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November 16, 2010

Alice Eats: Grand Buffet

66 Pearl Street, Essex Junction 802-879-9669

It's no secret that we live in a culture of irony. Everyone knows that entertainment has become little more than a wink and a nudge these days. Just turn on the Cartoon Network. Fewer pundits have addressed irony in food.

Hotdogchicken Oh, it's there. Thousands of websites are devoted to it. Cake Wrecks blogs embarrassing birthday and bachelorette pastries every day. This Is Why You're Fat tweets peeks at excessive culinary creations several times a day.

 This outlook is helpful with a job like mine. It's better to be amused than angry at quirky service or food that is just plain weird. My visit to Grand Buffet last night was a powerful exercise in ironic eating. World, let me introduce you to "hot dog fried chicken" (right).

I've seen all sorts of chicken roulades, but this creation is new. I also never expected to find it at a Chinese buffet. But with three room-spanning buffet tables filled with more than 80 dishes, Grand Buffet offers plenty of surprises. None, of course, can compare with the bizarre splendor of slightly rubbery chicken thighs stuffed with a bisected frankfurter, then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

Buffet I arrived at Grand Buffet and was immediately led to my table by one of the half dozen or so young ladies dressed in bright red qipao-style tops. She instructed me to head right up to the buffet. I started the meal with soup. Wonton, hot and sour and egg drop were all available for the ladling. I chose wonton, which had a few whole sticks of celery floating therein. Wontons were in a steamer next to the soups. They looked dry and were laid across a layer of lettuce that I imagine left this mortal coil early last week. The dumpling skin woke up once in the broth, which had a canned, though not unpleasant, taste, aided by the fresh celery.

The layout of dishes was not always particularly intuitive. Beautifully vivid crawfish with chilis sat across Chx from kiwis and homemade cheesecake (above right). Most chicken dishes were together, though, and I tried most of them at once (right). I had my concerns about the dry-looking skewer of chicken teriyaki, but was pleasantly surprised. It was lightly sweet, with a taste of rice wine, and moist on the inside. Flaming red Hong Kong chicken was also surprisingly subtle compared to the puckeringly saccharine versions I've had elsewhere. Honey chicken, however, fit its name and was almost inedibly sweet. Strangely, my favorite chicken dish was a simple wing. The meaty drumette had been lightly marinated and coated in cornstarch. It burst with moisture, and stayed admirably crispy while waiting for me on the steam table.

Chinese classics are not a strong suit at Grand Buffet. Vegetable lo mein tasted wholly neutral. Pork fried rice wasn't much better. The meat therein was greasy and tasted of the same.

I found the back table at Grand Buffet particularly curious in its global reach. I knew I risked having my head in the toilet the next day, but I tried a tuna finger roll and a spicy take on a California roll. On the outside, the fish was slightly dry and rubbery, but inside, it tasted just fine, if a tad mushy. Nothing to write home about, but compared to the pallid lettuce and tomatoes on the salad bar, this was the better light option.

Next to the sushi was an "American" section. I was slightly unnerved by the massive beef roast sitting with a carving knife in a pool of grease  and labeled "Steak." The center, however, was nicely pink and tender Dessert to slice. It had a mysterious taste of green peppers, but was otherwise better than I had feared. The green-pepper thing was a pervading theme at Grand Buffet. Salt-and-pepper chicken had the same flavor. So did the too-dry grilled chicken. It took me only one bite of the cheese-topped creamed spinach to know "American" is not the restaurant's forte.

 Dessert, on the other hand (right), was interesting. Next to the crawfish, I found longans and loquats along with the canned peaches and fresh grapes so large that I initially thought they were plums. Banana slices in what looked like strawberry sauce somehow tasted like artificial banana, but I liked them. The red, chunky sauce was also perfect for dipping the fluffy, sugar-covered, fried "biscuit" that I found between a couple of seafood dishes.

I was excited to see almond cookies very much like the ones I found in Chinese groceries as a kid. They were chewy instead of the crumbly texture I remembered, but I was happy to find them nonetheless. It was also fun to try the "homemade rice cakes." The day-glo pink and white slices of gelatinous dessert tasted of almond and were unlike anything I've ever found in Vermont.

There was a dignity to the desserts at Grand Buffet that the rest of the meal lacked. I think the owners might be smart to add more authentic Chinese dishes, so diners could discover unique treats throughout the meal and  not just at the end. Until then, I'll still likely return — for irony's sake.


This is all going too far. Grand Buffet? Is this woman a real food critic? This is the lowest of the low. "It had a mysterious taste of green peppers, but was otherwise better than I had feared." Disgusting. Is this woman the new top of the 7days food chain now that Suzanne has left? Please, say it ain't so.

"Bigtime," Alice writes a regular weekly blog post on Tuesdays in which she tries food at places where two people can eat a meal for $35 or less. Grand Buffet fits the bill. You don't think we should write about these restaurants? Not everyone can afford to eat at The Green Room and Michael's on the Hill every night.

And Alice is a valued member of our food team, but we're also hiring another food writer. That person will be revealed shortly. Stay tuned...

-- Cathy Resmer, web editor

Cathy, do you think mentioning Michael's and Green Room as you did is beneficial to their business? How clueless are you? Tough to see the forest through the trees? Alice's column is a disgrace to food writers and to journalism. I can't believe this writing makes
past the editors, but since you're probably her editor it makes sense. I find it sad that you and Alice find any redeeming qualities in the 'grand buffet' food.

I really appreciated Alice's comments, It was exactly what I was looking for - information on Grand Buffet's food - I haven't been, and will now go armed with suggestions of foods to try -of course I will form my own opinion, but I like others experiences to enlighten me. Thanks again.

I never cease to be amazed at the vast quantities of haters who rag on these more 'downscale' food reviews. Countless times it is explained that Alice's posts here are for cheaper eating options. That does not seem to deter folks from flaming every single review that pops up here.

She seemed pretty kind to the restaurant, which appears to be little more than your typical chinese buffet offerings. But all in all, this is a worthwhile post that real people could use to figure out whether they should eat here or not (probably not).

Cathy - would it be possible to include some sort of subtitle in these postings that explains that Alice is reviewing affordable, $35-and-under restaurants? I don't think it will stop people from criticizing, but it might if the casual reader understands where the reviewer is coming from.

Excellent idea, BB! Alice, Tyler (deputy web editor) and I talked about that today. Look for it to appear on next Tuesday's post.

It's a buffet. Get a grip. It's made in mass quantity to feed the hungry on the budget. The chef's aren't looking to win 4 michelin stars. I went to the grand buffet and thought it was pretty good for a buffet. They have many food items to select from. The service is good. Dishes were taken away fast, what else can you ask for at a buffet restaurant? You want them to cook you a platter while you watch? kiss you toes while they refill your pepsi?

I've been to the Grand Buffet twice now, I can safely say it's the best Chinese buffet I've been to in VT. With so many dishes, if you cant find a few you like, you have problems.

It's generally pretty busy there so the food turnover is nice and service is good. Kids under 2? eat for free too. Oddly enough it's some of the most food my 1.5 year old has eaten at a meal.

If you want higher end Chinese [and don't mind paying for it] try Single Pebble or Silver Palace. If you want an inexpensive meal for the family with a ton of choices, check out Grand Buffet.

I found the food to be the typical low quality usually found on a Chinese buffet and nothing really special. The most disturbing part of our visit here was an employee sleeping on the floor behind the "sushi" bar. These places are notorious for horrible labor practices and I wouldn't be suprised if this woman was working to the point of exhaustion.

Hi there, this is the first time I've read this blog. And no matter what forum or blog you go to there are going to be those people who have nothing better to do in their lives than be low class jerks to the writer or others commenting.
I was interested in going to the Grand Buffet, and was looking for a review - this is the first I clicked on, and I enjoyed reading it. I am one of those people who will go check out a restaurant if someone says they love it, just to see if I do too - and I also go if someone absolutely hates it - because I just have to see if it's really that bad...
Curiosity killed the cat??
Well, not today- but perhaps eventually!

I just went to this buffet today and I felt like it was a different restaurant than the reviewer went to. Although the review wasn't bad... it seemed this place was a little less than so/so. The food today was of very good quality and I felt that the buffet was way above the other place (in So Burlington). Although it wasn't perfect they have a great price for such a good selection of foods and I didn't eat anything that I thought tasted bad... which is unusual for me at a Chinese buffet. Actually, I thought every I ate today was quite good. I especially enjoyed the green beans, pork spare ribs, and several other items I couldn't begin to name. I highly recommend it and plan to eat there any time I want Chinese or a buffet meal!

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