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.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Return to the Levittown OCB, Levittown, New York

A few weeks ago when the weather was still bad, we decided that we wanted to go to OCB and we did not want to take the drive out to the east to the other Long Island Old Country Buffet. After the last experience we were reluctant but with some improvements that we saw on that visit we decided to give it another try.

Things were better. For one thing, when we went in there were clean tables. During our meal the young man responsible for our table - there were still too few table people for the size of this restaurant - was attentive and did come and clear the dishes regularly. At OCB, that is all the table people have to do. You get your own soda, soft drink, coffee, or tea so you do not have to rely on a server to come if you want a refill of your drink.

They also did a better job keeping the food out on the buffet. While there were a few times during the night that there was more than one of the same thing out - and they still have this idea that it is OK to replace an entree/meat dish with a vegetable side dish - they actually did come later on and take away one of those duplicate (triplicate) vegetables and put out a tray of smoked sausage - which is a favorite of mine and rarely seen any more at the OCB's here on Long Island.

Oddly, I was somewhat hoping for the charred overdone steak. The steak was well done but not crispy as it had been. (If I can't have it rare or medium rare, I would rather have it incinerated rather than grey.)

The floors were slightly cleaner - though it was clear that this was not through any employee's efforts but that there had been less spilled on the floors under the tables - it was a cold weeknight and while busy it was not crowded.

I had to write this article and not just make a footnote on a past article to give credit to this OCB for its progress in improving. There is a lot more to go but it seems that the change in management and new employees have made a noticeable difference. Keep it up and this will be an OCB worth going to which is something it has not been (not sure it ever was) for a very long time.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Back to the Southern Smokehouse, Linden, New Jersey

We recently were back at the Southern Smokehouse in Linden, New Jersey and this was one of our best visits there yet. The Southern Smokehouse is a buffet that is a combination of Chinese buffet and Southern Barbecue. This is an odd combination but here it seems to work.

About a year ago Southern Smokehouse added a smoker and while they always served barbecue ribs, now those ribs are being made in a smoker on the premises. The Southern Smokehouse has been a go back to buffet for us since we first were tipped off about it a few years ago. We only get to go when we have a reason to be in New Jersey. The buffet is not far from the Goethels Bridge from New Jersey into Staten Island, New York but for us this is an expensive trip in tolls crossing two bridges. Tolls and gas can cost us more than dinner. So we don't get to Southern Smokehouse as much as we would like to.

My reviews of this buffet restaurant have been mixed in the past and the biggest problem that we have encountered here has been the service. I have been contacted by others who have come to this buffet who have said the same thing. I am happy to say that on this last trip the service was much, much better and we had two servers who seemed to share the tables on one side of the dining and were making sure that dishes were cleared regularly from the tables and that drinks were refilled. This visit was a great improvement over past visits in this regard. The food has always been good and remains so.

We went this time on a Friday night. We have been here on Friday nights before. The buffet was busy but not crowded. We were told to find out own table. We selected a table in the dining area to the right side of the door. The restaurant is set up with a dining room on each side of the buffet servers which are in the center. For some reason, this side seems to get the better service.

There are not many buffets that regularly serve real barbecue ribs and here, as I say, you are getting ribs from a smoker. The ribs are served at the carving counter and grill and are served to your plate by one of the cooks behind the counter. You will be offered one rib or two ribs - ask for more if you want more each trip up. The ribs are meaty and moist. The rib meat falls off the bone as you eat it and you can see the red smoke ring on the rib meat. These are full size ribs and not baby backs. They are cooked with barbecue sauce but you may want to add more when you get your ribs from the small serving tray of sauce that has a large brush in it along with barbecue sauce. The sauce is neither overly sweet or spicy. It really adds a nice flavor to the already good ribs. While I make most of my meal here ribs, there are many other good things here as well.

The flame grill is cooking steaks. The steaks that they are cooking are called in some areas Romanian steaks. These are also called diaphragm steaks. This cut of steak tends to be a little fatty but very tasty. They cook two small steaks joined together and you get both when you go up to the grill.  It would be nicer if these steaks were cooked to order. They are not. Mostly you will get a well done steak. In spite of that, the steak is tasty.

They are also carving a large whole roast turkey at the grill. This is so much nicer than the turkey breast that so many buffets (and menu restaurants) serve. The turkey is good. We enjoy "real" turkey and this is a treat.

Also at the side of the grill is pizza - which looks a lot better than most buffet pizzas. The slices are larger than most found at buffets. I did not try the pizza though I was tempted, but I was too full from the rest of everything good.

Along the buffet there is fried chicken, barbecue chicken, meatloaf, fried fish, various Chinese meat dishes, and many side dishes including one of the best home-style Southern macaroni and cheese at any buffet. The mac and cheese is thick with cheese and gooey when you spoon it from the tray onto your plate. The taste is as good as it looks. There are also french fries, sweet potato tots, mashed potatoes, home skillet fried potatoes with onions, and baked potatoes. There was corn on the cob and kernel corn, string beans, carrots, collards, and other vegetables. One thing that we both noted on this trip was that there was an excess of garlic used in all of the side dishes (except the mac and cheese). This put us both off a bit - while tasty, it was too much.

I tried the fried chicken and while it was good, it was too similar to OCB. It looked better than that. My wife told me to try the meatloaf. She said it was one of the best buffet meatloaf that she has had. She does not like meatloaf that is cooked covered in catsup. This meatloaf is cooked in a vegetable tomato sauce. It is a very light, reddish sauce. It is not sweet and it makes the meatloaf very moist. It was good. (I prefer the catsup type but this was different and good.)

There are two soups on the buffet. This night there was turkey soup which has been on the buffet each time that we have been there. There was also cream of mushroom soup that was excellent. I was surprised that this usually bland soup could be so good. There was a hint of cheese mixed into the soup.

There is a large salad bar that also has cold desserts on one side. When we went up for salad, the green lettuce tray was empty and the mixed greens tray was almost empty. A gentleman who had taken the last of it and seemed to be waiting for more told us that it was on its way out. We waited a short while and when it did not arrive we both made salads from the vegetable toppings and tomatoes that were on the salad bar. I also took some of their pasta salad - which looked to be a cross between the usual macaroni salad and pasta salad. About two minutes after we returned to our table the salad trays came out and they were full again. One consistent thing about Southern Smokehouse has been that trays are filled as quickly as possible. Other than on the salad bar for a short period, I have yet to see an empty tray here that was not quickly refilled - and with the same item. I do have to comment about the pasta salad. It did not taste very good and the pasta was dry and hard. I ate no more than the first bite.

Desserts are few but good. They bake on the premises. There were three sheet cakes - two chocolate (one with sprinkles on a hard frosting and one with a lighter frosting0 and one cherry topped cake. There are cookies and there is hard - scoop yourself - ice cream and toppings for a sundae. Over at the salad bar there are fresh and canned fruits, puddings, and jello. On the hot buffet there was a tray of hot bread pudding. Over where the Chinese foods were there were fried Chinese buffet-style donuts with sugar.

It was a very satisfying and great tasting meal. The restaurant is clean and well taken care of. If they remain consistent now in quality of service this already good buffet will become a great buffet. It seems to be well known in the area. If you are going through or are near Linden, New Jersey try it.

Southern Smokehouse is located at Aviation Plaza Shopping Center which is at 611 West Edgar Road (Route 1 and 9) in Linden, New Jersey 07036. This restaurant is in the very far corner of the shopping center, off in a parking lot cut off from the main part of the shopping plaza. With Home Depot on one end of the plaza and Target on the other end, go past Target to where it looks like you are exiting the shopping center and you will see another parking lot to the side and this restaurant brightly lit on the far end.  This shopping plaza is adjacent to an airport. The phone number is 908-862-1883. The hours on Friday and Saturday are until 10 pm. Weeknights and Sunday nights they are open until 9 pm. They open each day at 11 am for lunch. There is also a breakfast buffet. There was a website and it is still listed at the side of this page but when you go there the URL has been "parked" with a message that the site will return. In the interim, there is a Facebook page for this buffet.




Friday, March 14, 2014

Return to Yummy China Buffet, East Meadow, NY

We decided to go back to Yummy China Buffet in East Meadow on Long Island in New York. We had just gotten a circular in the newspaper with their menu stating that their price was $15.99 with free soda - as it had been when we first went a month or so ago. This, that first time, was a sudden reduction in price from the usual $19.99 every day for dinner that this buffet opened for business with a number of months ago. In my first review I mentioned that it was uncertain if this price would remain in effect and that is still uncertain as the advertisement that we just received said that the price was for a limited time and showed it through March. This buffet is priced just right at $15.99 including the soft drink.

So we went back and were very pleased - again - with the meal that we had. For the most part the same dishes were on the buffet with just a few exceptions. We went both times on a Friday night so it may just be that this is the usual Friday night offerings. Everything that we had was good so there really was no disappointment that there were not other dishes that they show on their rotating buffet menu.

The best thing here in my opinion is a dish that they call Yummy Pork and I mentioned this in my first article about this buffet. This is a large piece of pork with the skin on that has been slow roasted to the point that the meat is moist and just pulls apart. The addition of the skin still on and roasted with the meat in whatever seasonings that they are using makes this delicious. I was very happy to see that this was there on the buffet on this second visit.

This time I also went up to the sushi bar to see what would happen if I asked for sushi without rice. There was absolutely no problem having this made for me. The sushi is served at a sushi bar with a chef making sushi to order from a menu - all is included in the price of the buffet. There are various rolls, sashimi, and also platters. The people at the table next to us were ordering sushi platters and they each were given a tray sized platter with various assortments of sushi. The platters have different names on the menu that sits on the counter next to the chef and each is described with what it includes. I ordered a salmon roll without rice. I was told that it would take ten minutes as there were two other orders in ahead of mine. This is the only drawback with this type of sushi service at a buffet as the one chef is doing all of the work to order. It was not a problem and I waited until he put my plate of salmon roll up on the counter for me to take. It was a roll of six pieces and he even  garnished the plate. I went back later for another roll. I was very happy. I can't eat rice - though I would love to - and I love sushi. Getting sushi without rice at a buffet has always been a challenge and I always wind up taking the rice and leaving it on my plate after I eat the fish.

I also tried the baby clams in black bean sauce. These ere very good and I rarely eat cooked, steamed clams. These clams were small, in the shell, and cooked in a very tasty sauce.

My wife commented during the meal that everything tastes like it is supposed to. That may sound like an odd comment but at many Asian buffets, the food is a bit different from what you would get if you went to a non-buffet Asian restaurant. Here the shrimp tastes like shrimp, is not mushy or hard, and has just the correct texture. This is true here for just about all of the dishes.

I had commented in my last article about this buffet that there had been no beef dishes out on the buffet. On this night there was beef with peppers. There was also a full tray of crab legs - which are individual legs and not clusters.

Everything is well tended and served at the correct temperatures. There is someone from the restaurant always checking the buffet and making sure that nothing needs to be replaced. If it does, a new tray come out from the kitchen shortly. The trays that are out are also stirred and not allowed to dry out.

Be aware, as I had suspected in my first article, that the soda served is not name brand. It is fine, it is just not Coke or Pepsi. It is included in the price and that helps to make it OK. 

Service here was again very good. The young lady who took care of our table cleared our dishes promptly and refilled our sodas without our asking.

I am very much hoping that the price here remains at $15.99 including the soda. Soda at buffets is about $1.99 or more in this area so when that comes off the price for comparison, the buffet dinner price becomes $14.00. Other than one buffet near to the location of this buffet, other Asian buffets on Long Island are starting at $14.99 without the soda. So this buffet's price - at this price - is very good for the area.

I feel that starting out with the $19.99 price hurt business at this buffet. On a Friday night, this buffet should have most of its dining room full. While there was a steady turnover of tables less than half of the tables in the small dining room were full. Two of the tables had regulars who the owner knew and came over to chat with several times. All of the employees here are very friendly to everyone! But if people are not coming, I have to wonder why. To start out with a high price and then see a need to lower that price to bring in business means that a lot more advertising needs to be done to let people know of the new price. They did send out this circular in the newspaper but it took them almost two months to do so. The other possible problem is that formerly this was a very run down Chinese buffet and many do not realize that it is under new ownership, far, far cleaner that it had been, and the food is much, much better. Taking over a failing restaurant can be a big problem as the former reputation remains with the location sometimes. I saw this before with a restaurant that was associated with a former restaurant in the same location that had problems. This can be overcome with good word of mouth and a lot of advertising to let everyone know that this is not the restaurant that once was here.

As I was leaving after a fine meal, I started thinking that this buffet has all of the markings of a Top Buffet. The price is the only concern and if it stays where it is at the present time, this buffet could be a best Asian buffet.  We will keep an eye on the price and on the consistency of the restaurant as a whole and see.

I do recommend Yummy China Buffet and Sushi Restaurant. Try it if you are in this area!

The Yummy China Buffet and Sushi Restaurant is located at 398 Merrick Avenue, East Meadow, New York 11554. The telephone number is 516-486-2525. There is no website. The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 am to 10:00 pm. Prices are the same for weekdays and weekends. The lunch price is less. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

Friday, March 07, 2014

The OCB Remodel That Wasn't a Remodel

This past January I wrote an article that OCB announced by email to local customers that the Levittown, New York Old Country Buffet would be closed for remodeling. The email included a photo of what the new remodeled OCB's look like - separate food stations, each with an attendant and brightly decorated. I was looking forward to this. I was skeptical in the article that this particular OCB could provide the level of service needed for the "new" Old Country Buffet concept, but I was looking forward to it.

We passed the restaurant several times during the time of the "remodel" and the restaurant always looked open as usual. One of our readers did go to this location - after the makeover - and wrote a comment that all that it looked like they did was put in a new carpet and maybe repainted.

I have had so many negative experiences at this particular OCB location that I was hesitant to go to see for myself. One night when we wanted to dine at OCB and the weather was not permitting us to travel out to the OCB in the next county, we went to Levittown to see the "new" remodeled Old Country Buffet for ourselves. An email coupon just received helped in our decision to go.

We walked in on a weeknight to a semi-crowded restaurant. We looked around to see what the picture showed the remodel should be. The restaurant inside and outside looked exactly like it always had - with the exception of the artwork on the wall. This OCB used to have large framed black and white photos of restaurant scenes in the 1940s. They were pleasant and interesting. Where those pictures once were are now what amount to advertising posters for Old Country Buffet. Not paper posters tacked on the wall, but canvas prints that are not framed. The walls may or may not have been painted. The restaurant seems darker but it was hard to say that the brown paint on the walls was new. In some places it did not look new. As to new carpet - only one section of the restaurant looked to have carpet that was replaced with the same carpet that was always there before. If you look closely, the pile is not as worn as it is in other parts of the restaurant.  New or not, it was dirty.

There are no food stations. The same buffet servers that have always been there were exactly the same. There was no cook to order grill. The same carving station was still there with steaks brought to it from the kitchen through the same heating unit in the wall that is the way food comes from the kitchen - if anyone goes to look to see if there is anything there.

What was different were the employees. Had they read our articles and finally made the necessary changes. The few people around the buffet that were working were new. The managers - two were evident through the night - were new. Perhaps something good was afoot.

We paid at the cashier who appeared to be a manager. He was very pleasant and suggested that we try their cream of broccoli soup as if it was something new. It is not new. We walked through the dining room looking for a table. There were tables that looked vacated but were full of dishes. We walked on and there were two tables that were definitely empty - but both were filthy with food not wiped off of the tables. We looked for someone to come an clear one of these tables for us. There was no one in sight. We went to the lesser dirty table and I cleaned it myself with napkins and water from the beverage area. So, new employees or not, something else had not changed.

I still kept wondering if the remodel actually had happened. Someone else did as well, because we overheard someone asking about it. The manager at the cashier said that oh yes, they had a remodel and a lot of work was done. If a lot of work was done, other than changing the pictures on the walls to posters, none of the work is evident.

So what happened during dinner. Eventually, a young man came to pick up the plates that were stacking high on our table. He actually, after that did show up semi-regularly to take away used dishes. On the buffet there were three trays of mashed potatoes out, two trays of the same ribs, no rolls the entire night, at one point a half full tray of carrots was removed and replaced with another tray of mashed potatoes. A manager did come out to say to the only person who was trying to keep food in the buffet trays that there were "complaints" and that he needed to do a better job. Which seemed to result in just putting out anything that came through the wall holding heater no matter how many other trays of the same thing were out. There was no rolls out the entire night, nor was there corn bread. There was a roast beef at the carving area that was near raw and had fat congealing on the top. And then there was the steak.

There was no steak out on the carving board. I went over to the young man who was carving when he was able to get back to his job there from running all over the rest of the buffet serving area and asked if there was steak. He was pleasant and most importantly spoke perfect English - another new face - and he opened the cover over the steak tray. I looked in. There were three small steaks inside - all charred black. He reached in with his serving fork and put one on my plate. I looked at the steak and smiled - not out of pleasure but humor - I had to keep myself from laughing and could not keep in a small laugh as I walked back to our table. The steak was not just well done but incinerated. It was covered top and bottom with a thick charcoal crust. If you read this site regularly you know that I like rare to medium rare steak. Now, I do like a steak that is charred like this on the outside and red rare inside. This was something else. The steak was about a quarter of an inch thick throughout. OCB steaks start out fairly thick - at least three quarters of an inch> This one had been burned away a half inch. I expected to get to the table, try it, and just go back to the buffet tables in hopes of finding something else - the main thing not being put out was meat.  I am going to admit something here that I can't believe I would admit. It was charred, burnt, and crunchy. It tasted good. I think it reminded me enough of what a steak should be - just on the very outside - that I liked it. I did eat the whole thing. I doubt though that anyone else would have enjoyed it. My wife, who likes meat very well done, made a negative face when she saw this steak. For much of the meal she just ate vegetables.

When it came to dessert, we knew going into the restaurant that there was a sign on the door that said that the ice cream machines were broken. They were up front about this literally up front as you entered and could not miss the sign. People were still complaining that the ice cream machines were broken. The result of this, though, was that all other desserts disappeared fast. When we got to dessert, there was nothing left. A woman came from the back and started pulling desserts from the refrigerators that are behind the dessert counter. She put out what was there and that went just about as fast as the desserts had before. But she was making an effort - and that is something that was not happening here in Levittown in the past.

The meal should have been much better. Other than the dirty tables and the usual dirty floors, there seemed to be an effort being made. The effort needs to be much better but it is a start. It is enough to bring me back again to see if there are further improvements - or at least if there is not a slip backwards - as seems to be the norm here when things appear to get better.

The remodel was not a remodel. It was just - well, nothing.

Some observations -

The carpet - I don't understand why carpet is used in these restaurants (and while OCB is not the only buffet to use carpeting in the dining room, this location always has dirty carpets). If tile were used, spills and things dropped could be picked up - by an aware staff - quickly and cleaned easily.

Cleaning tables for the next customer -  I watched the two young men who were working in the dining rooms. Yes, there were just two in the whole restaurant. They were both doing the same thing. They would take the dirty dishes away and leave the spills and dropped food on the table. They did not come back to clean the table further - which is why we found only two tables to choose from and had to clean the least dirty one ourselves. I have been to many OCBs and many other buffets. This does not happen anywhere as badly as it does in Levittown - and now with new employees it did not change.

One of our readers who works for OCB or the parent corporation, Ovation Brands, Inc. wrote to say how many employees should be out working in the dining room and around the buffet tables. The Levittown OCB does not come close to the minimum number of employees stated by this corporate employee. We have also been told that at many OCBs this is intentional to keep expenses down. This is not the place to cut expenses. Service needs to be as good to keep customers returning.

Friday, February 28, 2014

THE BEST BUFFET OF 2013 - SHADY MAPLE SMORGASBORD, EAST EARLE, PA

We have yet to find any buffet restaurant in the US that tops Shady Maple Smorgasbord. I don't think that anyone can find another buffet that does when it comes to quality of food, quantity of offerings, value, consistency, size of the restaurant, and price. It is just that good and try as we can to find another buffet that even comes close, year after year, we always come back to Shady Maple as truly the best buffet.

It is not just this site that feels this way. I have said this before, people from all over know Shady Maple and will tell you how good it is. Not just people from Pennsylvania but I have been far, far away from Pennsylvania and have overheard people talking about Shady Maple and saying how wonderful it is. I have recommended many to go to dine at Shady Maple - not just on this site but face to face. Someone will say that they will be in Lancaster County and I will say then you must go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord and tell them where it is. The next time that I see these people they will rave about Shady Maple and thank me for sending them there! This happens over and over again. While it is common now for restaurants to have a Facebook page, the Shady Maple Facebook page is always busy and full of comments on how good the food is and how so many wish they could be there when a new feature is announced or a special is talked about.

So what makes this buffet so good and our choice for Best Buffet for 2013? When you walk into Shady Maple which is located surrounded in just about all sides by rolling farmland on the edge of what is called the Pennsylvania Dutch Country - populated by Amish and Mennonites who have settled this area for almost three hundred years - you see a huge and lavish lobby. This is not what you expect in an area where the people are known as the "Plain People". Shady Maple is far from plain. What you see you might expect in a big hotel in a big city or at a lavish casino. This is how the owner of Shady Maple - the same owner since it started - decided to build and decorate his buffet building when it moved from another corner of the property years ago. The old building is still there housing a furniture store. The original was much simpler in design and decoration and smaller. The old Shady Maple is more of what you might expect to find, but the new building was made grand and fitting what this famous restaurant should be to showcase its fine cooking and wonderful meals. The chandeliers follow into the dining rooms - there are many dining rooms. Some are private rooms that are opened to everyone when the crowds get too large for just the other immense dining rooms - and this is a regular occurrence in the summer months - and this happens then not just on Saturday nights. There is often a wait to get in - no matter what the season or the night of the week. (Except Sunday when Shady Maple is closed all day.) Along one entire side of the huge restaurant is a buffet area that goes the full length and curves around to add more room for desserts and beverages. (I have been in a restaurant that claims to be the largest restaurant in the world. I am certain that Shady Maple is larger.) But it is not just size that makes this buffet what it is. The food is as grand in quantity as the restaurant is large.

The food at Shady Maple varies from night to night. There are featured foods on different nights of the week, but other than the features you never know what you might find on the buffet. Yes, there are some things that you can just about to expect to always find, but there is so much here that just what changes every night is more in selection than other buffets have as all of their selections. There are four grills - one of which now has a chargrill in addition to a grill top. There are carvings, there are cooked to order items, and there are features filling these grills - every night (and day as they are open for lunch and breakfast too). Each grill is not cooking just one food but several different foods. When you walk to the buffet servers you approach from the middle of the length of the buffet serving area. The buffet servers go in both directions. Now, at first glance it will look like one side is a duplication of the other, and for some items that is true, but both sides have many different foods offered to you to select from than the other and this includes the salad bar, the soups, and the dessert area.

The foods served are not just Pennsylvania Dutch but many are local Pennsylvania Dutch favorites. But you will also find continental dishes, Italian dishes, Oriental stir-fry on one of the grills on some nights, and local favorites that are not PA Dutch. Smorgy Cheesesteaks are made to order at one of the grills. These are wonderful! The country sausage - made at the restaurant - and cooked on one of the grills is a favorite of mine (and many others). The steaks that are featured on Monday nights but show up on other nights are great! On Prime Rib Wednesday at dinner they are not just carving one Prime Rib - cooked just one way - but several Prime Ribs cooked to please those who enjoy rare up to well done. What is put on your plate is in size what you would expect to get in a menu restaurant when you order Prime Rib. You begin to wonder how you are going to fit everything else that you cannot resist into your stomach!

There is so much of everything. There are a number of soups to choose from and some are soups that I have only seen and had at Shady Maple. Wonderful seasonal soups along with more common soups but there just is not anything common here as basic gets a little extra which makes it only better.

I know our readers like to hear about desserts. Shady Maple has the widest assortment of dessert choices now than any other buffet that I have been to that is still in business. There are slices of layer cakes, all types of pies, Shoofly pie is always available as are apple dumplings and so much more! There is fruit, puddings, prepared desserts, sugarfree desserts, soft serve ice cream, sundae toppings, cookies, hot desserts... There are just too many to name. If you have a sweet tooth then moderate how much you take to eat during the meal because you will have so much dessert to choose from that you will not be able to resist. It is very easy to stuff yourself here - even if you don't take any dessert! This is the buffet that our slogan and sub-title was made for  - "All you can eat is not a challenge!"  It is very easy to forget that here. (Don't forget it, however, and you will enjoy your meal here so much more!)

The off season in this area are the months of January, February, and March and during those months, Shady Maple features very special weekend (Friday and Saturday night) features. Our article about the 2014 "off season specials" is here.

Now, with all of this food there must be a real big price for the meal, right? Well, no. The price is in line with most of the other buffets in this area and when you see the price, it includes the sales tax, an included gratuity (tip), and all meals include unlimited beverages which have a selection that also seems unlimited. The price of the meal varies by the night and the features with Tuesday's Seafood Night being the highest priced of the six nights that they are serving. The seafood on that night is plentiful - just like everything else at Shady Maple. Thursday nights are the lowest priced nights for dinner. At one time, Thursday was called "Family Value Night".  The other nights vary in between. I am not going to give specific prices because in today's economy prices may change - though Shady Maple's prices have held where they are for some time now.

This is the one and only Shady Maple Smorgasbord. There is none better. This is the BEST! And once again is our BEST BUFFET OF THE YEAR!

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East or Route 322 South to get to the restaurant. The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, February 21, 2014

TOP BUFFET OF 2013 - DUTCH-WAY FAMILY RESTAURANT. GAP, PA

We have announced a Top Buffet and a Best Buffet for 2013 and we will start here telling you about the Top Buffet. A top buffet is a buffet that is on list of must go to when traveling through where the buffet is. This is a buffet that we think frequently about returning to. It is a buffet that when we are not traveling in the area, we miss going to.

The TOP BUFFET for 2013 is Dutch-Way Family Restaurant located in Gap, PA. There are three Dutch-Way Restaurants in Pennsylvania. Two have buffets and we have been to both. The Gap Dutch-Way is the one that is TOP. (Not to say that the other Dutch-Way locations are not good - the other buffet location is just not as good as Gap.)

Some who visit this area - Lancaster County - Home of the Pennsylvania Dutch, a popular tourist region, may ask why they have not heard about this restaurant other than here.This restaurant is not on one of the more popularly traveled tourist routes. This restaurant is off the beaten path and most will drive right by and not even realize that there is a restaurant there at all. What you see is a supermarket from this road not often traveled by tourists. While it is off the main roads, it is just less than 3 miles from Route 30 - one of the major routes crossing Lancaster County. 

Dutch-Way Family Restaurant is one of several buffet restaurants located within or adjacent to a supermarket. I have spoken about this many times in the past and this seems to be something that happens in Pennsylvania. Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA shares a building with Durch-Way Farm Market, a large supermarket that is part of the Dutch-Way chain. There is a long hallway and doors separating the supermarket from the restaurant's lobby. Each have their own entrances, as well.  Inside either the restaurant or the market, one is not aware of the other. The restaurant features both buffet and menu dining.

You can enter from the market hall or the restaurant's own entrance doors, and you come into a lobby area with restrooms and another set of large glass and wood doors that go into another lobby just for the restaurant. There is a host there to greet you and take you to your table. The dining room is very nicely decorated. It holds it own with any nice restaurant in decor and styling. There are tables and booths, two dining rooms (in addition to private dining rooms for parties) and a large buffet area with an extensive grill. 

We have never had a disappointing meal at Dutch-Way, Gap. We have not eaten anything there that was not good. The food here is a combination of local Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish country dishes and continental dishes. There are theme features that change with the day of the week. Friday and Saturdays focus on carvings - Ham and Prime Rib Roast. Thursday is Seafood Night with an extensive array of fish and seafood including crab legs. There is a build your own burger plus hot wings night. There is a western night. There is an Italian night. You will also find the PA Dutch and other dishes regardless of the theme.

The price is extremely reasonable - $11.99 for an adult buffet with an additional $1.99 for unlimited refill soft drinks. There is also a discount for seniors over 60. These prices are better than many buffets including chain buffets and the food that you are being served is quality. This is all made from scratch foods. This buffet more than meets our criteria of value and quality for a Top Buffet.

The foods do vary. The PA Dutch dishes - entrees like Chicken Bot Boi, Pork and Sauerkraut, Dutch Loaf are excellent, but you may not find these every night. The foods are rotated and we have found some dishes only once - though we are not there every night and cannot say that those dishes were not served again on a night that we were not there. One of the fun things about Dutch-Way is to be surprised by new dishes and to find favorites,

There is an extensive salad bar that one could make a meal of all on its own. Prepared salads, meats to top salads, a variety of lettuce varieties, and toppings and dressings fill a two sided server holding the salad bar. There is a soup bar with four soups. There is a dessert bar that extends from a selection of slices of cakes and pies, to soft serve ice cream (from Turkey Hill - a local dairy and popular commercial ice cream manufacturer), and a cold server with a variety of prepared desserts, pudding, fruits, etc. Then on the hot server with some of the entrees there are hot desserts. There is a bread station with a large variety of "gourmet" breads - such as fruit breads, pumpkin bread, rolls, muffins, and sometimes donuts. The grill changes with the theme night. There will be a chef behind the grill ready to carve for you on nights with carvings or cook for you on nights with cook to order foods on the grill. On build a burger night you choose the toppings for the burger that are cooked there on the grill with your hamburger. Add cheese of your choice and you are given a large burger piled high with toppings on a bun. This is a lot more than I can handle and eat everything else that I want on the buffet - but I have seen others do just that. I don't miss out- I have the burger built this way and just leave off the bun. (It is still a lot of food.)

As I write this I am wishing that I could get to Pennsylvania again soon! My mouth is watering for a Dutch-Way meal. I enjoy eating at a lot of buffets - but this one has stood out for us since the first time we went there a few years ago.

This is the buffet not to miss in Lancaster, PA. There will be two must go to's - as we have chosen for 2013 when in Lancaster County. This is one. We have come to the area for several days and gone back for dinner at Dutch-Way, Gap more than once on that trip. Do not miss it! Remember that it is not open on Sundays and a number of national holidays. There is a breakfast buffet Monday to Saturday, as well as a lunch and dinner buffet. When you go tell them that you read all about them on this site - Art of the Buffet!

The Dutch-Way Family Restaurant is located at the Dutch-Way Farm Market Supermarket at 365 Gap Newport Pike (Route 41), Gap, Pennsylvania 17527. The buffet is served from 4 pm to 8 pm Monday to Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. This is about two and a half miles south of Route 30. There is a web site and that is linked at the side of this page. The phone number is 610-593-6080.



Friday, February 14, 2014

LOBSTER At Golden Corral!

I have never seen lobster offered at a chain buffet. Usually only Asian buffets will offer lobster and then at only higher priced buffets. Golden Corral has announced that for a limited time, they will serve lobster. This seems to be a first for a buffet chain!

Now, don't go running to Golden Corral expecting all the lobster that you can eat. They will be serving ONE lobster tail to you at your table and it will cost $3.99 per lobster tail. This is at dinner only after 4pm (Sundays after 11 am). You must order the dinner buffet to be able to order the lobster tail. The lobster is, as described, a "premium, steamed lobster tail" served with melted butter on the side. From the photo that accompanies the offer, the lobster tail looks substantially large - at least it fills the plate end to end - though we don't know how large a plate was used in the photo. The photo shows the lobster meat coming up from a split tail middle. This is usually indicative of a broiled lobster tail but they are stating that you are being served a steamed lobster tail and closely looking at the photo it does look steamed.

If you would like more than one lobster tail, you will have to pay $3.99 more for each one that you order.Considering the price for lobster tails at most restaurants, including the Asian buffets that charge extra and give you one lobster similar to this offer generally charge $5 to $10 extra for the lobster with their buffets, $3.99 is not a bad price if the lobster tail served is actually as pictured. Golden Corral has not said so, but they often bring back things like this if they get good acceptance from their customers and they see an increase in business as a result.

So, if you like lobster - and I know that many of our readers do - here is an opportunity to get affordable lobster along with a good buffet. Get yourself some steak from the grill and make a Surf and Turf platter!

Because this is a limited time offer, I have published this article ahead of others that were announced. It is unlikely that I will be able to get to Golden Corral before this offer has ended, so if any of you go and have the lobster tail at Golden Corral, please leave a comment here and let us all know how it is. 




Friday, February 07, 2014

BEST BUFFET AND TOP BUFFET OF 2013

This is the latest that we have ever taken to naming the Best Buffet for the year. This year was difficult. I go to a lot of really good buffets. A number of those stand out and just a few are ones that I think often about going to. All of those are not local and when I can get to them they are must go tos - even at the expense of trying something new. I went to a number of buffets in 2013. Some were first time for me and others were ones that I have been to before.

When we pick a Best Buffet - and last year we picked several and named them all Top Buffets for 2012, we start with certain criteria. They must give excellent value. They must serve quality food. The food must be prepared properly. The restaurant must be managed properly. The service must be good. And all of this must be consistent - meal to meal, visit to visit.Then it must be a buffet that comes to mind to go back to whenever possible.

When the process gets narrowed down to a few choices, they get ordered in priority of the criteria - and what starts to be examined is how consistent were they. A few favorites every so often disappoint. Some never disappoint. In the year 2013, there were two that did not disappoint and they are the choices for this year. This year there is a Best Buffet and a Top Buffet. Best and Top are not the same thing and in our decision for this year neither one of the other is considered higher. In other words, Top Buffet is not Number Two or the runner up.

Let me explain. There can be a best - the restaurant that pleases every time. There can also be a top - the restaurant that is at the top of the list to go to. It has appeal, it pleases, but it is not share in characteristics that can be compared to the other - things that it may not be able to compete against but that should not be held against it. If this is confusing, you now know why it has taken this long for this decision to be made this year.

So without further ado, the Best Buffet for 2013 is Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, Pennsylvania. The Top Buffet of 2013 is Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA. I am sure it is no surprise to any of our readers who have been to Shady Maple that it is again named as Best Buffet. It has been for as long as this site has been giving this award. Dutch-Way in Gap was one of our Top Buffets in 2012. It really is the buffet at the top of the list to go to when possible.

There will be articles about both of these buffets coming in the next weeks. We will be sending a Best Buffet certificate to Shady Maple. They have consistently from the start honored our award by displaying it in a glass case in their lobby, and we hope that they will place the new certificate there as well. If you go there please go and see it. It has been displayed in the case next to the last cash register on the left in the glass case on the column. When you see it tell them that you have read about them on this site. If you agree that it is the best, let them know.  They appreciate the recognition.

Congratulations to Shady Maple Smorgasbord and to Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, Gap!


Friday, January 31, 2014

Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet, Carle Place, New York

It has been about two years since I have written about Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet. This is a buffet that we go to just once a year for a special occasion. While it is not astronomically expensive, it is the most expensive buffet that we go to at $29.99 per person for dinner on a weeknight. The dinner buffet is $31.85 Friday to Sunday. It is also the most different buffet that we go to. It is all Japanese from the freshest sushi that I have had at any buffet to green tea ice cream as part of an extensive selection of desserts. On a very limited dining out budget and with my wife who does not eat seafood other than shrimp, this buffet restaurant has to be good for us to spend the money and keep going back - even if that is only once each year.

Minado is part of a group of several locations in New York and New Jersey. Some are called Minado and some are called Nori Nori. What was interesting on this night that I had not seen here before was that inside there was a mix of signs - some saying Minado and others saying Nori Nori. The sign outside over the restaurant still read Minado. Even some of the plates had the Nori Nori name on them. 

We went on a Thursday night. The restaurant was not crowded but it was busy. We were seated at a small table for four. The table was just about right for the two of us. There were similar tables with four at them but they had to feel cramped. There are much larger tables for big groups and also private party rooms.

As we usually do, we started the dinner with soup. There are typical Chinese restaurant soups such as wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour. There is Japanese miso soup. But my soup of choice here is Udon noodle soup made to order at the corner of the grill area. Here your noodles are heated in boiling water, added to broth, and then you are asked which or all of the ingredients out before the chef you would like added to your soup. I get them all - though I have no idea what some of them are. The most recognizable are tempura shrimp and two very large shrimp were placed on top of my soup with all of the rest of the ingredients. There are other types of noodles to choose also. I love this traditional soup and I have not tried anything else here.

Following the soup, I went for sushi while my wife went for dumplings. This is sushi unlike any other that I have had at any other buffet including Japanese buffets. The fish is extremely fresh and tastes as such. The selection of different types is wider than any other that I have seen. There is a selection of all types of fish - some of which I will not try - no raw octopus or squid for me. But if you like it, it is here. There was something different from other years that we have come here. They used to have a selection of different raw fish (sashimi) out on platters on beds of ice - just fish. Instead of this, there were small plates each containing a piece of raw salmon, a piece of raw tuna, and a piece of some unknown to me white in color raw fish. There was a mild marinade on top and some had a few small pieces of lettuce salad that they were sitting on - some did not. I try as much as I can - and want to - eat low carb and I have a problem for this reason eating rice. I usually take some sushi rolls and fish on rice, but when there is just raw fish out I take that primarily. It was always nice that there were, in the past, just the fish out on platters each clearly labeled as to what it was. I still do not know what the white in color fish was in the bowls. One piece was so chewy - I am sure it is supposed to be - that I did not finish it. There was another piece of the same in one of the other bowls and that I did eat all of. It would be nice to know what it was. I had taken yellowtail tuna on rice so I know it was not that. I also took red snapper on rice and it was not that. Part of eating here for us is trying new things. I certainly tried some fish that I have not had before. One thing here that tells me that this fish is of a different and higher quality than sushi that I have had at other buffets is the color, the greater flavor, and the texture. The red tuna is dark red/brown. If you wish, you could easily make the whole meal here sushi. There is so much more that I move after one or two plates to the so many other things that are here to choose from.

There is a cold seafood bar with crab legs, clams, and oysters. The oysters are covered in a light, thin sauce with some greens and a thin slice of lemon added on top. In front of the oysters there was a tub of a thin red liquid and all of the Asian people taking oysters were spooning this sauce on top. I usually put cocktail sauce on my raw oysters - and there was cocktail sauce by the cold steamed shrimp that were also out - but I thought that I would try my oysters as the others were eating them - and I spooned some of the red liquid on top also. I was halfway back to the table when I realized that this red liquid must contain hot sauce. For some reason that has not occurred to me - silly me! I had five raw oysters in there shells now swimming in this, and I was not going to let them go to waste. The oysters were actually the only thing out on the entire buffet with a line to get to them. OK. I got back to the table and I poured off as much of the sauce as I could from each oyster. It was a good thing that I did because the little that remained set my mouth burning. My mistake that I must remember the next time that I go. Even with the hot sauce, the oysters were good - and tasted very fresh.

After the oysters, I went to the long row of prepared Japanese salads that are out. These are an assortment of salads made of various vegetables, lettuce, some with raw fish, some with noodles, some with various seaweed. There was Hijiki with Shitake Mushrooms that is a type of dried seaweed mixed with the mushrooms and with a light dressing. It has a consistency and look unlike anything else and it tastes a little nutty, is slightly crunchy, and we both like it. This is saying a lot because my wife rarely eats anything with a dressing on it. There was raw beef, smoked salmon, raw salmon in a cilantro dressing. There was a noodle salad. All of it different and good. Again, I could have gone back and made my meal just these salads, but still there is so much more.

There are various appetizers. There are meats and shrimp skewered on sticks and flame grilled. There is slices of large beef ribs - sliced across the ribs including bones from several ribs - flame grilled. There were Japanese dumplings with pork and a shrimp dumping. There are tempura shrimp and vegetables. All continually being refilled.

Then there is a long row of entree dishes. The selections change each day from a list of dishes that may be found on their website. The website is linked on the side of this page and you can look there at the menu to see what may or may not be there on the night that you come. I enjoyed Japanese crab cakes, soba noodles, some of the whole pollock steamed in ginger, chicken teriyaki that was not the usual cubed chicken with thick sweet sauce poured over it - but large pieces of chicken cut from the bone with a mild teriyaki sauce that allowed the flavor of the chicken to come through, B.B.Q pork ribs that were unusual in that they had a just slightly sweet sauce on them but the bone seemed to be missing yet the usual grizzle end of the rib was there, and I had more. The ribs were tasty and different. It was all good. When I was younger I could eat so much more than I can now at a buffet. When I am here I wish that I could eat like I did then before I start to feel full.

What I did not have at this dinner was the hibachi grill. It was there and it was making hibachi beef steak and hibachi chicken breasts with large slices of onion and zucchini, grilled on a flat grill. I have always enjoyed this - and I was very tempted - but I recalled from other meals here and at other Japanese buffets, that the amount given at the hibachi grill is a meal in itself - a full plate of meat and vegetables. When I have this, I really don't have room to have anything else. I decided that I would skip the hibachi and go for the entrees instead. The hibachi looked good. All that were having it, looked to be enjoying it. Maybe next year. As I keep saying, there is just so much here to choose from, one needs to set some limits to be able to enjoy as much of a variety as possible.

Dessert also brings a lot of choices. There are several fresh fruits out. There are cakes, pastries,and cookies. All looking like the little squares found typically at Asian buffets, but these are not the same as those. The cakes taste like cake - and there was a variety to try. Despite that I should not have, I did take two small squares of cake - one a blueberry cake and the other green tea cake. The blueberry cake was the tastier of the two. The green tea cake was fine but the idea of it was better than it was. I also took some of the green tea ice cream with is in the soft serve machine. This was good. I have had it before. It is mildly sweet and very refreshing. You can taste the tea, and it draws you to keep eating it and go back for more. I was satisfied with the small swirl that I took. There is also cooked to order crepes. These looked wonderful! I have tried one here in the past and it is good. The crepes come with your choice of toppings and if you want to take it over to the soft serve machine and put vanilla or green tea ice cream or both on top, go right ahead!

I think that you can tell that I enjoyed this meal. My picky eater wife was very happy also. She found plenty that was not fish. This is one of those buffet meals that we both happily finish by saying "Oh my!"

The service was very good. The soda is extra - and costs $2.49. While this sounds like a lot especially when added on top of a $30 meal, it is only thirty cents more than what OCB is charging for soda now. The restaurant is opened on weeknights until 9:30 on weeknights, 10 on Friday and Saturday and 9 on Sundays. At about 9:00 pm on this Thrusday night, our server came to the table to tell us that if we wanted anything more from the grill or if we wanted crepes we needed to go and get them then as those stations would be starting to close. That is fair, and everything else was still being served.

Now, I have said this before about this particular location of this buffet - for a Japanese buffet, many of the servers are Japanese (or Asian), all of the sushi chefs behind the sushi counters are Japanese, but the rest of the cooking staff - at the grill, the crepes, and coming from the kitchen are Hispanic. This is a heavily Hispanic area and perhaps that is why. I just find that odd - but locally it is not unusual.

I very much recommend this buffet. Remember it is a lot more expensive than the buffets I usually recommend to you. The lunch price is less (about $10 less - so still a $20 lunch for one) so if you want to try it for less you might try lunch.

Minado Japanese Seafood Buffet is located at 219 Glen Cove Rd, Carle Place, New York. Their telephone number is 516-294-9541. There is a website and the link is at the side of this page. Hours may always vary from location to location so check on the website before you go. On the website you will find details for all of the locations.




Friday, January 24, 2014

Levittown, NY OCB To Get A Makeover

An email has been sent out by Old Country Buffet informing those on their email list in the Levittown Old Country Buffet will be closing temporarily to be remodeled to the "new" OCB look. This was fascinating as many - not just me - have the opinion that the Levittown OCB is the worst OCB in the country. Now, does Ovation Brands (the new name for the parent corporation of OCB) acknowledge this and feel that a remodel to the new floor plan and little shop-like food stations will change this Old Country Buffet? It would be nice to learn that they acknowledge that there is a problem there. What they fail to realize is that it is not the layout or look of the current buffet that is the problem. It is the management and employees.

This is not to say that the employees do not work hard. The problem is that there are not enough of them and I have been informed by more than one person on the inside of the corporation that the lack of employees in the dining room and taking care of the buffet stations in general at OCBs is well known by Corporate and that this is intentionally done to manage the operating expenses. Yet, here we have a rock bottom OCB getting a big investment in a remodel - and one that involves a design that is far more employee necessary. The other two problems in Levittown have been poor management (which seems consistent over the years no matter who gets the job - and managers seem to be on a revolving door at this buffet) and lack of cleanliness both in the dining rooms and at the buffet tables.

If you saw the Undercover Boss episode featuring the "boss" of then Buffets, Inc., now Ovation Brands, you saw at least one example of the "new look". Food is divided by type at each serving station and several of those stations require an employee there. Here at the Levittown OCB their person carving is often also tending the hot trays and away from the carving station. An empty "new" carving station will be no better than it is now. The same was true when there was the stir fry station. One person cannot do three jobs. At OCB they seem to be expected to do four.

The new look from photos that I have seen is cute and very similar to the layout of Golden Corral. Will it work for OCB? Sure, if they staff it properly. Will they? Time will tell, but from what I hear from the inside, that is unlikely.

There was no date in the email as to when the Levittown OCB would close. It may have been timely to that email. I have not been able to get over there to see if it is still open or not. If you are on Long Island and plan to go to OCB, call Levittown first to see if they are still open. The alternative is the Old Country Buffet in Bay Shore, NY which is about twenty miles further east on Long Island on the South Shore. 

OCB Levittown, are you ready ??? for this:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Yummy China Buffet and Sushi Restaurant, East Meadow, New York

For years there has been an Asian buffet in East Meadow, NY, that my wife and I refereed to as "the little Asian buffet". I have written about it a number of times. It went from fair to poor to terrible and back to almost fair over the years. It never had much business and we always wondered how they could stay in business, especially with the competition near by. It finally closed - at least it looked like it was closed and then a sign went into the window that it was under renovation, and then opened with the same name which shortly was changed with the addition of Yummy at the beginning of the name. We wondered if it was different. At the time we first walked in to the newly reopened buffet we knew nothing about it. There had been no advertising at that point, no sign saying "Under New Management" or "Under New Ownership", or if it was just the same place as it always had been with a temporary closing. We went in one night and walked right back out. Nothing looked different inside from what we could see standing at the reception desk. I asked the price and was told $19.99! Wow! This had been a risky dinner when it was $11.99. There was no way that we were going to spend $40 for the two of us on a weeknight. We turned around and walked out.

I had not written about this at the time. I decided that it would not be fair of me to do so without actually knowing for certain what was going on inside for this price. One of our readers wrote during the past year and told me that she had been there for lunch and that it was OK but not worth the $9.99 charged every day for lunch. Then we started getting ad circulars for the restaurant stuck into the newspaper. There were coupons for 10% off but even at that, this was not a buffet to try for still as much as it came out to be with the 10% off. Then just after New Years Day we saw a moving marquee sign outside that seemed to say "Dinner $15.99". I called to make sure and yes, the price "for the Holidays" was $15.99 and a free beverage. At that price, we would give it a try.

We went in on a Friday night and there were four tables in the entire restaurant filled. This was just too reminiscent of this buffet before. I did not recognize any of the people working as having been there before. I had found a small review on a local community paper that talked about the new owners and staff as being a family running and working at this restaurant. We went in. The room was the same but with improvements that had been much needed. The ceiling was replaced and no longer looked like it was about to fall in where it had leaked. The tables and booths were arranged the same but the tables were new - with, for some reason, a large straw sun umbrella in the middle of each one going up to the ceiling. The booths looked the same but had been reupholstered and perhaps the tables had been replaced in them as well. Across the ceiling were hung colorful Chinese paper lanterns.  The room was brighter. The buffet tables and counter were exactly the same. The area that had been a grill in the rear is now a small sushi bar with a sushi chef standing behind (more about this later). We sat down and a very pleasant young lady came over to ask what we would like to drink. We both ordered Diet Coke. What came was not Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. It must be an off brand of soda with an odd taste. Their circular says "Coke" and "Diet Coke" - it is was the real thing it was not mixing properly in the machine.

We always start with soup and there were four soups - Wonton, Egg Drop, Hot and Sour, and Miso. Nothing special about the soup but the soup was good. We tried the wonton soup and the egg drop soup and both were good.

In an Asian buffet I usually go up for sushi next, when they have it. Since this buffet is being billed as a sushi buffet in its name, I expected to see a lot of sushi. I walked up to the counter and there were a few pieces of an unknown sushi roll on a serving board. OK. I looked for a sign - "ask the chef", whatever, but saw none. There was a menu of sushi rolls on the counter in very small print. Do I ask for the chef to make me these?  I had no idea. (I have to add here that I saw a review on the Web about this restaurant and the comment was that a sushi roll was ordered and an extra charge appeared on the bill. This discouraged me from asking for anything of the sushi chef. It was too bad that I saw that review because this is not the case here now at all. One problem when looking up reviews for this buffet is that reviews are mixed up with those about this location and the old owners.) Latter while we were there, someone asked for a sushi roll to be made and it was made to order. This is a nice idea but so very different from most other sushi buffets - especially in this area - that it is not a good idea. Also, I would not want all of one sushi roll but would rather pick and choose different slices of roll - and I don't eat the rice. When we come back to this buffet and we will likely do that, I will ask for just fish and seaweed rolls with no rice and see what response I get. So, if you are into whole sushi rolls, this is the place to come. At the sushi counter there also was cold seaweed salad which was very good.

I just joined my wife who was picking appetizers from the buffet. I will tell you what there was out that night and items do change from a list of items from night to night (and the lunch buffet will not have as many items and will not have certain "special" dinner items). There were pork egg rolls that were good and tasted the way a pork egg roll should take which is not always the case at buffets. There were Spring Rolls, Fried Shrimp, Chicken Wings, Pan Fried Dumplings, Cheese Wontons, Chicken on a Stick, Yummy Meatballs, BBQ Spare Ribs, and Boneless Spare Ribs. On the salad bar there were cold crayfish, cold shrimp in the shell, cold baby clams, cold mussels, Edamame, Crabmeat salad (not real crab), half hard boiled eggs, and the fixings for a lettuce salad. The dumplings were good. There were also hot steamed crab legs. These were single legs and not clusters. The BBQ Spare Ribs were in a sweet sauce but not the usual overwhelmingly sweet red sauce usually found. The dumplings were also good. The Yummy Meatballs were interesting and tasty though I could not tell if they were beef, pork, or chicken or any combination.The appetizers were mixed into the general hot buffet so walk around the whole buffet server to see everything before you decide what to take.

Main courses were interesting. There were somethings here different from other buffets and some things much the same as you find at most Asian buffets. Again, these change night to night. There are things on the list that the restaurant sends out about what is on the buffet that were there the night we were there and other things that were not. There was Chicken and Broccoli, Sweet and Sour Chicken (add the sauce yourself), Sesame Chicken, General Tso's Chicken, Chicken with Garlic Sauce, Taiwan Chicken (just very slightly sweet), Teriyaki Chicken, Vegetable Egg Foo Young, Sauteed String Beans, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce (missing the pork but one of the best buffet shrimp with lobster sauce I have had and no Krab mixed in - just nice size shrimp), Yummy Salmon, Yummy Scallop - a mix of scallop and cheese baked on a large scallop shell and nice), hot steamed clams, Salt and Pepper Shrimp, Baby Clams in Asian BBQ Sauce, Mushrooms, Corn on the Cob, French Fries, Fried Plantains, Vegetable Lo Mein, Vegetable Fried Rice, White Rice, Brown Rice, and Garlic Bread. I have saved the best for last and the most different thing from other Chinese/Asian buffets - House Special Roast Pork. This was a large serving of what could have been a side of a whole pig. This had the skin that was roasted crisp and meat that just fell apart as you picked it up off of the serving tray. It was delicious and I went back more than once for more. This is only served at dinner and hopefully is served every night at dinner. There was a good assortment of dishes to choose from
but you may notice what is not here - beef. There were not beef dishes served on this night (unless the meatballs were beef). There are beef dishes on their list. What also is not here and for some who may have been here when the price was $19.99 is lobster. The Lobster Cantonese is not part of the regular buffet any longer. More about this later.

All of the food that I have listed and that we tried was high quality, fresh, and properly cooked and served. The food was much higher quality than most buffets. It was clear while we were eating that this is a family restaurant and I suspect that the lady who kept coming out from the kitchen with more trays to refill the buffet is the mother of the family - and she is cooking as she does for her family. There was a lot of attention paid to make sure that nothing was drying out and nothing was missing for any length of time. The cooking is good. The food was good.

Dessert is more or less the usual Asian buffet assortment of desserts. There is hard ice cream and also soft serve ice cream. There were cakes, cookies, puddings, and fruit. They had one of the best almond cookies and it seemed as if these were baked in the kitchen. They were full of almonds and had a nice texture. There was also a chocolate fountain.

Service was very good. It was clear that the young lady who was taking care of us at our table was also a member of the family and she was attentive. 

So - for $15.99 with the soda included this was a good meal at a fair price. At $19.99, no. I asked before we left if the price was going to stay at $15.99. I was told that it would stay there for awhile and that they were trying out this price and to get the price to $15.99 they eliminated the lobster from the dinner. The lobster is still available if ordered for $5 extra. I hope that they decide to keep the price at $15.99 including the soft drinks. At that price I will go back. At $19.99 I would not - even with the Lobster Cantonese. From the look of the poor attendance of diners at this restaurant that night, a lot more people need to know about this price change, and more will come. They said that their new newspaper circulars will show the new price - though it has been a couple of weeks and there has been no new ad yet. I will be looking for it. If you are going to try this buffet, call first and ask about the price.

The Yummy China Buffet and Sushi Restaurant is located at 398 Merrick Avenue, East Meadow, New York 11554. The telephone number is 516-486-2525. There is no website. The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 am to 10:00 pm. Prices are the same for weekdays and weekends. The lunch price is less. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.





Friday, January 10, 2014

Shady Maple Smorgasbord Off-Season Special Theme Dinner Weekends - East Earle, PA

If you are a regular reader of this site you know about Shady Maple - our top buffet pick for a number of years now. You may not know that when the winter comes, Shady Maple features special theme weekend dinners on Friday and Saturday nights. Those dinners started tonight but this weekend's special continues tomorrow. I am going to list those theme weekend specials and their dates here for your reference. These dinners include the special featured items along with the regular smorgasbord.

Asian Weekend

Friday, January 10th 4PM-8PM and Saturday, January 11th 11AM-8PM

Walnut chicken, pepper steak, Korean BBQ wings, BBQ ribs, spring rolls and egg rolls with a variety of sauces. At the grilles: fried rice, lo mein, chicken or shrimp with your choice of variety of vegetables, curry, teriyaki or sweet and spicy Korean sauce. Plus gourmet apple bread, hot pepper jack cheese and orange creamsicle dessert.

Shrimp and Grilled Fish Weekend

Friday, January 24th 4PM-8PM and Saturday, January 25th 11AM-8PM

Featuring steamed shrimp (hot and cold u-peel and eat), fried shrimp, shrimp noodles, Maryland crab soup, crab augratin, oyster stew, grilled salmon, grilled cajun catfish, orange roughy, crab dip, hot crab dip and hand dipped seafood croquets. Plus gourmet strawberry bread, sharp cheddar cheese and lemon meringue pie.

Western Weekend

Friday, January 31st 4PM-8PM and Saturday, February 1st 11AM-8PM

Featuring New York strip steaks, chopped steaks, salisbury steak, hamburgers and hot dogs, BBQ baked beans, chili, cowboy caviar and peanuts. Plus Shady Maple's very own western burger and also featuring gourmet peach bread, longhorn cheese and fruited bread pudding.

Prime Rib Weekend

Friday, February 7th 4PM-8PM and Saturday, February 8th 11AM-8PM

The grill stations will be featuring famous juicy prime rib as well as their own Smorgie cheese steaks! Plus also featuring gourmet spinach and cheese bread, muenster cheese and pecan pie.

Hawaiian Luau Weekend

Friday, February 21st 4PM-8PM and Saturday February 22nd 11AM-8PM

Whole roasted pig, pulled pork, ham balls with pineapple sauce, pineapple chicken, coconut mahi, carved steamship pork with sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, pineapple bread pudding, Hawaiian fruit salad, chocolate fountain, smoothies, fresh pineapple, coconut macaroons, and plus pineapple bread and a variety of Hawaiian salads and desserts.

Farmers Weekend

Friday, February 28th 4PM-8PM and Saturday, March 1st 11AM-8PM

Chicken pot pie, duck legs, fresh pork sausage, ham balls, lima beans. On the grill they will have chicken livers with or without onions. The soup and salad bar is featuring chunky chicken salad, and cream of potato soup and cabbage soup. Plus Amish butter cheese, gourmet apple bread and apple and shoofly pie.

Prime Rib Weekend

Friday, March 7th 4PM-8PM and Saturday, March 8th 11AM-8PM

The grills will be featuring prime rib and their famouse Smorgie cheese steaks. Plus they will be featuring gourmet peach bread, muenster cheese and peach crumb pie.

Several of these have my attention. I would love to try their whole roasted pig! Then again, the next weekend's Farmers Weekend looks good too! They all look good!  Each one is definitely recommended.  I only wish I was not over four hours and a good amount of tolls and miles away.

Past these dates the season starts to begin again and while there will still be specials, the menus will revert to the usual and great Shady Maple Smorgasbord.

Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East or Route 322 South to get to the restaurant. The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.








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.