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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Asian Buffet - say what?

The chinese buffet was a new concept to me when I first moved to Vermont.  Chinese food to me means a lot of things.  One of my best friends from high school is from China and living in Los Angeles meant I was exposed to a lot of good and authentic food, so I thought the asian buffet would be a massive disappointment.  There are some good asian places to eat in Burlington, but in the 3 years I was there I did not venture into the buffet.  I believe that restaurant is currently out of business and is now a Hooters.

Fast forward to 2010 - still living in the northeast, just a bit more rural, and again in a town with an Asian Buffet.  Just a town with slightly significantly fewer asian options.  My fiance convinced me to try the Asian Buffet here in town.  Now, this can actually be a little gem if you stick to the things they do well.

My first stop is the sushi.  Sushi at an Asian Buffet? well, yes.  The Buffet certainly is much more Chinese in menu and decor, but there is sushi.  Now, let me be honest, this isn't the best sushi in the world either, but for an all you can eat buffet, what the pieces of sushi lack in size, you can make up for in quantity.  They consistently have tuna, salmon, eel and a white fish which I assume is halibut.  They also have a variety of rolls - normally several variations of a California roll - they will top the roll with seaweed salad (which I think they should just serve on it's own - next time I will ask for it) or more imitation crab.  There are always a few more interesting rolls as well.  The highlights last night were a roll with imitation with panko bread crumbs (nice crunch next to the creaminess).  There was also a roll with salmon, tuna, avocado and (here's the unique part) pickled ginger.  I've never had a maki roll with pickled ginger in it, and to be even more honest, I don't normally eat the pickled ginger when I have sushi and now I know that I like it.  Now, I probably have at least $10-12 worth of sushi alone in this meal, and could have eaten more, although they do have a hard to replenishing the sushi with any speed when my fiance and I go - we just go to town on it.

Crab - on weekend evenings, they have steamed crab legs.  These legs are huge and have more of a New England clam bake feel with how dirty one gets.  Like the sushi, I don't get the feeling that these are popular options, but I don't really understand why.  They are cooked well, and like most seafood, as long as it is cooked well, doesn't need much.  They have clarified butter out, but the crab itself was good enough and rich enough that it wasn't necessary.

There is a lot of other things at the buffet - most of which you would expect.  Egg drop soup (not bad), wanton soup (personally I think the wantons have too much wrapper), beef&broccoli, orange chicken, etc.  There's always shrimp and what I assume to be crawfish (I had never had them before) on ice, sometimes a nice mini octopus cold salad which is nice and spicy!  This is done well, as the octopus isn't at all chewy.  There is a variety of fried foods - I am not a fan of these options as most of them have too much of a friend wrapper and not enough of the filling.  The crab rangoons are I think, personally, the biggest disappointment (although I do always try one with hope that it improves).  They use an egg roll wrapper instead of a wonton wrapper, so it is not as light and crispy as I prefer.  They also have a selection of american foods - pizza, stuffed potato skins, stuffs mushrooms - I haven't tried any of them.

Dessert - This is another opportunity for you to get a bang for your buck.  I normally hit the fresh fruit pretty hard.  There are normally lycee nuts (although they are canned, I've never seen fresh on the East coast), strawberries and kiwis.  Sometimes there are bananas in a red sauce that appears to be gelatin based which I haven't worked up the gumption to try, although the color reminds me distinctly of grenadine.  They also have a selection of puddings, jello, cheesecake and other small pieces of cake which aren't really worth the calories.  Sometimes there are frozen mini eclairs or cream puffs which are hit or miss depending on how long they have been sitting out.  There is always hard and soft ice cream, and I hate to admit it, but the back corner ice cream station is always a stop for me at the end of the meal.  It is a guilty pleasure of mine - maybe it's from my time in VT where the cremee reigned supreme in the summer, who knows.  But I do love myself some soft serve ice cream - while black raspberry or maple are favorites, that's asking a bit much from the Asian Buffet - they stick to the basics of chocolate, vanilla and swirl.  Now, the true gems of the dessert section:  they have almond cookies!!  These are (in my mind at least) pretty traditional for chinese dessert.  I have many memories of these at the end of the meal with sections of oranges.  They're flaky, buttery, yet crunchy cookies that melt in your mouth with a wonderful almond flavor.  So good.  The second fabulous find are these wonderful donut things.  They definitely taste fresh with a soft dough texture and covered with sugar which gives them a nice crunch on the exterior.  They are almost like large donut holes.  I only thought of this when planning this blog in my mind, but the donuts would be amazing with the hot fudge from the ice cream - very spanish in feel, almost churros con chocolate.  You could also dip the strawberries in the chocolate for a fondue feel.

Well, as you can see, my Asian Buffet experience was not the nightmare that I anticipated when I drove by the one on Williston Road in Burlington.  However, it also wasn't really as much of an Asian meal as I originally would have guessed.  It's almost a hodge-podge of cultures.  It's a fast meal in Canton, where you can truly get great bang for  your buck if you know where to look!

Asian Buffet & Grill on Urbanspoon

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