Friday, February 24, 2017

Finally a Buffet Dinner Not in an Asian Buffet!

Locally there are now only Asian buffets where we are. I have been craving a meal at what I will call an "American" buffet for about three months. I want meatloaf. I want steak. I want fried chicken! I have thought a few times of just taking the trip across two expensive toll bridges and driving the hour and a half to have dinner in the nearest Golden Corral (the nearest American buffet) several times in the past several weeks. Despite the cold and the snow storms, it seemed almost worth it - but to pay those tolls and then pay for dinner, we could have gone to a non-buffet and ordered meatloaf. Well, it is late February and we have annual business in New Jersey - weather permitting - and we went to Golden Corral!

I really was looking forward to this - even though this particular Golden Corral has not been one of our favorites and it is one of the Golden Corrals that charge more than most others - but I did not care. I needed to eat at a Golden Corral!

It is a Saturday night. Surprisingly warm weather all day. The line - as we have found before at this Golden Corral - was out the door and the length of the building outside. As we got inside on the line a large group that apparently had only a few of their party on the line ahead of us suddenly all arrived and went to join the rest of their party of perhaps twenty five or more at the front of the line. They were polite and apologized so it was fine. We finally got to the cashier. Premium weekend prices were in effect - $14.99 per person and $2.29 each drink. OK! I wanted steak, meatloaf, and fried chicken! My picky eater wife on the other hand was anticipating a hard time finding what she eats as she often does not find at any Golden Corral and with the current weekend feature of seafood, this was not helping as these features often remove some of the basic items on the buffet.

We were seated at an uncomfortable table for two that was stuck out in the aisle with another table for two - and the table had an uneven leg that rocked. One thing we both enjoy at Golden Corral is their chicken soup with thick, doughy noodles! That was first! A full heaping bowl of those noodles and broth with carrots and celery mixed in along with chunks of chicken! It is always good and now it was not wonton soup!

We skipped the salad and went right to the hot buffet. I went directly to the grill for steak. The chef at the grill understood what rare is and when I said "rare!", he picked up a steak, cut into it and saw it was red inside but not raw and cut me off a good chunk! It was charred and crispy outside and red inside - to me an almost perfect steak - only not perfect as there was a good amount of fat inside which is good in moderation. I went next with my plate with the steak looking for the meatloaf. The tray was empty! I eyed the fried chicken and took a breast (I should have taken something smaller). I added an onion ring to the plate, and then some mashed potatoes and gravy and fried okra! I passed my wife walking around with an almost empty plate. OK - there were things for her to eat and it was up to her to decide what she was  going to take. I headed back to the table as did she.

I cut into the steak, red juices ran out! It really was crispy outside and red inside! I took a forkful in my mouth and made a Galloping Gourmet face! (Galloping Gourmet - one of my favorite daytime shows as a kid in the late 60's. He was (is) an international chef from Canada who had his own syndicated show that played here in the US during the late afternoon. I learned to cook watching the Galloping Gourmet - still have two of his cookbooks - and when he bit into something wonderful his face lit up and a smile came across his lips!) I had the steak that I was craving. Thick and juicy and cooked just right. I cut around the excess fat - ate some, left some - but I ate every bit of meat. The chicken was OK. Not great - too big a piece and that was my fault for taking it - and the crust could have been more crispy. I ate most of it. The mashed potatoes were good. The gravy was good. The onion ring complimented the steak nicely!

Next plate. I went straight to the meatloaf. It had been put out again. I put a hunk on my plate. The special feature (that makes the weekend prices cost more) is scallops with garlic on a skewer, two types of fish, two types of shrimp, a honey teriyaki chicken breast, and carved sirloin steak with lemon and rosemary. Another steak to try! I went to the carving counter and the man behind the counter looked at the little piece of steak on the carving board, looked at me, and discarded it. Good! He went to the grill and took a large sirloin steak that looked too under cooked, even to me. He put it on the carving board, looked at it, picked it up and took it back to the grill. He came back with another - this one better done. He reached into a crock with a ladle and filled it with lemon rosemary sauce. He poured that over the top (less you think this steak is marinated in lemon and rosemary - it is not) and moved it around the steak with the ladle. He then cut it into pieces. He took one of the pieces and cut a section off and put it on my plate - it was red inside but now raw - good! I added some large cut fries and a hush puppy to the plate along with a big spoonful of mac and cheese and returned to our table. My wife was there with meatloaf also on her plate. The meatloaf was very good. I go back and forth between meatloaf with brown gravy and meatloaf with tomato gravy or catsup on top. My wife does not like meatloaf with tomato sauce or catsup and likes it with brown gravy. Golden Corral varies how they serve it - on this night it was with brown gravy. That was fine with me and that made my wife happy too. The meatloaf was good! It satisfied that craving well! The lemon rosemary steak was fine but not spectacular. It was rare and good in that respect. I feel that the lemon took away from the taste of the meat that would have been better just left alone - which means just as the steak is ordinarily served here charred on the grill.  The mac and cheese was thick and gooey and wonderful!

Just an aside about the weekend feature. The big feature of the added weekend pricing was that it would include Prime Rib carved at dinner. This is not so any longer - at least not with this feature. They seem to feel that scallops on a skewer brushed with garlic are equivalent to Prime Rib - and even though I have generally liked the Prime Rib that Golden Corral has served - the scallops are not the equivalent. I have read that scallops are expensive recently due to a shortage of them due to the temperatures of the ocean water, and perhaps that is why they replace the Prime Rib with this feature. I don't know. I did not try them. I do not like garlic all over what I eat so I passed. I saw them. There were maybe six or so small scallops on a skewer cooked on a flat griddle. They may have been very good.

Next plate. I did what I generally do at buffets. The third plate is a combination of the things I like best. I went back to the steak grill - "Rare, please!" - and got another piece of steak. I then went back to the meatloaf tray. I saw the pieces were cut very large, so I cut one in half with the serving spatula and took that. An onion ring when on the plate and then I realized that all I had eaten were meat and carbs so I took some string beans - and a small spoon of baked beans (more carbs). This steak was almost as good as the first. The meatloaf just as good. And during this plate the feeling of I have eaten too much meat hit me. I finished it all but knew that this was my last plate of meat for the evening. I can no longer eat as much as I once could. I find that I hit that wall a lot sooner. That is OK - as this site is called - it is not a challenge - and we will be doing more business in New Jersey in a couple of weeks so we will be back for more!

I finished the meal with a bowl of bread pudding. I love Golden Corral's bread pudding. This is something else you don't get in an Asian buffet!

The service was good, but the poor guy was way over worked. Two servers who also buss tables is not enough for a large section of tables. This man was running back and forth and doing his best. When you could get his attention - and that was not his fault - he dropped what he was doing and ran over. And I did not see other tables leaving a tip - a problem at buffets. I always leave the server a tip - unless the service is horrendous. He got a tip!

For the time being craving satisfied. You know OCB is gone - at least from here and none anywhere possible to get to just for dinner - and you don't know what you've got until its gone - to borrow from an old song!

We'll be back!

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Request for an Interview

Every so often we get requests to be interviewed for television stories, news stories, articles, etc.  Those who are looking to put us on film are told that we wish to be anonymous to keep our site honest and allow us the ability to walk into any buffet and have no chance of being recognized, so this means no video - and generally no audio. Those interviews never happen. They want you full face on camera. We don't do that.  When it is a print or web article I am happy to be interviewed through email and that satisfies the author. Recently we had a request from a writer who was doing an article about buffet dining for a financial website. I wondered what buffet dining would have to do with finance - other than from a business prospective of running a buffet, but this was not what he was looking for.  He said he had questions about dining at buffets. Fine. I responded saying that if he emailed me his list of questions I would answer them and email my responses back. What I received was not a list of questions but this -  Give "some "finesse" tips. How do you choose a buffet restaurant? How do you scope out their specialties in advance? ...That sort of thing."

Well, he certainly could have gotten that from reading several of the articles on this site, but I decided that I would give him exactly what he was asking for. As it turned out, little of what I provided him made it to his article - which turned out to be a slide presentation rather than a straight article - though, the presentation was accompanied by the text of each slide. Much of what he wrote was way off the mark of what this site presents - and its finance connection was mostly how to get the most bang from your buck when dining at a buffet.  To us, the idea of eat something because it is expensive is not really a way to get a good buffet experience.

Here is what I wrote for him to use. I am sure it will be a benefit to some of our readers and I am sure that regular readers will see a lot of the what has always been the philosophy of buffet dining on this site.


 The subtitle of my site is "All you can eat is not a Challenge!" (this was mine before it was used by anyone else) and that is the basis of rational eating at a buffet. I have seen people fill a single plate with so many different foods at the same time that there is no way to distinguish anything on the plate other than the top layer that must go four layers of food down. This is no way to eat. One can go back as many times as they wish. We eat in a normal fashion - start with soup, next go up for salad (if we want salad), and then go for a first plate of entrees and side dishes. That first plate at the hot buffet for me will be a sampling plate if it is a buffet that I have never dined at before. I will take a little of the items that appeal to me - maybe just enough for a taste if it is something that I am not sure that I will enjoy. If it is a buffet that I have been to before, I will go to the items that I know that I like and if there is something new take a small sample to try. After that plate the next plate will be those items that I really liked. We tend to set a limit of three plates - you don't want to walk out feeling sick and I have seen this happen way too often with others. Depending on how full I feel before that third plate, that plate is just skipped. We avoid eating bread or rolls. Those just fill you up for no reason. There is a reason why most buffets give you unlimited soft drinks - the liquid and carbonation will fill you up quickly. If it is a hot day, drink as much as you need to, but otherwise drink to enjoy the soft drink as you eat but don't drink just because you can get more - which is the same approach with eating. Just because the food is there, you don't have to keep eating it until you are ready to burst. After the "main course" there is also dessert and the best thing to do after eating all that is to decide on one dessert that you will enjoy the most and take only one. If you feel like another - and your eyes are not bigger than your stomach - take one more - and then stop. This is not your last meal so don't eat like it is. During dinner carry on a conversation with your dinner companions, don't just sit there and eat. It is also only polite when two are dining to wait to go for your next trip to the buffet until your partner is ready to go also. You will not only enjoy the food but you will also enjoy the companionship of dining.

How do we pick a buffet? Price and, if available, a quick look at reviews. If we get there and there is no one inside, we may not go in. The food will not be maintained properly in an empty buffet restaurant. The food trays on a buffet table must be, as I say, kept "tended" at all times. Someone from the restaurant needs to go from tray to tray making sure that nothing is drying out and they need to stir whatever can be stirred. Food that they find that is too dry or no longer appetizing in appearance needs to be removed and discarded. Proper food temperature needs to be maintained as well. Putting out a microwave and telling customers to warm the food themselves is not acceptable. The food should never be cold or cool when it goes from the serving tray to your plate unless it is intended to be eaten cold - and then it needs to be properly cold. I also will not eat raw clams or oysters at a buffet when there is not an employee at the clam/oyster bar shucking the shellfish as they are taken and making sure that the oysters and clams do not sit for any length of time and are not drying out and going bad.

Since the beginning of our site we have grown a list of "Rules of the Buffet". Here is the most recent updated complete list -

These rules say it all. Anyone going to a buffet should read and remember these rules. Buffets should post them at the entrance. None do - though I know a number of buffets have read our site.