Monday, October 21, 2013

Oriental Buffet

774 S. Truman Rd.
 Crystal City, Mo.

 Once Angel gets 'Chinese Food' in her head, the discussion is pretty much over. It's a craving of a strength like none other, much like the shaved ice she craved back when she was gestating. Also, it rarely gets objected to anyhow, we like us some good Chinese food, especially a buffet. We like the Oriental Buffet just fine. It's not the best in the world, or the country, the state or even the region, but it is closer than any other decent place. There is a change in the wind though, one that motivated us to go to OB as soon as possible.
A few months back Ryan's Steak House and Buffet abruptly shut its doors. A few weeks later there was an announcement that Hibachi Grill was going to build a buffet in Ryan's massive building. There are even banners out, flapping in the wind on the hill above Highway A. The old Ryan's location is less than a half mile from the Oriental Buffet.
There are a lot of  Hibachi Grills in the region, even one down in Springfield, the Queen City of the Ozarks. All Hibachi grills are pretty much exactly alike. It is not a franchise  though, it's more of a business model. Each one, though independently owned and operated, is almost identical to the others. First they are HUGE. They offer traditional Chinese buffet items, and sushi, and a Mongolian Barbecue area. The food there is pretty good and the variety is mind blowing. They are the big-box store version of the Chinese buffet.
We are a little worried about the smaller place, the OB. Will they be able to survive the new big Bertha literally in it's very shadow? I don't know. But we thought we'd go to OB now, just in case it got swallowed up.
The Chinese invented lots of things that other cultures have adopted as their own. Pasta, paper, gun powder, the wooden coffin, paper currency, the fire drill, to name a few. They did not invent the buffet.
You'll never guess who did.... go ahead, guess!
Annnnnd, you're wrong. The correct answer is 'Sweden'. The Swedish also invented ABBA. So they are plenty clever people, those pale and chilly Swedes. The word smorgasbord is Swedish in origin, and described an open table of food and adult beverages, a lot of adult beverages, popular starting in the 1600's. The rest of Europe picked up on the Swedish sensation, the smorgasbord, not ABBA, or 'side board' aka 'buffet' (a French word for the table on which the food and beverages were served)  in the 1800's as railroads started connecting all those little unimportant and snooty European countries and cities. Feeding travelers in this manner was much more efficient than seating them all, cooking for and then waiting on them individually.*
I've never been to a Swedish Buffet though, have you? I have had the little gravy covered meatballs they serve at Ikea, but not in buffet form. I'm not sure what would even be on a Swedish buffet, maybe those meatballs, several kinds of disgusting dried and salted or fermented fish, like their gravlax, and maybe some potato soup and lingonberry jam. Hmmm.  I think the American palette would largely prefer Chinese. Except for maybe my loyal fan Suzi. I think she swings toward more Nordic tastes.
So even though the Chinese did not invent the buffet, nor ABBA, they did perfect the former. Sure they had to fuss with it a little to suit the fickle American tastes, but they have done a fine job at that. What they did was to Americanize some of their own dishes. By that I mean they wrapped it in dough or batter and deep fried or pan fried nearly everything. You haven't noticed that? Silly, gullible Americans.
Chinese food, wontons, rangoons, egg rolls, dozens of different kinds of chicken and pork, (even their rice is fried) offered in an all-you-can-eat, heart clogging buffet, pretty much indistinguishable from carnival food.
But man, is it tasty! Just don't kid yourself that it's somehow healthier than a burger with fries, it's certainly not.
The Place:
A simple, clean and adequately sized place in a strip mall. It is decorated with the requisite jade objects and bright colors. The overhead music was too loud as well as awful. I'm not sure of the name for the genre. It started with 'Sealed With a Kiss' that terrible, dirge-like, un-killable and ubiquitous prom song from the early 70's. Followed by a female cover of Simon and Garfunkel's  'Scarborough Fair' ( 'Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.' ) and the Carpenter's 'Yesterday Once More' ("Every sha-la-la-la, Every wo-o-wo-o, still shines, Every shing-a-ling-a-ling, that they're startin' to sing's, so fine.")  Arrrrgh!
The only good thing possible about music like this was that back in High School it gave you a chance to thoroughly grope your date's soft and round parts during what was known as a 'slow-dance'. Slow dancing in high school is really just making out in public while clumsily swaying from foot to foot. If it were actually dancing we'd see it on DWTS, wouldn't we?
The more I think of it, pretty much all dancing is sexual, some of it, like the Tango, even overtly so. But if that's what it takes for a guy to be able to legally feel up a girl, then so be it. My general observation is that women really, really don't like touching, or being touched by men. That's been my experience anyhow. Which is sad really, because anyone who really knows me, knows that I'm a cuddler.
The Food:
It's a buffet. they offer scores, maybe hundreds of items, mostly breaded, dough wrapped and fried. Everyone's got their own favorites, I got mine.
We were escorted to a table, we ordered our drinks without even sitting down, then ran toward the lines. Usually I sample lots of things, I decided not to this night. I went straight to the known likes. Fried rice, fried noodles, three kinds of breaded fried chicken, (different spiciness levels)  rangoons, pan fried pepper steak and some 'butter shrimp' which were the only non-fried items on my plate.
Angel did pretty much the same, but just to be ornery, added some green things, broccoli and asparagus.(blech!) Adam filled his plate with sweet and sour chicken, breaded and deep fried chicken nuggets covered in a neon-red sauce.
We all made second runs, my next and final plate though only sported the seventh best dessert mash-up in the world, banana pudding and bananas covered in that mysterious, viscous red sauce found only at Chinese buffets.
I love Chinese food, even though little of the stuff I like is authentic Chinese. I've tried actual Chinese food, it's awful. Fish heads, tree bark and pickled pigs eyes, no thanks. Give me some of that carnival food. They even offer chicken on a stick. What could be more American than food on a stick?
"Perfectly acceptable." I declared. Adam said he completely agreed. Angel added "Very filling"  which it is, because it's mostly breaded and fried, like funnel cake and corn dogs.
The price was a very reasonable thirty four dollars, not bad at all for all you can eat.
I have no idea how this perfectly adequate and nice little place will fare once the monster on the hill opens. I hope they continue to do okay, but my intuition says they will not. Hibachi Grill is a mega-plex of Chinese food. They offer more, if not necessarily better. They are very efficient, clean, inexpensive and well staffed. The little guys nearby may not stand a chance.
Oh, the tea. It was awful, it always is, weak, bland, tasteless. I'll give it a -3 on the PJTea scale

* The author tried to contact a Swedish authority, Agnetha Faltskog, also know as the blonde chick from ABBA, for verification of this information. Unfortunately, she has yet to respond to the hundreds of calls and letters I've sent over the years.

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