Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Article that Started it all

It's a proven fact that 95 percent of this blogs readership happens by chance. Whether a reader is introduced by means of a google search, or a link from a fellow blog, chances are the reader has no idea, nor cares of how this blog came to be. In October of 2007, during a rainy day in a writing class I was taking at Camosun College, the seeds of the Victoria Buffet Blog were planted. By that point I had started to write for the school paper, and had just begun a journey into print media. The paper's editor, along with his sidekick intern-editor, had begun speaking to our writing class with the hopes of turning us all into full-fledged, student-newspaper writers and columnists. This particular rainy day the class formed into groups, and the editor asked each person in the class to come up with two story ideas that they would have to choose between. These were my two story ideas: the sad state of buffets in Victoria and Emo kids. Or was it cutters? Hipsters? The truth is I really don't know who I was targeting with that particular story idea, but the outcome was sure to be a mess. With that in mind, the decision was easy. The other students in my group told me I should take off with the buffet idea. Tentatively, it was going to be a 300 word column on the lack of decent buffet restaurants in Victoria. That all changed a week later when I went into the newspapers newsroom and started talking about the status of my column to the editor. It became apparent to him while I was explaining the status of my column that I had a great wealth of knowledge about buffets in Victoria. As I continued to explain, he cut me off. "Its set then. We'll do a feature on buffets."

Without further hesitation, I present to you the article that started it all...

A Buffet Love Affair
by Guy Alaimo

Published in February 2008
Nexus Newspaper

Photos by Angelo Alaimo


It's not easy being a buffet expert. Not only is sacrificing your physical health a must; it takes dedication and an undying love for the buffet. It started when I was 10. My introduction to Pizza Hut’s kids-eat-for-free deal turned out to be an all-out, lifelong love affair with buffet.
In comparison to other cities, Victoria fares poorly when it comes to buffets. For example, in Ontario there’s an award-winning all-you-can-eat buffet called The Mandarin offering Chinese cuisine and other items, such as Maui ribs and cold prawns.
In Victoria, you have to pay top dollar to get those kinds of quality items in an all-you-can-eat buffet. The Victoria buffet scene has gone through its share of ups and downs over the last 15 years. By far the biggest devastation for the local all-you-can-eat buffet community was the loss of Pizza Hut. Whether I was a 10-year-old boy with the lingering taste of dessert pizza in my mouth or a belligerent, hung over 16-year-old punk seeing if I could be the one who breaks the 30-slice record during a 45-minute lunch break, the Pizza Hut on Shelbourne was too amazing too be true. This was a buffet that could keep your senses sharp. It was a tool for tuning up the hunter/gatherer instincts. One must be quick and cunning to load up a plate with enough pizza to feed 15 people for a table of three. With 10-minute breaks between fresh pizzas, only the strongest and fastest could suckle upon the sweet breast of the Hut. It was $6.99 for all-you-can-eat pizza and all-you-can-eat dreams. Sadly, the Pizza Hut passed away in 2005 to make way for a Tim Horton’s. The late Wonder Wok restaurant, also on Shelbourne, offered a tasty little buffet for $5.99. In 2003 it sadly shut down, but re-opened for a brief stint in 2006. Eventually it was turned into a Starbucks. In memory of the Wonder Wok and Pizza Hut, two buffet gems taken away from Victoria way too early by major coffee/donut chains, I have spent the past two weeks venturing all over greater Victoria with one goal in mind—to find the best Chinese buffet in the city.




Winner:

Crystal Jade

(801 Vernon Street)

Crystal Jade is located in the old Uncle Willy’s building. It was a treat. Highlights included salt and pepper fried fish and squid, tender barbequed pork glistening with flavour, and textbook spring rolls that crunched with freshness every time you took a bite. There were different types of chow mein with Singapore and Shanghai-style noodles and staples like sweet and sour pork, ginger beef, and, um, scrambled eggs. Yes, scrambled eggs. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Further down the buffet line required some pickiness. I don’t eat vegetables unless they’re deep-fried. If it isn’t brown, give it a frown. But the mixed vegetables with tofu drizzled in black bean sauce looked and smelled incredible.

Near the top of the buffet line was an assortment of deep-fried items that all had fantastic consistency--prawns, chicken wings and balls, squid, all of which are lightly crunchy on the outside while warm and soft on the inside.

Once I was finished loading my plate, a self-serve fountain pop kiosk caught my eye. Around the corner from that was a soft-serve ice cream machine, of which many customers took advantage. Chocolate and caramel syrup were available for customization purposes. The service was fantastic and comparable to the service you would receive at a classy Sunday brunch buffet in a nice hotel. Tea was graciously served the second we sat down and the manager of the buffet was working hard and smiling at the same time. This was truly an experience, and I will be visiting this buffet many times before I die.

Price: $14.95 for dinner, $11.95 for lunch

Rating: 4.75/5


Editors note: Crystal Jade isn't good anymore. Read my new review to find out why.



First runner-up:

Purple Garden

(138-1551 Cedar Hill X Rd.)


A gem is resting behind a McDonalds in an underground parking lot. Its name—Purple Garden. Located only a few minutes from the Lansdowne campus, Purple Garden delivered quality food that was clean and fresh. When an item was old or the container empty, a fresh batch would be in its place fairly quickly. Other than dry chow mein, the items were excellent. The spring rolls were fried well, offering a nice, crunchy exterior and filled with cabbage and other assorted vegetables. Other items included ginger beef, mandarin-style fish, and green beans with barbequed pork. Or was it barbequed pork with green beans? This place does not cheap out on the meat. The beverages were on a self-serve system, similar to Crystal Jade, and there was a freezer with four kinds of ice cream to choose from. The customer service was polite and diligent. Used plates were quickly removed from the table and tea was offered. The general atmosphere was nice and the other customers seemed to be enjoying themselves while light classical music permeated the dining areas. Easily the best value in the city, Purple Garden is great place to go for lunch if you’re at school and want to get away from the boring food served at Chartwells.

Price: $12.95 for dinner, $8.95 for lunch.

Rating: 4.5/5



Second runner-up:

Szechuan City

(110 Burnside Rd. E.)


The Szechuan City experience has been a tumultuous ride. As a teenager, I frequently visited this restaurant with my friends and have many memories of the poor way that my friends and I were treated.This was back when Szechuan City was still a one-store pony across from Tillicum Mall.

I distinctly remember an incident when I was 17, and a waitress poured me a glass of water only half full. Before she walked away I asked her kindly if I could receive a full glass of water, since the plate of food I was about to devour was surely going to parch my taste buds. She politely agreed and poured the rest of the glass. Later on during our meal, a disgruntled waiter approached our table and made eye contact with me.

He then started pouring me a glass of water until the water started overflowing and spilling over the table, and onto the floor. Then he uttered words that will stick with me for the rest of my life. “Is that enough water for you, sir? You make so much mess!” But the food easily made up for the rudeness of the waiter. Now it’s a different story. The quality of the food has taken a dive and, as a result, the customer service has greatly improved. Again, the drinks were on a self-serve system, and ice cream was offered on tap. Nanaimo bars summed up the beauty of their dessert options and their main dishes were pretty good, but not as good as they used to be.

Some unique items they offered were teriyaki meatballs and cold prawns—the good kind you have to peel.

Price: $9.50 for lunch

Rating: 4/5




Third runner-up:

Raymond’s

(212-815 Cloverdale Ave.)


Raymond’s has been referred to as the best buffet in Victoria. Well, they’re not the best, but they have some nice qualities.

A large number of Chinese people were dining at the Cloverdale Raymond’s, which made me feel pretty good while I was sampling the items. I was also hung over, so the sight of all-you-can-eat dim sum was a nice surprise. The dim sum itself was okay, but the only item I enjoyed from it was the pork wrapped in a small sticky bun.

Classic items were readily available though--sweet and sour pork, ginger beef, fried rice, and chow mein, to list a few. The best items were the salt and pepper squid, which possessed a spicy bite, and the spring rolls were amazing. The staff generously poured water and the atmosphere was great. Drinks weren’t included in the cost, however. Excellent elevator music was in the background and this was firmly established by the muzak rendition of “I Want to Live in America” which was subtly playing as I drowned my sorrows in sweet and sour sauce.

Price: $12.75 for dinner, $9.75 for lunch

Rating: 3.75/5




Fourth runner-up:

Raymond’s

(4-100C Aldersmith Place)


Raymond’s near Admirals offers a unique style no other Chinese buffet in Victoria has—a Western buffet containing over 20 items with a salad bar. We knowingly ignored the salad bar and started piling up our plates with Western cuisine. Some of the standout items were stuffed mushrooms, garlic sautéed mushrooms, and maple BBQ side ribs. The BBQ ribs were delicious, but the majority of the food was lukewarm and old. We were shocked to see this common phenomenon happen at such an early time in the dinner rush. It would be better if they replaced the items in the Western buffet more often. Our second trip to the buffet led us to the Chinese items. We filled our plates with all the regulars, like fried rice, ginger beef, and sweet and sour pork. The spring rolls were crunchy and fresh, a sure sign of a passing grade. Many Chinese items were also not being replaced, despite their age. The kung pao chicken with diced vegetables was cooking in its own juice and developed a saucy film. The salt and pepper pork was cooked well and had a nice, spicy bite, but it was cold. The few items that got replaced included the garlic pepper deep-fried squid and the pork dumplings. Both were tasty and provided us eating enjoyment on our third and final plate. Raymond’s buffet has the potential to be the best buffet in the city, but for whatever reason they don’t replace the items as much as they should.

This isn’t a new problem. I’ve visited this buffet many times over the past five years and I’m always disappointed in the lack of fresh items. Buffet items should be replaced because of their age, regardless if they are consumed or not. If they provided fresh food throughout the duration of the buffet, Raymond’s on Admirals would be one of the front-running buffets in the city.

Price: $12.75 for dinner, $9.75 for lunch

Rating: 3/5




Avoid at all costs:

Wing’s

(90 Gorge Rd. W.)


WTF? I’ve never left a buffet hungry in my life.

There was no way I was going to continue dining on wonton soup that had an epidermis and almond chicken reminiscent of the days when I was curious about the taste of play-dough.

Three types of chow mein equaled three different possible patterns of vomit. Dry and soggy at the same time, I had to give them credit. It’s very difficult to make food that has polar traits like that. The fried rice was hard enough to chip teeth. The spring rolls were old. Correction. Everything was old. I was confused by how bad everything was. I was even more confused when I realized the place was full of people. The waitress who greeted me was more depressing than the cuisine. Also, drinks weren’t included with the cost of the buffet.

Price: $7.50 for dinner, $7.25 for lunch

Rating: 0/5

Kuku's buffet saga

So Kuku's says they will open their buffet within "the next few months". Fuck...
It's been no secret that another Indian food buffet in the GVA was an imminent possibility ever since we broke the news two months ago. Then we spoke about them again, and again. However the saga continues as Kuku's keeps on putting off the opening date of their buffet. In the meantime, keep your killer instincts intact by gorging at Maygold on the regular. When Kuku's opens, lets hit them hard with six plate performances.

Also, around the corner at Szechuan City, it looks like they're going through some serious renovations. Rumours of a dried up economy or a divorce shutting down the famous Victoria franchise seem untrue, so far. Keep the dream alive.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monday Magazine Article - Uncultured Foodies

Writer Jason Brown wrote up a cool article about food blogging in this weeks issue of Monday Magazine. It revolves around this blog and the burger blog. Check it out.

Edit: What a day for the blogs. Tom Hawthorn from the Globe and Mail just wrote a masterpiece on Donald and the Victoria Burger Blog. Check it ooouuuuuttt.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Blue Crab Bar & Grill Mothers Day Brunch Buffet, 146 Kingston Street, Victoria B.C - - (250) 480-1999 - - www.bluecrab.ca

Editors Note: This is Angelo Alaimo's first review with the buffet blog. You will get to read more of his reviews in the coming months!

Hello everyone, and welcome to my first contribution to the Victoria Buffet Blog. As you can see below, my brother has been actively documenting and critiquing various buffet offerings in Victoria and surrounding area. As he is away in Ontario, and I am surprisingly out here for the summer months, I offered my help in keeping the Blog active through September.

My first Victoria buffet trip took me to The Blue Crab Bar and Grill for their special Sunday brunch buffet. This buffet occurs only thrice per year and my sister and I decided to treat our mother for Mother’s Day. The buffet is also held for Easter and Christmas.


The restaurant itself is located on Victoria’s Inner Harbour inside the Coast Victoria Harbourside Hotel. The restaurant has an excellent view of passing ships and out-going/in-coming de-Havilland float planes.


The buffet offered a wide variety of pasta salads, typical breakfast dishes, fresh fruit (so fresh it deserves bold and underlining), breakfast pastries, an assortment of cheese, and an excellent dessert bar. Special dishes included freshly shucked oysters (shucked right at the bar), and roast beef. Although I can’t comment on every single dish, my personal highlights are as follows.

From the breakfast selection, the eggs benedict is phenomenal, and the bacon perfectly cooked. Also offered, were ready-made omelets, French toast, and chicken skewers. Even though the omelets were ready made, the kitchen staff prepared one fresh at our request for one in our company who is lactose-intolerant. The potatoes were, in my opinion, the only dish that did disappoint. I like to have my potatoes crispy (or at least somewhat crispy), not soft, and unfortunately, the blue crab potatoes were of the latter form.


I also enjoyed the variety of cheeses, coupled with slices of fresh French baguette. I find most restaurants only offer cheaper cheeses in their offerings such as cheddar or mozzarella. Not the Blue Crab, as they provided a wide assortment including, but not limited to, Brie, Blue and Havarti. Coupled with fresh thin slices of tasty French Baguette, one could easily fill up precious stomach real estate.


As mentioned above, the fruit was very fresh and very tasty. It was excellent for dessert along side chocolate mousse cake and a powdered sugar coated cookie. There were much, much more desserts offered, but at this point, I was too full to sample them all, let alone more than two.


Drinks were included in the price and included coffee, tea, fresh juice, and milk.

At $44.95 a head for adults, this is possibly the most expensive buffet that I will ever review. Although the food was excellent and the selection put true meaning to “something for everyone”, I did not feel it was worth this amount, and unfortunately takes a hit in the points for this reason. My mother did thoroughly enjoy the meal, and I was happy to pay for the special day; however, it’s the last time I let my sister make the reservation.

4.2/5

EDIT: I failed to mention the lack of signage at the buffet. I don't understand why, but there were absolutely no signs anywhere to show what each dish was. Even some of the cheapest buffets I have eaten at have had signs, even if they were just scraps of paper with engrish scrawled across. If the staff at the Blue Crab do read this, please put signs out for your future buffet specials!

The Market Buffet and Grill, 147 Mapleview Drive West, Barrie Ontario - - (705) 792-1888



As the city of Barrie grew, so did it's appetite for an American style buffet. The Market may not be what many buffet traditionalists envision when they think of an American buffet, but its about as close to the real thing that the city of Barrie will be getting anytime soon. I, of course, could be entirely wrong and an Old Country could break ground tomorrow somewhere in Barrie, but I'll just come back and edit this review so it looks like I never said anything.



How to Buffet. I love how those three words go together. It almost makes the act of gorging and being disgusting sound classy and exciting; maybe even inviting. If I had made that sign I would have added: Step 6. Throw up in the toilet and repeat steps 3-5. There are just too many items to sample before you get full.



Take the chicken for example. There was baked chicken, b.b.q chicken, fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken balls and chicken fingers. I would not be surprised if there was another ironic sounding type of chicken that I forgot to mention.



There was three different types of pasta: macaroni and cheese, bowties in rose sauce and fettuccine alfredo. Beef flank, shepherds pie, mashed potatoes and garlic bread was also presented next to each other on one of the buffet lines.



I was very excited to find a burger and taco making station. The burger making station had all sorts of fresh veggies and sauces to put on your pre-fab, sausage-like patty, as did the taco making station. There was even a soft shell option, which is almost unheard of when eating all-you-can-eat taco's (in my experience).



I did not sample the desserts, but from what I saw there was a typical assortment of sample-sized cakes as well as cookies and ice cream on tap with all the fixings. I still think this place is a bargain for $9.99, before you even get to the desserts. Overall I was happy, except with having to pay extra for a soft drink. Paying extra for soft drinks kind of takes the fun out of thinking your eating at a true American buffet; something the Market Buffet and Grill tries to be, but unfortunately is far from.

Price for Lunch: $9.99 plus tax

3.8/5

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Indian Food Market | 4011 Quadra Street, Suite 8 | 250•479•8884 | www.indianfoodmarket.ca


It's a bit of a misnomer to refer to what the Indian Market offers as "Buffet". The $7.99 lunch is not all-can-eat, nor is it serve yourself. The only thing that really qualifies it as buffet is the fact that the food is served from a buffet line. To be accurate; this is more of a lunch special than a buffet. The Indian Food Market calls it buffet though, so what the hell—here's a review.


Although this "buffet" doesn't allow you to serve yourself, it doesn't short-change you either. The meal comes with a generous portion of rice, two pieces of tandoori chicken, 3 pieces of naan, a second chicken dish (tikka?), and two vege sides (a green pepper and aloo dish and a masala I believe). Unfortunately the one item you don't get with this meal, the samosa, is the best thing the market makes.

In general the items served up at the Indian Food Market are no better or worse than those offered at other local Indian buffets. The food is pleasant, but lacks the subtle flavours and palate tickling textures of home-made indian cuisine. The sweet and savoury, slightly blackened tandoori chicken is a standout, but everything else is somewhat ordinary. Maybe my tastebuds are just spoiled because I recently enjoyed some excellent Indian cuisine in the Fraser Valley, but this meal from the market fell a tad short of my expectations.

The market offers a good cheap lunch, but not a great cheap lunch. I'll still probably go here before Sabri's and Maharaja though.

VERDICT: Grab half a dozen samosas and a Mirinda and you'll head home happier.

PRICE: $8.39 (including tax)

3.5/5

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pizza Hut Buffet: Human kinds last common link to good value

Pizza Hut Buffet: Human kinds last common link to good value

by: Guy Alaimo

Photo provided by Scorpions and Centaurs'


The year is 2235 and it’s been 200 years since a few Western powers decided to take on China in World War Three. Nuclear Warfare decimated the modern world, sparing only small pockets of people in Central Africa and several southern Pacific islands. Of course, a few elite survived the nuclear fallout, but very few people remember what was the great Pizza Hut Buffet Era of 1994-2035.




Go back to May 8th, 2009. A 24-year-old door to door salesman enters a Collingwood, Ontario Pizza Hut and eats 12 slices of pizza, 6 breadsticks and 3 helpings of macaroni and cheese. How much does he pay for his meal? : $8.48 CDN after taxes.


His effort is considered humble at best, as in his yesteryears he was capable of eating 24 pieces of pizza, 12 breadsticks and 5 helpings of macaroni and cheese. Still, he manages to get his money’s worth in a time where getting value for your money is less common than meeting someone who doesn’t dress like a homeless person to look cool.

It is for these reasons why the Pizza Hut Buffet must be preserved. Arguably the best tasting pizza in the world, Pizza Hut’s generosity at their all-you-can-eat buffet is one of the most beautiful gestures towards mankind since McDonalds sold cheeseburgers in Canada for 59 cents, before the ten per person limit.

Pizza Hut Buffet: At participating Pizza Huts everywhere.

Price: $7.99

When: Lunch from 11:30 am - 1:30 pm

What: Pizza of all sorts: Hawaiian, Pepperoni and Cheese, Meat lovers, Canadian, Mushroom and Bacon, Thin crust, Dessert Pizza, breadsticks, pasta salads, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, garden salad.

The closest Pizza Hut to Victoria, B.C that offers a buffet, is a 45 minute drive north in Duncan B.C.

Angelo Alaimo: the next generation

He is physically healthy, moderately intelligent and has most likely kissed a girl in the past few years; so what the hell is he doing writing for the Victoria Buffet Blog!!!??? He failed the mental health exam. So it's with jubilation and the hope for a better tomorrow that the buffet blog is proud to welcome Angelo Alaimo to its team of ragtag, roguish writers. This young man will be covering some of Victoria's buffet activity while I am away on business in Ontario for the foreseeable future. Angelo adds a more calculated and technical approach to writing, which can be seen on his website, angeloalaimo.com. The blog will also look forward to better looking photographs as Angelo brings years of photographic passion to the mix. Welcome Angelo!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Dragon Restaurant, 70 Essa Road (at corner of Burton Ave.), Barrie Ontario, (705) 728-2828


Sprawled on the outskirts of downtown Barrie, a stone-throw away from the mighty 400 expressway, lies a fairly busy Chinese restaurant that is tucked inside a concrete jungle of a parking lot. The aesthetics of the The Dragon's surrounding area is an echo of what goes on inside, as the food and service struggles to keep up with the busy demand that the high density neighborhood creates. I witnessed an example of this when I noticed many customers waiting well past their promised wait time for take out orders while one employee danced around the restaurant, trying her best to make sure everyone dining inside was getting their drinks, at the same time trying to coordinate take out orders. I got lost in the mix, and was unable to get a refill of diet Coke. This caused a serious problem as the food was absolute shit for the exception of one or two items. As you probably know, being unable to wash down bad food makes the experience of eating bad food even worse. However, something tells me the people who frequent The Dragon believe they are eating exotic foods from far-away lands, and probably make reservations to eat at this below-average neighborhood restaurant. From here I could start talking about what chemicals the city of Barrie uses to clean their water supply, but we'll leave that for another ignorant/humorous debate and just keep the good people who live on north Essa Road thinking they are dining in style.

On to the food, there were two items that I enjoyed: the barbecued pork, which was cut into sweet thick chunks, and the Cantonese noodles, which was drowning in oil and lacked any sort of cooked vegetable or meat.

Now here is where The Dragon gets interesting. They have deep fried pineapple chunks and deep fried imitation crab meat as items in their buffet. I haven't seen something that adventurous since the days of deep fried milk at Raymond's in Victoria, B.C. As you probably guessed, I took a bite of each item, and lay the rest on the discard plate. I like my pineapple cold and refreshing, not piping hot and blanketed in batter that completely rids the tropical fruit of its taste, let alone its supposed nutritional value. Now as for the imitation crab meat, they label it deep fried crab meat, but anybody who has eaten a California roll at Fujiya knows what they're really getting here. The typical person who eats at The Dragon probably doesn't know the difference. The egg rolls tasted like paper filled with dirty sprouts.

The dessert section is a bit of an upgrade from their hot entree bar simply because of their use of Chapman's Ice Cream. There are four types to choose from: vanilla, chocolate, chocolate mint and strawberry. I didn't try the other desserts like vanilla cake or mini-cookies, but I took one bite out of some sort of mini-cream puff and spit it out.

Price for Dinner: $13.45 including taxes and a soft drink

1.4/5