Buffet City better than most Chinese joints


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

It's a crying shame what has happened to Chinese food in this country.

Facts

Buffet City

Location: 908 NW 69th Terrace (332-6838)

One of the world's great cuisines has been reduced in far too many cases to cheap slop.

It used to be that every town, large or small, had interesting hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants in which grandma or dad did the cooking, mom ran the front of the house and sons and daughters were the servers. Now, they have been turned into buffets or "New York Style" carryout places. Every single one of them seems to serve the same things and practically all of them are awful. It's just a shame.

I love Chinese food, always have. Nearly two decades ago when I first started writing about restaurants, a reader asked me what cuisine I would choose if I were stranded on a desert island and could eat only one type of food for the rest of my life.

"Easy," I said. "Chinese.

"It's delicious. It offers almost infinite variety - from outrageously rich to incredibly spicy - and it's mostly good for you."

I definitely would not make that statement if I had to eat New York Style Chinese food for the rest of my life.

By now, you probably figure that I am about to cut loose on Buffet City and show it no mercy whatsoever. Wrong.

It's better than most.

I truly wish that were more of a compliment than it is, but I've already told you what I think about the state of Chinese cooking in America today.

Buffet City is a stand-alone building off Newberry Road behind Red Lobster. It has lovely glass doors and beveled glass dividers between the plush, leather-like booths. It's a comfortable room, and the food quality is surprisingly high for a place that charges $7 for lunch and $11 for dinner.

You will find shrimp, snow crab legs, mussels, oysters, scallops, fish, beef, chicken, frog legs, sushi and some American food, although not necessarily all of them at any particular meal.

There are favorites such as Beef with Broccoli, a decent rendition of General Tso's Chicken and even pizza for the kids.

What is odd about Buffet City is that the dishes are short on vegetables. There is a lot more meat than veggies, and that's surprising because meat costs more than vegetables. Another thing worth knowing is that the spread at lunch is not really much less grandiose than that offered at dinner for $4 more.

The buffet generally consists of 60 or so items, plus salads, desserts and the ingredients for Mongolian barbecue, although in all my visits I never saw an employee available to cook the Mongolian barbecue. All the raw ingredients were there but no chef.

If there is a serious rub against Buffet City, it is service. I was never made to feel welcome when I arrived, and on two different occasions, a server actually blocked our way to the table to ask "What you want drink?" before we had even been seated. Servers were as attentive as you will find at a buffet place, I guess, but I wouldn't call them warm or friendly.

I tried to order wine once, but I gave up when I couldn't get much information about what brand it was and then found I couldn't order it except by the glass ($4) or 1.5 liter bottle.

Despite a few shortcomings, Buffet City is a good value.

David Carlson has been writing about food and wine for more than 15 years. He can be reached at dave@carlsonfamily.net. Dining is done anonymously and without advance notice. All meals are paid for by the Gainesville Sun.

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