Monday, January 20, 2014

Lam's Garden

  510 Bailey Rd.
Crystal City, Mo.

A do-it-yourself buffet. Yet another review of a place I didn't actually go to.
We like Lam's, some of the best Chinese food in mid-Jefferson County.
The only problem with it is that it's not a buffet. I've said it a hundred times, I prefer my Chinese buffet-style. I'm not that way with American, Mexican, Italian, or any other cuisine that pops to mind, but for some reason, when it comes to Chinese I want a little of several things, not just a big plate of one or two.
There's a way around this if you order several things and bring it all home. Then you pop open the cartons and go family style.
So we did.
Angel and Adam browsed the menu online and pre-selected a variety, wrote it down without even letting me see it. No worries, they know what I like. I was busy with my manly weekend chores, which Angel calls 'napping'.  So the boy donned his cap, grabbed his keys and took off, list in hand.
It would take less than an hour, the round trip, so I prepared by making a batch of tea.
The Place:
It's a little hard to find since it's behind a few Main Street buildings, sort of a small industrial road. Turn on your GPS and you'll be fine.
I suppose it looks the same as the last couple of times I've been there. The atmosphere is friendly, even jovial. Many online reviews mention this. It's not stuffy or formal, nor is it anonymous. The people that work there will chat with you before, during and after the meal.
The Food:
Sesame Chicken
Angel had ordered four main entrees, pepper steak, sesame chicken, cashew chicken, and beef with broccoli. She added some egg rolls and two kinds of rice, fried and plain. With the order came the sweet hole-less donuts popular among Asian restaurants, and of course, fortune cookies. The food came in the stereotypical Chinese food cartons, except for the chicken, which arrived in a Styrofoam takeout box. My tea finished brewing, so I poured it into a tall glass crammed to the rim with ice cubes. It was beautiful, it was perfect.
Adam hilariously dumped a box of white rice onto his plate. It hilariously maintained the shape of the box. We all laughed at the sheer hilarity of it. Which really points out something important, we are, all three of us, very, very easily amused.
We filled up our plates, Adam and Angel took some beef and broccoli, I didn't since I find broccoli completely disgusting, especially cooked. I piled on the pepper beef with its huge chunks of onion and bell pepper, a few chunks of sesame chicken, some of the fried rice and an egg roll.
Hilarious, right?
My Plate, no broccoli.
I propped open my book. When I eat at the table, as I do almost every night, I read. Another George Pelecanos novel this time. I mostly read crime/detective fiction, usually starting with an author's series from the beginning, through the latest offering. In case I run out I have a  couple of large reads, one a complete Sherlock Holmes anthology, the other a thousand page monster, "Sacred Games" by Vikram Chandra, that follows a police detective in Mumbai, India.  Both are beautifully written, very detailed, but quite long.
Adam or Angel's plate, because - broccoli.
The rice was pretty good, about as good as it gets outside of Springfield, Mo. (undeniably, the best in the world) The peppers and onions were large and thick, but slightly overcooked. That's the problem when you cook in large batches then let it steam for a couple of hours. The beef was a problem though. It too was presented in large, thick chunks and was hard to casually cut with a fork. The taste, the sauce, was savory and pretty good. The egg roll was pretty good, still crispy on the outside and not too cabbage-y on the inside. The sesame chicken as well was too large. I like Chinese chicken in bite sized chunks. This fare was, in many cases, golf ball sized and had to be cut up. The taste though was very good, sweet but not sickeningly so. I didn't try the cashew chicken, I don't mind it, but I do find it generally too salty. Angel said hers wasn't. It was also large-chunked. She also said the beef in the broccoli (blech) beef was not as thick as I was experiencing and that it was quite tender. I'll take her word for that.
Fried ice, Chinese donut.
Cashew chicken, if you look it up on Wikipedia is quick to mention the Springfield, Mo. connection that I go on and on about. Take that, doubters.
Unlike at a real buffet, I only filled my plate once. We had plenty leftover to serve up for Sunday lunches.
All in all, quite good, except for the fuss of cutting it up, but that was not a huge problem, just an annoyance.

Like I said at the beginning, Lam's is currently the best Chinese food in mid-Jefferson County. They may have a capable challenger soon though. We are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Hibachi Buffet in Festus, that may be a game-changer.
The price for our faux-buffet was nearly forty dollars. More, by half, than we would spend at a real buffet, but we did have enough food for more than one meal each. Even that price wasn't bad for that much good food though. And it was pretty good.
I didn't crack open a fortune cookie, I never do. If I want some stranger's dubious and vague advice, I'll listen to my boss and co-workers more often. As for the lucky numbers printed on the back of the fortune, forget it. How many Chinese people do you know of that have ever won a lottery?
The tea? Since I made it myself, it rates a perfect '5' on the PJTea scale.

Lam's Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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