Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hibachi Supreme Grill & Buffet

8925 Watson Rd  
Webster Groves, MO 63126

Reviewing a buffet is kind of like judging a live music competition. Perfection is rare so you have to judge the overall performance. Regardless, some notes have to be spot-on, there’s a minimum standard.
In a Chinese buffet there must be decent starches, rice and noodles, and there must be more than one tasty chicken and seafood offering, as well as a well-prepared wrapped and fried item.
It’s not important that every offering satisfy completely, that’s the perfection that is simply beyond reasonable reach.
It also helps if there is a wide variety, as well as something for the kids besides ice cream and cookies.
A really good buffet is one that offers one or more stand-out dish. There are a lot of Chinese buffets out there; the winner often becomes the one that is closest to somewhere you want to be or the one that has something special worth the extra time or mileage.
The closest to our needs is in Festus. It’s pretty good. This one is in Webster Groves, Angel discovered it on her way to pick up/drop off a client dog.
As it turned out she needed to make just such a pickup in the area on Saturday, so we decided to give this newer place a try.
The Place:
A very large stand-alone on Watson Road. I never get out this way, but Angel does quite frequently. It’s not close to home.
The building is larger than most of the strip-mall buffets we frequent. It was built for a large flow of people. It was also built to please the eye. No industrial, generic furnishings. The chairs were all Asian-styled heavy wood, stained reddish. The table tops were all a swirly orange-sherbet, faux-marble look. The carpet was dark based and brightly patterned, more swirls.
Partitions separating the booths and tables were also heavy, carved, red stained wood with painted glass trim.
The entrance/foyer was large and nearly over-decorated. Large Asian items were set up museum-style. The ceilings were high and painted sky-blue, which made the space feel open to nature, a Zen-thing I suppose.
As with many buffets we were immediately shown our table and asked for drinks without even sitting down. Tea, sweet tea and Coke/Pepsi. (Coke)
There were more buffet islands than I’d ever seen in one place. Added to that there was the hibachi area, where you could load up a bowl with raw ingredients and hand it to a chef for grilling, Mongolian grill-style. There was also a sushi bar with more variety than I am accustomed to seeing at the places we frequent. The piped in music was Chinese-styled, though a bit modern sounding. I’m no expert, but the music, those perky Chinese banjo ( ruan or 阮 ) ballads* fit the place nicely.

The Food:
As is my custom, I loaded up my first plate with small portions of as many things as I thought I might like. There were a dozen or more kinds of chicken, rice, noodles, rangoons, eggrolls, shrimp in several styles, crawfish, something creamy looking in a clam shell, several soups.
The American food section was also very generous. Potatoes, mac and cheese, pizza, pulled pork and/or beef, fried chicken, fish, green beans, etc.
I started with various chickens and shrimps, a rangoon, a crawdad (whole) and some fried rice and some noodles. I also grabbed a steamed dumpling.  My small plate was full with about a dozen items.
Angel’s plate wasn’t too different, though she added more veggies and she’d grabbed one of the clam-shells. Adam was pretty straight-forward chicken and white rice. He doesn’t like fried rice because of all the vegetable bits it contains.
The rice bothered me a little, it didn’t look right. It had a distinct orange hue to it. It didn’t taste bad, or orange, but it was rather bland. The noodles were much better. The chickens were fine, none overly spicy. The best for me was the sesame version.
The bright red crawdad on my plate yielded better photo-ops than it did flavor. It wasn’t bad, but furnished  with only a fork, I had no good way to bust it open. Crawdads look like small lobsters but taste more like crab. Mine was slightly overcooked, a bit rubbery. Not worth the amount of work it took to get into it.
The dumpling (pot sticker) was not too bad, they hadn’t been too heavy-handed with the ginger.
Angel reported that the beef-broccoli was spicier than she was accustomed to, but that it was really quite good. I’m not a fan of broccoli so I once again took her at her word.
The clam-shell thing was surprisingly quite good. It was creamy and reminded me of a high-end spinach dip. If there was actual mollusk in it I couldn’t detect it. I’m not a fan of mollusks either.
Adam’s second trip was pretty much all dessert. There were a lot of options. Cakes, puddings, ice cream, lots of toppings.
Angel’s second included a stuffed shrimp, a trip to the sushi bar and a large slab of really fresh and perfectly ripe watermelon.
 One of Angel's selections was a peach-something-pastry. It was round like a small peach, but was actually layers of dough, varying in color. It had no actual taste. The white dough tasted just like the dark brown center, and that taste was not sweet, just light and dough-y.
My second plate included one Rangoon, a few more noodles and a couple of chunks of sesame chicken, along with the ubiquitous bananas with red sauce and some pretty good banana pudding.
Summary:
Dinner buffets cost $9.99 and drinks are $1.49, making this a pretty cheap dinner, $37.99 in total, especially as an all-you-can-eat place. None of the food was bad. The place appeared to be very clean and very well-staffed. The buffets never went empty or stale, emptied plates disappeared quickly. The décor and ambiance were better than we are accustomed to seeing for such inexpensive fare.
I have no idea what the deal was with the orange rice, but since the noodles were very good, it balanced out. Some of the chicken offerings were a bit bland, one referred to as Japan-style was rather dry, but some were quite good. There was nothing terrible or disgusting. Unfortunately there were no smash hits either.
If you live reasonably close to Webster Groves, this place should be on your must-try list. If you live further out, like thirty-something miles out like we do, well, there’s just not anything special enough to make that extra time and mileage worth it.
It was a pretty decent place, with a huge variety. Just nothing that much better than other places.

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* To be fair, the music was most likely from a gugin ( 古琴 ) rather than a ruan. A ruan is a round, four-stringed lute-like instrument, whereas the gugin is a seven stringed zither-like instrument. I just thought 'Chinese banjo' was funnier.


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