He was a wise man who said:
Choose from two, but only two below, for nothing exists that exhibits all three properties.
It was with this nugget of wisdom that I cautiously approached Asia Buffet at a revitalized Buena Park Downtown. Nevermind that I've been burned by the likes of it before; Eateries seemingly named eponymously from the same phylum of restaurant. Replace "Asia" with the word "Grand", ""Dragon", "Phoenix", "China", or "Jade", and there's no doubt that you've seen one yourself.
No matter what it is called, there's a fatalistic certainty to it all. To walk into such a place is to expect gloppy, cornstarched-laden sauces, greasy fried rice, stock egg rolls, and enough MSG to send a giant into convulsions.
But I relented. Not only have I heard great things about the place, I was also being treated. So I ignored that other, well-known adage: "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
Sure there is.
And really, buffets are prime examples. There's a flat fee you pay before you enter ($13.98 for the "Sunday All Day Dinner", though prices are lower at other periods), but when you manage to consume your weight in shrimp and crab, it might as well be free. Of course, that's the whole point isn't it? The I'm-Going-To-Get-My-Money's-Worth mentality is what drives people to come.
And from what I observed at Asia Buffet, that's exactly the motive. I saw a guy -- who otherwise looked to be a sane man of reason -- grab bushels upon bushels of steamed crab legs from the trough. When he was done, his plate held a haul that reached from his belt to his neck. He had cleared out the inventory in a single swipe. And he did it without shame, without remorse.
Dutifully, someone came out from the kitchen to restock it. But within minutes, another man repeated the crime.
It was at that point that I wondered: What masochistic business person would open a buffet like this? It's a losing proposition to bet against human greed and gluttony.
As I saw Asia Buffet's profit margins dwindle, I became even more amazed at the variety of food they managed to offer. It was the kind of cuisine that blew away my "Panda Express" expectations and evaporated my prejudices.
There were deep fried frog legs with spicy salt, steamed crawfish, fried whole crab, crab meat with mayo baked in their shells, and sea snails. All of which were capably cooked and some, like the frog legs, quite tasty.
But that's not to say that there weren't items to please Joe-Buffet-Eater. There were mountains of peel-and-eat shrimp, dumped on a bed of ice. Next to it, a bucket of cocktail sauce. There was a whole section of fried things to keep cardiologists gainfully employed.
Wontons. Breaded shrimp. Battered shrimp. Chicken wings. Whole fried pieces of flounder. Sesame balls, oh my! That sound you hear? It's your arteries crying for mercy.
In round metal pots, three different kinds of soup simmered. One had floating fish balls bobbing in a clear chicken broth. It seemed to buzz with the yummy, lip-smackin' flavor of MSG.
Under a set of heat lamps, steamed fish fillets sat furtively, doused with oil, soy sauce, and scallions. Although it's far too pasty to be palatable, the thought was there.
And heaven forbid; there was sashimi, spicy tuna rolls, and unagi nigiri. But don't kid yourself into thinking that it's anywhere near sushi-joint quality. At buffets like this, sushi and sashimi aren't delicacies; they are commodities.
Asia Buffet's sashimi looked to be yellowtail and tuna, cut into chunks and piled in mounds. Some pieces are actually still frozen in the middle. But the lot is there for one purpose, and one purpose only: To serve as a challenge for the fearless soul who dares to eat raw fish from a buffet line.
I did. And I'm still alive. Although I didn't gorge on them as much as I did other items. I ate a half-dozen of the stuffed mushrooms, which oozed with a creamy filling of mayo, breadcrumbs and more crab. I pried out meat from my share of snow crab legs, and shucked a few of those iced shrimp. I went for seconds on the stuffed crab shells and even had room to pipe out a dessert of ice milk topped with a strawberry.
I enjoyed myself. And yes, I have to admit: Asia Buffet is a "Good Chinese Buffet"**.
8360 La Palma Ave
Buena Park, CA 90620
**Note: I've only tried the buffet during the premiumly priced periods. Your mileage (and food selection) will vary if you try them during their discounted price periods.