me when she took it.  It tastes as if someone took a box of salt and emptied it into the bowl. It really was inedible - and she did not eat it - could not eat it.

Soup was followed by salad and they have a very nice and extensive salad bar. They have one section to create Cesar salad and another section to create a tossed salad with various choices in greens, many toppings and dressings. Also at the salad bar were salad/meat wraps as well as pickles and marinated olives - both green and black.

We set out then to the buffet counters. I went first to the BBQ counter. There I found pork barbecue, St. Louis ribs, and steak. They also had tacos, taco chopped meat, and toppings. I took some pork barbecue, two St. Louis ribs, and a piece of steak. The steak is being cooked on a flame grill behind the counter but not to order. It was strip steak and small pieces were out on a warming tray to take. There was no way to tell how it was cooked and, as usual, it was all well done. The steak was tough - tough enough not to want to go to the trouble of trying to chew it. The pork barbecue was good though on the sweet side. The St Louis ribs were so over done that they were difficult to eat and for the most part had little meat to try to get off to eat. The steak is part of the weekend appeal - the steak was not good. The St. Louis ribs were consistently burnt, small ribs.

I went over to the Italian counter next and there was a sign that said sausage and peppers but in their place were meatballs. The meatballs here have been and were good. There was a chicken dish served on individual small plates. Each had a piece of broiled chicken cutlet on it with tomato sauce, and overabundance of garlic cloves, and pieces of eggplant hidden under the mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce on top. The little plates of chicken were sitting on a hot plate and while the sides when picking them up with your fingers off of that hotplate were not very hot, the bottom of each plate was and I remembered how hot a similar chicken served in a dish here last year was.  I came close to burning my fingers until I got that small plate onto the dinner plate I had in my other hand. The chicken was dry underneath what was on top and not very tasty.

The main attraction on the weekend buffet and what is the reason for the increased price is the snow crab legs. There is a sign outside the buffet that says add a portion of crab legs to your buffet - $10. On the weekend buffet all you care to eat snow crab legs are included. On this night the crab legs on the buffet were not snow crab legs. At best I can identify the crab as dungeonese crab, as that is the closest crab that looks like the half steamed crabs that were being served. I took one of the halves to try. I had seen people with nut crackers and looked around for them at the counter with the crab. There were none. Asking the man behind the counter for some came back with an answer sending us to the salad bar for crackers - the eating kind. There was no nut cracker to be had and our waiter never came around to ask him for one. I attempted to break this rock hard crab shell with my fingers. I was only able to obtain some of the meat in the claw this way. It tasted bitter and that was the end of my finding a way to break open the crab shells - I did not like the taste of what was inside. So this was another disappointment of the night. There has been in the past a long line to get to the snow crab legs. On this night there was no line.

I tried little bits of things looking for one thing that I would settle on and make the meal. There was the usual Prime Rib being carved and a ham. I always take the Prime Rib, get a slice that fills the plate, and then regret later that it was far too much to have with the rest of the buffet - so I did not go for any on this night. I should have. There was a meat dish called "Hunters Stew" that was very tasty but I am uncertain what the dense cubes of meat in the stew were. Most likely they were pork. The dense meat did not allow the stew sauce to soak through so while the stew liquid, potatoes, carrots, etc. were very tasty, the meat was bland.  I went to the seafood counter and took some fried clam strips and a piece of batter fried fish. The fried clams were good - as they have been. The fish was very greasy and I wound up pulling the coating off of it and just eating the fish inside. Some side dishes were duplicated from one counter to another.

There is a large assortment of desserts and as it was my birthday celebration buffet I took a piece of cheesecake. The cheesecake was swirled with chocolate syrup. It was good but far to sweet for my palate that is no longer used to eating very sweet things.

This was not the meal I had anticipated - and I have been here to dine many times before. I felt very let down by this meal as my "birthday" buffet diner. I regretted not driving the additional distance to Shady Maple in Pennsylvania instead for the day where the meal would have been better and free for my birthday. 

Looking back at my "birthday dinner" here in 2013 I had much the same disappointing experience though then for other reasons. Perhaps I should have read back before we went, but sometimes a restaurant - any restaurant has a bad night so I tend not to rule out going back unless that happens more than once. This was that more than once.  More than likely we will not be coming back for my next birthday dinner.

I can't say that I recommend this buffet any longer. If you are at Foxwoods it is the best deal as far as dinner is concerned even with the over $20 price. It was better in the past. Maybe it will get better again.

The Festival Buffet is at Foxwoods Resort Casino. The address is 350 Trolley Line Boulevard,
Mashantucket, CT 06338-3777. The phone number is 1-800-369-9663. There is a website with directions, etc. and that is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Good Taste Buffet, Commack, New York

It has been four years since I have written about the Good Taste Buffet, a Chinese buffet, in Commack, New York on Long Island. We have been back since but it seems that I have just not written about it. We no longer go there as often as we once had. For one reason, it is a distance - though not very far, and another reason is that there is a better priced Chinese buffet very close by.

On my birthday this year I was planning on going to Connecticut to Foxwoods for dinner. Yes, that is a very far and long distance but we make a day of it and stop at other favorite places along the way. The weather on my birthday was not great and I did not want to make the drive to Connecticut in that weather - and as it would be better the next day - we put the trip off a day. So that left me with deciding where I wanted to have dinner on my birthday. Had we not been planning to go to Foxwoods the next day, there are several "expensive" buffets locally that would have made for a "special occasion" birthday dinner, but since we would be making that trip the next day, I wanted to go locally to a more reasonably priced buffet. My first thought was Good Taste Buffet and the reason that is for me is the one item served there on the dinner buffet that is unlike any other local buffet - real Chinese broiled spare ribs that are not soaked in sweet red sugar sauce. I have written about these ribs before and these are real Chinese restaurant spare ribs. These are the ribs that I grew up with at Chinese restaurants. So despite the drive through heavy rain, we were going to Good Taste Buffet.

Overall, nothing has really changed about Good Taste Buffet. What I wrote about the food selections here are pretty much the same today. Even the price has remained the same at $14.99 for dinner. The thing that I come here for - as I just said - is the ribs and I make the bulk of my meal here those spare ribs. They are meaty - most are moist - and they are not covered in any sauce. If you want duck sauce or hot mustard that is available with the condiments. The meat for the most all peels off the bone as you bite into it and pull. These are not barbecue ribs - they are Chinese spare ribs - so the meat does not fall off the bones. On some nights, the rib tray empties and it is a wait for more to come out. On this night the rib tray was quickly refilled as soon as it got down near the bottom. These are popular here - for good reason - and it is best to not wait if you plan on more ribs, but go up and take what you want when they come out. This way you have the pick of the meatiest ribs. (This is not telling your to fill your plate with more than you will eat - just take what you will eat.- and as an aside there are now signs around the buffet that you will be charged extra if you leave over food on your plate. A common sign at some buffets.)

There is a lot more here than ribs and the food here is very good. The egg rolls are filled with pork and vegetables and are another "real Chinese restaurant" taste. Also like this is the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce with lobster sauce traditionally seasoned, thick, and full of egg white. All that is missing from what is traditional Chinese restaurant Shrimp with Lobster sauce is the ground pork. There is no pork or meat in this dish here - I am sure to make it suitable for those looking for a meatless dish.

There was a dish on the buffet that has not been here on my past visits and it is a dish that I saw for the first time within the past year. They had a "house special pork" which was a pork roast cooked just like the port roast that I have recently written about at another area buffet. This was smaller and was not cooked with the skin on. I tried some and it was tasty but not as good as the "Yummy Pork" that I have written about. (the name is a clue to where that - in my opinion - better pork is served).

You will still find crab legs here. They are not whole clusters but are served as one or two small legs.In the past there has been grilled Italian sausage served on some of the nights that I have come here. There was none on this night - and I don't know if they ever serve it now. There is a large enough variety including non-Asian dishes that it should accommodate most.

Desserts are standard Chinese restaurant desserts but not just the little squares of sheet cake. The apple strudel is not served hot but cut into slices on the dessert counter. The almond cookies, if they are not homemade, taste and have the texture of homemade. They are not the hard cookies often found but a soft but not chewy cookie with good almond flavor.

I have recommended this buffet to many friends and always to my readers. One thing to be aware of is if you are not going here during dinner hours and you are coming for the ribs, call first to make sure they are being served at the time that you come. I have had readers contact me to say that they went for lunch - even on a Sunday and there were no ribs. Before you make the trip - call! (This is try about any buffet. The dinner menu is often more extensive than the lunch menu so always call first if there is one item I talk about here to find out if it will be served when you are going to be there.)

The restaurant is open seven days a week and the hours are until 10 pm on weeknights and 11 on Friday and Saturday. The last dinners are let in up to an hour before closing. There is no website, but the telephone number is 631-543-9583.

Friday, April 04, 2014

St.Patrick's Day at Old Country Buffet

There are a few foods that are my favorites. One of those is corned beef. I don't have it often and when St. Patrick Day comes each year, I know that Old Country Buffet will have all you care to eat corned beef on the buffet. It is one of the days that I look forward to going to Old Country Buffet and this year not only did OCB have corned beef, cabbage, and red potatoes on the buffet but they also sent out a coupon to those on their "Crave" list (email list) for a discount on dinner for that day.

I decided that I was taking no chances with the nearest OCB in Levittown, NY, and took the trip out to the other OCB not far from me. We left early to avoid traffic as we were heading out on Long Island with rush hour traffic coming from Manhattan which is generally bumper to bumper at this time of day. Perhaps everyone took the day off for St. Patrick's Day because there was no traffic at all. We arrived even earlier than I had anticipated but seemed by about fifteen minutes to avoid a big crowd of people who came in after us. So far so good!

With a dinner like this, the corned beef will be the main course for my entire meal but that does not mean that I will not have soup and salad before and when I went up for both I looked over to the carving area to make sure that there really was corned beef - and there was. As you by now know if you read this site regularly, my wife is a picky eater and she is very particular about the type of corned beef that she eats. She likes deli corned beef and does not much care for the type of corned beef generally served on St. Patrick's Day. There were other things for her to eat on the buffet and she was skipping the corned beef. We finished our salads and it was time for me to go up and get my first plate of corned beef.

I went up and stood behind a short line of people also there for corned beef and we were all waiting for a new one to be brought out from the kitchen and it arrived in very short time. What came out di not much look like corned beef at all. Someone toward the front of this short line said out loud, "Is that roast beef!" It was said more with surprise than as a question. Indeed, it looked like roast beef. It was the shape of roast beef and it had a dark char covering the outside all around. There are different cuts of corned beef. There is a flat cut and there is a tip cut. This must have been the point cut. The point cut has more fat than a flat cut. Well this was not flat but shaped like a roast beef and as it was cut into the fat was thick and wide.

It was obvious from the remarks being made all around me that the other diners on this line knew corned beef better than I did. They watched as the carver started cutting into this dark, crusty lump of meat. The people all around were telling him that he was cutting it all wrong. It had to be cut with the grain they said and not against the grain as he was cutting it. He continued to hack away at the meat. Removing sections and putting them on people's plates. Some people refused what he was putting on their plate - "I don't want that grizzle!", "Don't put that hunk of char on my plate!". It went on like that. Some asked for more than he was putting on their plate, and he complied. When I got up there I took what he offered and then also asked for more. I had not waited for this to walk away with two small pieces. I took a little cabbage and some boiled red potatoes. I added some string beans to the plate and went back to our table to eat.

I have never had charred corned beef before. It was just like roast beef on the outside. I have had corned beef all over. I have had it served to me by Irish friends. I have had it at deli's. We have made it ourselves at home. I have never had corned beef like this before. I expect corned beef to be stringy. This was barely stringy, but it was definitely chewy. It was dry. Some was inedible - it could not be chewed, cut, or pulled apart with the teeth. What was on the outside tasted bitter and burnt. I ate what I could salvage as edible on my plate and hoped that the next corned beef to come out to the carving station would be better.

I went back and now one of the managers was carving. This was not the manager that I know at this OCB. This was a woman who has been there on some mid-week nights that we have been there. I could not help but wonder if the other manager had been there, if the cooking of the corned beef in the kitchen would have gone better and if it would have then been cooked properly. The corned beef coming out on this night certainly was not cooked properly. This time what came out was also charred. Customers were still criticizing how it was being carved. The manager carving commented that if she carved it as they were telling her to, it would fall apart. Perhaps that is what it needed to do, but she was going to do it her way. Again, it was tough, chewy, and took a lot of cutting away to get to edible meat. There were some parts that were tasty. And parts nearest the fat were moist, but this was not what I had been looking forward to.

I admit that I ate what I could of it. I went back again for more. This time a corned beef that was flat came out but it was still partially charred on the outside.  And again it was no different. I wondered how they were cooking this. Corned beef is pretty basic - boil it with seasonings. This was not pastrami which does have a coating and slight bark on the outside. I am not sure what they thought they were cooking. I have had it boiled and then cooked in an oven, but nothing like this.

Well, the corned beef at OCB - at least at this OCB - was not really worth going for this year. It has not been like that before- here or in Levittown. Maybe I made the wrong choice in OCBs to come to, but this one is usually much better than the other - and in service, etc. that night they did far surpass the other OCB - and the best server at any buffet ever (who I have written about) was our server and as wonderful as ever!

We decided to make a corned beef at home. Perhaps we should have done that on St. Patrick's Day instead of going to OCB. But, frankly, that it was not good was a surprise based on past St. Patrick's Days at OCB.