Wednesday, November 2, 2011

China Buffet

3833 Lemay Ferry Rd.
St. Louis Mo.

 Angel’s choice, you just don’t dare get between Angel and her occasional, well documented hankering for Chinese. The Festus buffet joint is fine, but only that. There’s a couple of better places up the road. One stands out, the China Buffet on Lemay Ferry Road in South County. (South County refers to South St. Louis County, just across the Merrimac River from Jefferson County)
‘Lemay Ferry’ obviously refers to a water crossing, in this case a very old one. In the early - middle bits of the 19th century Jean Baptiste Gamache ran a ferry across the Merrimac in an area known as Flamm City, (I’m not making this up) and later sold it to Jacque LeMais, also an industrious fellow of French ancestry. There’s a lot of French names in the area. Jacque moved the ferry up the river a bit and renamed it to an Americanized version of his own name, Lemay. (Similarly there are several familes in the region that started as Courtouise or Courtois and ended up as Courtway.)
The Place:

An unremarkable strip mall building in an unremarkable strip mall, this one anchored by a large K-Mart store.  Parking aplenty, even on a Saturday evening, because K-Mart just isn’t the big draw it once was.
The inside wasn’t fancy, just a lot of tables and serving lines fronted by a modest, utilitarian counter. Most, if not all the staff appeared to be Asian, probably Chinese, though not necessarily. A hostess approached us immediately and asked the only things she needed to for the entire evening, “How many?” and “to drink?” This was asked and answered before we even made it to the table, “Three, tea, tea, Pepsi.” No need to even sit down, beeline to the buffet lines.
The buffet lines were bigger and better stocked than most of the other local Chinese buffets. In the past Angel had noted that the offerings at CB were fresher than the others as well. One thing is for certain, there’s plenty of variety. Six or seven kinds of chicken, three or four of pork, as well as a few beef. Then there’s also fish, shrimp and mussels (snot on the half shell). Also the expected pot stickers, egg rolls and rangoons. There’s also an American section, macaroni, fried chicken, potatoes, etc.  A treat here is the egg foo yung (literally ‘lotus egg’). It’s like an omelette, eggs fried with ingredients, meat and veggies, in any combination that suits the cook. I’m not sure what exactly CB puts in theirs, but it’s good. The chicken is mostly strips or chunks, fried then glazed with sauces. The names are not always helpful, Mandarin, garlic, spicy, sesame, etc. So you take a couple of chunks of each to find the one that works. In this case, they were all good, only the ‘spicy’ had noticeable pepper-heat, and even it was not overpowering. The sesame was good, but it is so sweet that it can saturate the taste buds. On my first plate I had the chickens, some noodles, and some fried rice. I like my own fried rice better, but this wasn’t too bad. I also grabbed four ‘garlic shrimp’ non-breaded, steamed.
Angel’s plate looked different, it had green things on it. Green beans and broccoli. She praised the chicken on a stick, proclaiming it to be very tender. Our experience is that chick on a stick tends to be dry and chewy, too long over the heat. On my second trip I grabbed some and had to agree, this was quite good. Angel also claimed that the beef and broccoli was very good, though I couldn’t agree at all since it had broccoli in it. Adam’s plate was less diverse, chicken, plain white rice mostly, but he seemed quite pleased. Angel had an egg roll, I find eggrolls too filling for a buffet, so I didn’t have one. The rangoons were crispy and not too heavy. I’m reluctant to call them crab rangoons, since I could not actually detect any crab, or even krab. I don’t mind this. Often when I make rangoons at home it’s cream-cheese only and they are quite satisfying.
On the negative side, CB didn’t offer any wontons. Lots of places don’t, I don’t know why. Also the shrimp, though well cooked and seasoned, were not shelled properly and I spent a few minutes behind a napkin, digging shrimp-carcass-shrapnel out of my teeth. Another gripe, though a very common offense; The sweet and sour chicken. All the other chicken types are chunks or strips, only lightly breaded and then fried and glazed with a sauce. The  S/S is different. It is heavily breaded in a pancake-like batter so the result is what looks like miniature corn dogs. The S/S sauce is not that different from the other sauces, but is served separately. Maybe it’s a please-the-kids thing. When I make S/S I use the same method for breading (if at all) the chicken as I do for cashew-style, teriyaki or even barbecue. The chicken’s the same, only the sauce varies. If the meat is tender and the sauces are tasty, there’s simply no need to burden it with a heavy breading. (end of rant)
Our second plates were all modest, doubled up with the famous Chinese dessert, bananas in red sauce.
Upon sitting down with round two, the neighboring table was offered to two ladies in Halloween costumes (I assumed) One was dressed as a French maid, the other in an unwieldy bumblebee suit. Immediately The  Blind Melon song ‘No Rain’, in particular, the video for the song, popped into my head. (Things popped into my head for the French maid outfit as well, but prudence demands that I not elaborate.)
The bee-girl in the  Blind Melon video has nothing to do with the song really, it’s just a chubby young girl twirling around and tap dancing in a bumblebee suit for no particular reason.
Partial lyrics:
All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watching the puddles gather rain

And all I can do is just pour some tea for two
And speak my point of view
But it's not sane, it's not sane.

In the 1992 video, the bee is played by Heather Deloach, who is now, at 28, pursuing an acting career and has appeared in bit parts on ‘ER’, ‘Reno 911’, and in the movie ‘Balls of Fury’.
I mentioned this to Angel and Adam, as the evening’s culture lesson, adding the bittersweet recollection about the first time I heard the song.  I really liked it, so I looked up the band on the interwebs and found out the lead singer, Shannon Hoon, had died of an overdose not long after (1995) the song and video became a hit.
No, I’m not a big music fan, you know this, but the music I do like I tend to know a lot about. Ask me about ABBA sometime, you’ll be mighty impressed.
As we wrapped up, a small male child leaned over the half-wall that separated our table from a row of others. I found this very rude in itself but then he exacerbated the interruption with spitty gun noises, then he started stomping and yelping. I can’t blame the restaurant for this, but it was very off-putting.
The staff was prompt, courteous and efficient. Our drinks were always filled in time, the old plates were whisked away quickly, the check and fortune cookies delivered promptly. The food, with only the meager exceptions I mentioned, was all quite good; fresh ingredients, well prepared and plentiful. The bill came in under thirty-three dollars, about average for a Chinese buffet.
I can only compare CB to other area buffets. The best Chinese food in the universe, by far, is to be found in Springfield Mo.  Do not try to debate me on this. The best buffets in the greater St. Louis area (and it gets even worse the further east you go. Hear that Southern Maryland?) pale in comparison to the average place in Springfield. However Springfield is nearly two hundred miles away from our humble abode and is not exactly convenient. Angel grew up there, I spent seventeen years of handsome adulthood there, and we know a thing or two about Chinese food as it should be prepared.
But for what it is, China Buffet is about as good as it gets here at the home of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. (Go Cards!)

China Buffet St Louis on Urbanspoon


  1. I agree. It is hard to find REALLY good Chinese food. Have you tried the buffet in Arnold behind the Shop and Save? That one has the largest variety of EVERYTHING I have ever seen. I leave the review of the food to you. =) Nice touch adding the French history of our area.

  2. oh dont knock Southern MD... ok fine but lets just leave it at the buffet. Happy Dragon in Leonardtown and the Chinese buffet in Salisbury are both amazing ! we relocated from the SOMD area (me from The Shore) a year ago to JeffCo but now we're in the city. Any new updates ?