Monday, March 10, 2014

Hibachi Buffet

331 North Creek Drive
Festus, MO

 Finally! After Months of waiting, Hibachi Buffet opened it's doors on Friday, March 7. If you follow this blog regularly, which you certainly should, you would know that I think this place is a game changer for Festus.
The Place:
Last year Ryans's Buffet abruptly shut down several locations. Within a very short time there were local news reports indicating that Hibachi was taking over the Ryan's location. It's a big place, perfect for their needs.
There are Hibachi's all over the area, even in Springfield, Mo. However they are not a franchise. Each one is independently owned and operated. They do all dutifully follow a business model, layout and and I believe, recipes. Thus they offer pretty much the same things.
Part of that business model is to go big, and invest heavily in classy decor, at least for the entrance. Mural sized stone engravings, crystal-like lighting that shifts colors, large statues, etc. You can tell that there's a huge initial investment in these places.
The entryway was large, it needed to be. When we got there, there was a line. By the time we finished, there was still a line.
Which I found interesting.
Hibachi has almost zero web presence. I have been checking the local paper for updates every week, nothing. On those occasions that I was in Festus, I would look up at the hill and see a sign, 'Coming Soon.'
It was only because Angel went by on Friday that we knew it had finally opened.
It's a big place, and it was packed, and lined up for more.
We're talking hundreds of people on the second night, just in the hour we spent there, with no advertising in any form, other than a 'Grand Opening March 7.' sign in front of the place, along with colorful pennants, like car lots use.
Other restaurateurs probably drool at that sort of prospect. The geniuses behind Hibachi know this area well.  They know exactly what people around here want and they know that don't have to waste money advertising to draw them in.
You pay up front, there are no options other than drink choice. The line moved pretty well, we stepped up. "How many, two?" the lady asked. "Three." Angel replied.
We ordered our drinks, tea, lemonade and Pepsi and waited at  the 'Wait here to be seated counter." Another lady approached, looked at Angel and asked "Two of you?"
"Three" Angel answered.
"Which one of us can they not see?"  I asked. Angel snickered. "You're invisible this evening."
I get that a lot. People at work constantly tell me I sneak up on them. That's me, Mr. Cellophane.*
The place, as I said, was packed. I did notice that there was plenty of staff on hand though, things moved efficiently.
Six or seven steamer lines, aromatic and colorful, paper lanterns were suspended overhead. We were seated at a table and became one group among dozens of others.
The Food:
I decided to do something a little different this time. I went for the Mongolian Grill. There's a couple of places near work that offer these, I've learned to really like them. Offered are raw ingredients. Onions, peppers, mushrooms, bean sprouts, mushrooms, etc. Then there are three or four kinds of thin sliced frozen meats. You take a bowl and mix and match in any combination you like, add some noodles, grab an egg if you want to, and hand the bowl to one of the three or four cooks. They stand around a large round grill. They pour some oil on the grill then plop the stuff in your bowl straight on it. At this location you name your sauce ahead of the grilling. Warning though, if you don't know which of the sauces you want, you would be wise to go with something you recognize. Unlike other places I've been, this place doesn't explain them. I chose 'Mongolian'. Others included Soy Sauce and Teriyaki.
It only takes a few minutes, these guys are good at what they do. They flip it, stir it and slide it onto a plate. My plate was simple. Noodles, onions, green onions, chicken, and peppers, plus one egg. These are things I like. Thus at this station, all the cooks do is heat up what you hand them. If you can handle this sort of pressure, you control the ingredients, portions and seasoning.
On the way to the table I grabbed a couple of  cheese wontons, the closest thing to a Rangoon that I could find. I needed a little crunch with my noodles. The Mongolian sauce is not spicy or hot, it's mild and savory. They offer hotter versions, but like I said, be careful.
Angel and Adam had gone the more traditional route picking many of their familiar favorites. Chicken, shrimp, pot stickers, among them. Adam had plain rice and some broccoli (blech!) and some sweet and sour chicken.
I ate most of my noodles, they were pretty darn good, but I stopped when I realized I needed to sample some of the line offerings. I got up and went around the lines, picking out very small portions of proteins and what the heck, a couple more of those cheese Rangoons. About five or six forms of chicken, then some shrimp. I picked up a pot sticker as well, Angel said they were good.
There was pineapple chicken, bourbon chicken, pepper chicken, and another, I think. The pineapple was sweet, like pineapple, but it also had some kind of pepper on it, maybe chili, and I didn't find that very pleasing. The pot sticker had too much ginger for my tastes, and the bourbon chicken tasted like formaldehyde. All in all I found no real winners in the lot. None of them were really bad, they were all fresh-cooked, but the sauces and seasonings just didn't score very high with my taste buds.
And yes, everything was fresh cooked, you could tell. That much turnover means the cooks must be machines, constantly turning out fresh batches of everything, especially the battered and fried proteins.
I noticed when I sat down that I didn't have any fried rice. Odd, I always get a little fried rice, must have missed it. I mentioned it to Angel and she looked at her own plate. "Hmm, I didn't see any." She said.
I picked through the meats, and had a little more of my noodles. I was nearly full, but I couldn't imagine going to a Chinese buffet and not having bananas in red sauce.
So I made another round.
No bananas in red sauce. This made me sad.

So instead I looked for the fried rice. Found it, it was labeled 'Veggie Fried Rice.' and it was No.2 pencil-yellow. I scooped some up anyhow, just a tasting. I then went back to the dessert line and grabbed a chocolate chip cookie.
My cube-neighbor, Doug,  the fastest human eater alive, had a big bag of home-made chocolate chip cookies on his desk all week. He offered them to everyone telling us to just come by and grab one. I didn't. I stared at those things, smelled them occasionally all week, but never caved to the temptation. However I did think about them often.
So when I saw chocolate chip cookies available on my cheat meal, yeah, I took one. It was overcooked, a little dry, not moist and gooey like those Doug had at work, but I still enjoyed it.
the rice was well cooked, but underwhelming in taste, it barely had any.
When I polled the family, the answer I got was good to pretty good, but no rave reviews for anything in
particular. I liked the Mongolian noodles, but no more than other places I've had them. I never found a chicken variety that I would want again, but I hadn't tried them all.
The place was very well staffed, our drinks were refilled regularly and empty plates taken away quickly. I have to say the food was not really that much better than other places. But the variety was much greater. It is simply not possible to not find some things that are to your liking.
This place is indeed genius. Some towns absolutely love their huge buffets. Back when it was Ryan's, there was never, ever a shortage of customers. That place failed for other reasons, not for lack of patrons. It is easy to make fun of the piggish qualities of Midwestern, small town people. However, though certainly not true about all of them, or arguably most of them, there is a valid reason for that stereotype. Go to a place like Ryan's or Golden Corral, or Hibachi and yes indeedy, you'll certainly see quite a few people that end up getting photographed later at Walmart. You know what I'm talking about.
I've said it before, Americanized Chinese food is not health food. It is no better for you, in any measure, than pizza or cheeseburgers. So yes, you can overdo it at these all-you-can-eat places, very, very easily.
The tea was mediocre at best, I'll give it a plus one, simply because it wasn't old. A place like this probably has to be constantly making tea as well, so it doesn't have time to grow stale and bitter.
The price was downright dangerous.$10.39 per adult during dinner hours. For that low amount you can easily find enough of something you like and gorge yourself to the point of exploding. A bargain.
So yeah, the people behind this place are brilliant. They know the area, they know what people want and they know how to provide it. This definitely changes the game in Festus.
Oh by the way... HaPpY BiRtHdAy Suzi!!!!


*'Mr. Cellophane' is a song from the musical 'Chicago.' A lament  about being a plain, ordinary man that no one ever seems to notice.

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