Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oriental Buffet

774 S. Truman Blvd.
Festus Mo

Brand new, just opened next to the big one dollar store and the Great Clips in the Crystal City Center in Festus. We’ve been watching this place for its opening since we first discovered that this is what the old Cici’s Pizza (yuk) would become. Our closest Chinese buffet burned down several months ago and we have going through serious withdrawal ever scene.
The parking lot around the new restaurant was crowded. We looked in and saw that there were indeed people standing inside the door waiting. We went in, squeezed in and weighed our options. We don’t like waits and there were fifteen or more people in front of us. We discussed canceling our plans and going over to Bandana’s (the barbecue place we reviewed and loved in early December). Just as we turned to leave the cork popped. The proprietor called out to, then escorted a group of ten or so to the back room. The line suddenly dropped to us and a couple of others. We decided to stay.
The place:
The place was obviously new; shiny, freshly painted and very clean. At the counter there were the obligatory jade statues and resin Buddhas. There was also a wooden model of an old American car, don’t ask me why.
The wait was not long. We were escorted to a table near the back. Three chairs, mine sat nearly in the aisle. Before we were even seated the gentleman took our drink orders, tea, tea and Coke. He pointed us to the buffet line, though he didn’t need to.
The Food:
I grabbed a plate (plastic) and proceeded to ladle and tong on small portions of several things. Many I was familiar with though there were a couple of things that just looked or sounded good. Four or five kinds of chicken, pepper steak, something with fake crab, some breaded / fried shrimp. There were two kinds of rice, plain and fried. I took a little of both. Noodles, rangoons, and a couple of pot stickers. No egg foo young (yummy!) or wontons to be found anywhere.

Adam managed to nab the last of the ‘chicken on a stick’. The food was going fast and being replaced almost as fast. There was also an iced bin containing sushi. I avoided it. I know what sushi is, is supposed to be and what it is at it’s best. If you knew sushi like I know sushi . . . ;-)
I have tried it in Japan, California, Maryland and Missouri. I just do not like sushi. It’s the rice, that nasty sweet sticky rice. This place may make exceptional sushi, I’ll never know because to me even exceptional sushi is awful.
Among the new things was something called spinach pie. A wonton wrap around a wallet sized heap of spinach with some creamy stuff mixed in. It was bigger than I needed just to try it, but it had possibilities. I like spinach in small proportions like in a salad or dip. I don’t care for it Popeye style. I also came across some breaded and fried corn, like that we discovered at ‘Off The Hook.’ These were smaller, about the size of a buckeye.
My plate full, I was first back to the table. Angel followed with a similar cross-sample. Adam had fewer items (picky, picky, picky) but more of them.
I tried the rice first. I had about a tablespoon of the fried and nearly as much of the plain. The reason I got both styles of rice was because just looking at the fried rice I could tell there was a problem. It was moist and sticky looking as fried rice should not be. Fried rice is at its best when made with leftover plain rice, slightly dry. This appeared to be fresh boiled rice that was quickly tossed into a wok. It just doesn’t work as well, too much moisture. Also, there appeared to be bits of onion but no signs of any other vegetable. I was not wrong, the rice was disappointing. The China Buffet/Buffet China (late November) in Arnold got it about as close to right that I’ve found outside Springfield Mo. (The American Mecca for Chinese food). I can make it better myself, just ask Angel. I don’t very often because Chinese food is very messy and time consuming to make at home.
The various chickens were tender, juicy and quite good as long as we didn’t eat too much. One called ‘Honey Chicken’ was absolutely wonderful until the third or fourth honey glazed nugget. At that point the sweetness was more like Krispy Kreme than Asian. The General Tsao’s was not as spicy as other places, but it was okay.
The noodles were fine, not overcooked or over spiced. The shrimp was shrimp. Angel had an eggroll and handed me the butt of it. I didn’t especially care for it, it lacked depth.
Egg rolls and fried rice are best when the individual items are made individually to their best doneness. You want the veggies to still have some crispiness and taste. If you cook all the ingredients together until they are all done you end up with a mushy single flavor. This is what we found with the eggroll and the rice here. Angel agreed that the egg rolls lacked discernable vegetable zing.
The spinach pie, like the honey chicken, was good for a bite or two, after that it was too rich and spinachy. In smaller proportions this offering has definite possibilities, a spinach rangoon maybe.

The dessert line was missing a crucial offering, bananas in thick strawberry red sauce. Therefore I had no dessert.
I had plenty to eat though. Round two consisted of more Gen. Tsao’s , more noodles, more shrimp, more pepper steak, another rangoon and another pot sticker. I also tried the sweet and sour chicken, but just a little. I do not know who decided that s/s chicken needs two parts pancake batter to one part chicken. All you need is slightly breaded (if at all) chicken chunks. It’s the sauce that makes it sweet and sour, not the inch thick breading.
If making Chinese at home, make the chicken chunks light and plain, only mildly seasoned. Then make/open up individual sauces and coat or dip at the table as the diner chooses. A s/s sauce, cashew / oyster sauce, peppered soy sauce, barbecue, you name it. There is no need to individually coat and cook five different kinds of chicken. (Sorry, soap-boxing again)
I’m going to grade this place in the upper eighties or lower nineties, primarily because the bar for Chinese food seems to be pretty low around here. It also gets a double boost from the fact that it’s a buffet. 1. You can pick and choose only the items there you like (and there’s plenty to choose from) 2. You can eat as much of any of it as you can hold, which makes the bang for the buck pretty hard to beat.
The China Buffet/Buffet China was a good deal better than this place. However it’s in Arnold which is further away from home and not near anything we might already be out doing. The Oriental Buffet is next door to the place I get my hair cut and just up from Aldi’s (where we do some grocery shopping) and Walmart.
The price was great; buffets can be a real bargain; less than thirty five dollars for three ravenous adults. That’s just a few bucks more than we paid for those very disappointing hot dogs last week.
I also gave this place a break because of its newness. The staff is new, the equipment is new and it may just need some time to settle in to be a fine place. We will go back, that’s not even a debate. It’s inexpensive, convenient and much, much better than several other Chinese places we’ve been to.

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