In the Darwinian world of dining out, restaurants feel the pressure to adapt or perish. It’s even evident with Chinese buffets.
Case in point: Central Buffet, a fairly new addition to the rapidly growing city in a development of buildings recently built to look (not entirely successfully) like an old downtown business section, with all the entrances and parking in the back. The interior is spacious and quite tasteful — darkly stained wood booths and tables, with enough traditional Chinese decorations to remind you where you are, and light wall and ceiling coloring that gives the place a fresh, clean appearance.
The buffet is large and offers an eclectic mixture of foods. There are a number of the tried and true Chinese staples, as well as several seafood items we’ve not seen elsewhere, and American items (though not labeled, there was what appeared to be shrimp etouffee).
In another nod to broader tastes, it also includes a salad bar, sushi bar and hibachi bar.
The hibachi bar is a nice feature. It’s quite similar to what has long been part of Japanese restaurants, except it’s not at your table and the chef doesn’t try to entertain while cooking.
Diners can choose one or a combination of three meats — beef, pork, chicken — and shrimp, and a variety of vegetables, rice, noodles, spices and condiments.
Place what you want in a bowl, and the hibachi chef cooks it while you wait. You can’t get your meal any hotter or more freshly cooked than that, and you can give the chef additional instructions. (If we go back, we’ll ask for a little less soy sauce.)
Be warned, however: If there are several people in the hibachi line, it can take a while to get your meal.
Behind maybe a dozen diners, that was a 20-minute wait in my case. Now, this isn’t an inordinate delay for food, but if everyone in the group isn’t using the hibachi bar, it means that those opting for the buffet either need to wait, or they’ll be eating by themselves while their table-mates are going through the line.
My experience may not have been the norm; our guests are regulars at the restaurant, and they said they’d never seen the line that long.
The buffet has several crab entrees, including crab baked with cheese in a large dish, as well as a mixture in small crab shells baked with what appeared to be a light coating of bread crumbs across the top. As you expect with crab dishes, both were light and pleasing.
Some buffet thoughts:
- We enjoyed the kung pao chicken — tender, packed with flavor and it looked great, too. Our second favorite was the pepper steak.
- A guest liked the sushi, which all tasted fresh and there was a nice variety of colorful rolls on the buffet, but he would have liked them to have been labeled so he could figure out what he was getting more easily.
- The lo mein tasted pretty good too, but the noodles were a little thicker than expected, and it wasn’t as hot as we would have preferred.
- We were disappointed with the hot and sour soup — not sour enough, almost strangely sweet. The wonton soup was much better, but we had to search a little to scoop up a wonton to go with the flavorful broth.
- The crab Rangoon wasn’t bad, but could have used more crab to go with the cream cheese.
- We didn’t see a lot of vegetables. There was a tray with whole green beans, and a chicken and broccoli entree, but otherwise mostly meats, seafood and starches.
Another oddity: The utensils given each diner don’t include a knife. It wasn’t necessary for most dishes, but would come in handy for things like the honey chicken and some of the beef and pork. Knives may have been available around the serving tables, but we didn’t see them, and the spoon worked well enough in a pinch.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable experience. Central Buffet was busy on both of our visits, and we suspect that trend will continue.