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Dim Sum at City Lite Buffet -- REPORT (long)

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Dim Sum at City Lite Buffet -- REPORT (long)

Browniebaker | Mar 24, 2003 07:25 AM

DIM SUM AT CITY LITE BUFFET -- REPORT

City Lite Buffet
(9679 Lost Knife Road, Gaithersburg, MD, (301) 948-8866


I am amazed at how good this Chinese buffet restaurant is. As you may remember, a few weeks ago I requested recommendations of Chinese buffet restaurants in the D.C. area. I have been eating my way through your recommendations, and City Lite is a real stand-out. It is best restaurant of this kind I have ever seen. The cooking is expert and authentically Chinese in flavor and ingredients, and the ingredients are fresh and top-quality. It is an incredible deal, too, at $10.95 per person for everything including beverages.

I have been two Saturday mornings in a row, when there is dim sum on the buffet in addition to what is offered all of the time for lunch and for dinner: sushi bar with a sushi chef making both nigiri sushi and rolled sushi, a cook-to-order grill, a hot-pot bar, a large salad bar, and a total of four long steam tables including one devoted to desserts. They do an exceptional job of keeping the buffet replenished, with a manager overseeing the buffet and using a cell phone to communicate orders to a bay station in the kitchen whenever he sees an item running low (first time I have ever seen such an organized system!). They do an excellent job, too, of serving and keeping hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. And they really do offer about 150 items as I had read in a review. The dim sum selection changes from week to week.

Most impressive was that numerous dim sum dishes were as finely made and delicious as any I have had from dim sum carts in the best dim sum restaurants. Stand-outs include sticky rice steamed in lotus leaf (very tasty, well-seasoned, and chock-full of Chinese sweet sausage, roast duck, and dried shrimp); steamed shrimp dumplings (har gow; thin translucent skin, well-seasoned filling); deep-fried taro-root fritters with savory pork-and-shrimp filling (perfectly lacey, crisp, and greaseless, with just the right amount of well-seasoned, delicious filling); crisp-cookie-topped baked buns filled with pastry cream (bo lo mien bao; warm and delicious; crisp cookie crust covers the entire top of the bun, unlike buns I have had elsewhere, where they skimp on the crust); baked roast pork buns (char siu bao; sweet-savory roast-pork filling tastily seasoned with honey and onions); deep-fried glutinous rice dumplings with savory pork filling (hom sui gok; crisp and greaseless); deep-fried sesame balls filled with lotus-seed paste (light, crisp, and greaseless); pan-fried chive dumplings (delicious savory filling in a thin translucent rice dough); deep-fried frog legs (light tempura-like batter surrounding tender and moist meat); tripe (well-seasoned, although they could be cut in smaller pieces, in my opinion); peanut mochi (soft and chewy streamed glutinous-rice dough enveloping a filling of finely chopped peanuts and sugar); pan-fried turnip cakes (moist, with good flavor); red-bean-paste cakes (crispy and delicious); steamed black-bean buns (fluffy, cake-like dough); and steamed pork spareribs (tender; good flavor).

Also impressive were several offerings in non-dim-sum dishes (always on the buffet), many of which one does not usually see at Chinese buffet restaurants: raw oysters on the half-shell in a light black-bean sauce (something I have never seen on a Chinese buffet; extremely good); fried chicken wings (crackly-crisp crust surrounding moist and tender meat that is seasoned through to the bone); mussels in black-bean sauce (cooked just until tender, not over-cooked as often is the case on a buffet); Peking duck: (very crisp skin and moist meat); soy-sauce squab (tender and moist; hard to find at Chinese buffet restaurants); and stir-fried blue crabs (very fresh, perfectly cooked, well-seasoned). Of course, there were the Chinese-buffet standards such as broccoli beef, General Tso’s chicken, roast pork , and lo mein, and they were all expertly cooked and tasty.

The sushi bar offered the best sushi that I have had at a Chinese buffet restaurant. A sushi chef stands behind the bar and can make the sushi to order. Both nigiri and rolled sushi are offered, including eel, shrimp, tuna, and California roll. The sushi is not to the level that one would go to City Lite just for the sushi, but it is very good nonetheless.

There were a few negatives: siu mai in which the filling was too firm, like a ball of meat; and boiled crawfish that was overcooked.

There were some “American” offerings: pizza, salad bar, fresh and canned fruits, chocolate-topped cream puffs (my kids love these), frosted sponge cake, Jell-O, apple pie (good pie!), cherry pie, and soft-serve frozen yogurt with choice of toppings.

The ambience was another pleasant surprise, well above what you usually find in this kind of restaurant. The restaurant is located in a strip mall in Gaithersburg, behind Lakeforest Mall, and looks a bit uninspiring on the outside. But once you enter the doors into a granite-and-marble atrium, you see that the interior is very new, fresh, and clean. Go through another door, and you enter the walkway to the cash register, where you pay before entering the seat-yourself dining room. The dining room is similarly of granite and marble, in an art-deco style and very fresh and clean. In the center of the dining room, rising from a goldfish pond, is a twelve-feet-tall water fountain consisting of stones heaped into a mountain reminiscent of the fantastic mountains in Chinese classical paintings, with kitschy additions of water wheels, ceramic pagodas, human figurines, and climbing philodendrons. The sound of trickling water adds to the ambience of the room, as do the framed Chinese paintings and calligraphy on the walls.

These are just the highlights. Despite having been to City Lite Buffet twice already in two weeks (it has become a weekend habit, since I just can’t seem to stay away!), I have yet to try every item they offer. It’s a good thing the buffet is not very expensive. The weekend price for dim-sum lunch (11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and dinner (5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.) is just $10.95. At this low price, I justify my weekly indulgence as getting a good bargain! My next goal is to try City Lite Buffet for dinner, when there are barbecued ribs (!!!) on the buffet.

(While on the subject of Chinese buffets: stay away from the Bamboo Buffet restaurant in Twinbrook Shopping Center at Veirs Mill Road in Rockville, Maryland, unless you like your food left to turn cold and stay cold because there are not enough steam tables and heat lamps; four overhead television sets showing four different programs simultaneously and thus creating an annoying drone; a dingy, old dining room draped with depressing Christmas tree lights in March; and bland, chewy, horrible sushi. I ate there three weeks ago on a Saturday morning for dim sum and found that although several items were delicious (barbecued beef ribs, fried taro-root fritters, egg custard tarts, and fried sesame balls), the food generally suffered from being left out to get cold. If you must eat here, I would say, arrive at 11:00 a.m. sharp as the buffet opens and the foods are brought out hot.)

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