By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
What I'm Thinking
Chinese buffets are the latest dining fad on Long Island. Places are cropping up faster than you can say "I'm as fat as Buddha and I can't take it anymore." Buffets at Indian restaurantsand Brazilian/Portuguese rodizios serve a valuable purpose, providing an opportunity for the food-curious to sample many exotic foods without having to commit to an entire portion. A little bit of samosa or mashed taro root is just the right amount for the uninitiated. Chinese and continental dishes usually served at Grand Buffet are more commonplace, but this place is for the indecisive who don't mind their food sitting for a while after it comes out of the wok. Another plus for our impatient populace: You can be eating inside of two minutes. If you're the kind of fussy eater who wants things cooked your way with everything on the side, like Sally from When Harry Met Sally, then stay away.
This building sat incomplete and empty for more than a year. Supposedly, it was built to house a new Mexican chain restaurant, just like one down the road in Westbury. The story goes that the town fathers didn't want to grant the place a permit for live entertainment, so the original restaurant pulled out.
Casing the Joint
This place is big, folks. It holds 300 people300 large people. On the night we dine, the place is as full as the people. A woman at the next table is draped over her chair like a saddlebag as her son brings her plates of food. A family of five big eaters waits to be seated under the watchful eye of the manager. (He appears to be re-thinking this whole all-you-can-eat concept.)
As you enter, a showcase with ceramic Buddhas greets you. Buddha, with his famous distended belly, looks like he attended one too many of these all-you-can-eat shrines. Inside, the place takes on the air of a large catering hall with crystal chandeliers, glass-block and smoked-glass structures and a waterfall seeping down the wall. The food, by contrast, is a gusher: There are three buffets set up, filled from carts and trays of food that are rushed out of the kitchen, its door swinging back and forth faster than a hummingbird's wings. Watch out!
What We Ate
T We take our seats at a table in a corner and order Cokes, which the waiter refills for free as he roams our section with a pitcher. As I peruse the first buffet, I'm confused. Lined up in order are Chinese donuts, steamed dumplings, egg rolls, spring rolls, fried shrimp, fried scallops, curly fries, seafood soup, wonton soup and pizza. It feels like that learning game on Sesame Street: "Two of these things don't belong here..."
The servers do their best to refresh the vats in the face of the oncoming swarm. Here's my chance to dutifully sample everything in the place. I ladle out some seafood soup and sample some shrimp and scallops. I carefully move to the other side, which doesn't deviate from the regional cuisine. Boneless spare ribs and barbecued chicken on a stick both benefit from a sweet marinade. The General Tso's Chicken has a light touch and isn't spicy. Take-out menu staples like chicken with cashew nuts and beef with broccoli pass muster. A bamboo steamer is filled with pork shumai dim sum, which tends to get tough when it sits a while, but these are surprisingly tender. I heap my plate with a spoonful of everything. The two kinds of sushi were not very good. I pass on the pizza and fries.
Other than a rather boring salad bar and some rice dishes, there is little in evidence for the practicing veggie. The string beans are tasty, but I would suggest pumping the waiter to make sure they don't use lard or chicken stock in the stir fry.
Fresh fruit, including large red grapes, sliced oranges and apples, are available at the salad bar. There are traditional Chinese almond cookies, cream-filled rice cookies and bananas in syrup. Traditional American desserts are represented by chocolate cake and cubes of cherry-flavored Jell-O.
Dinner is $9.99 Monday through Thursday and $10.99 on weekends. Friday night is Seafood Night, and dinner is $12.99. Lunch is $6.49 to $7.49.
George Carlin jokes about a new restaurant called "All-You-Can-Eat To Go." It closed in one day. The folks here, though, have actually figured out a way to make it last. Like a salad bar at a deli, everything on the buffet is available by the pound: $4.49 per at dinner and $3.49 at lunch during the week; $3.99 on weekends. Problem solved, George.