Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buffet China / China Buffet II

3833 Lemay Ferry Road

St. Louis Mo.

We initially agreed to go to the Golden Corral in South County, got there, there was a line. We don’t like lines especially when it’s cold and windy, so we didn’t even stop. On the road again (Lindbergh) we thought about Denny’s and a couple of other places, but couldn’t get excited. Angel remembered a nearby Chinese buffet that we visited a year or so back, she even remembered how to get there.

A lot of places had already been eliminated from our list of options; I was on a slightly restricted diet. For an upcoming lab test* I was not allowed to eat most nuts, bananas, grapefruit, and tomatoes. So Italian and Mexican were pretty much disqualified. The Asians don’t use tomatoes a lot.

Tomatoes originally came from South America, and stayed there up until the Spanish ‘colonization’ and domination of the continent in the late 1500’s. For many decades after their introduction to England and British colonies, including the former colony we currently occupy, tomatoes were widely considered poisonous. Italy and Spain didn’t believe these rumors and since the plants grew so readily in the Mediterranean climate, these cultures used them widely, thus their continued prominence in Italian and Hispanic cuisines. Asia already had its own palette of cultural ingredients and didn’t ever really jump on the tomato bandwagon.

But I had to avoid them for this weekend. So Chinese fit the bill nicely. I still wouldn’t be able to have offerings containing nuts, but that was easily worked around. It did regrettably mean I wouldn’t be able to have bananas with red sauce, a Chinese buffet staple.

The Place:

It looks pretty much like every other strip mall Chinese buffet. Booths and tables scattered around, red and gold kitschy decorations and bric-a-brac, paper lanterns, colorful pictures and calendars, thin Chinese waitresses of all ages scurrying about.

We were asked “how many” and “what to drink” then pointed toward a general direction. We pulled off our jackets and didn’t even bother to sit down before we bee-lined toward the serving area. The place was more than half full but not too noisy. The buffet lines steamed and filled the air with a pleasant sweet/fried aroma.

The Food:

A wide variety, chicken, beef, shrimp cooked various ways. For my first plate I chose several types of chicken, garlic shrimp, rice, noodles, egg-foo-young, and of course, rangoons. Angel and Adam’s plates looked similar, though for some peculiar reason they also picked up some broccoli.

The rice was okay, better than most local places. The tea was bland and the egg-foo-young was not quite as good as I’d hoped. Other than that though the food was excellent. I highly recommend getting just a little of several things rather than piling up a lot of only a couple. Go ahead, live a little.

We each went back for seconds, but not a huge pile, just a few favorites. I was very fond of the garlic shrimp and something called ‘crispy chicken.’ The chicken offerings were all pretty much prepared the same, lightly breaded and fried, but topped/caramelized with different sauces, from savory/hot to almost too-sweet.

The drinks were well tended to, rarely less than half full, the used plates were bussed away quickly. I was full, satisfied. “I’m glad I wasn’t born in China.” I pronounced, “I really like the food, but I couldn’t eat it everyday.”

Of course real Chinese people don’t eat like this every day, or even very often. The offerings at a typical American-Chinese restaurant are Americanized versions of a few Asian dishes and sometimes American creations completely. Chinese tastes more traditionally favor grasshoppers, fish heads, cats and boiled cabbage. We Americans are just too wimpy to make a diet out of that stuff. We just take our own fried chicken, pour some honey or soy sauce over it and celebrate our faux-cultural inclusiveness. Just about anything qualifies as Chinese in the U.S. as long as the bill arrives with fortune cookies.

I don’t care for fortune cookies, but I opened mine up anyhow. I forget what it said, something either obvious or stupid, I ignored the ‘lucky numbers’ because I’m a grownup, but I did notice at the bottom of the fortune a URL. Yeah, a web site. You don’t even have to crack open a brittle, sweet cookie anymore, just dial up the world-wide-web and there’s your fortune. This is going to put a lot of Asian philosophers and calligraphers out of work.

Summary:

In our opinion this is about the best Chinese buffet in the area. The food is consistently fresh and good, the service quick and efficient. The place is clean and not too busy. It’s still not as good as most places in Springfield Mo., but it isn’t near as bad as those awful places we were stuck with when we lived in southern Maryland.

The bill came to just over thirty bucks, a very reasonable price for all-you-can-eat. The fortunes in the cookies were lame and predictable and not even funny with the traditional ‘in bed!’ suffix applied. By the way, though several stories about the history of the fortune cookie abound, it too is almost for certain an American invention.

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*Lab test: Nothing to worry about, just going through a battery of tests that are called for in men of a certain age.

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