Wow, this was one of the strangest dining experiences we have ever had, the $40 Saturday night buffet at Cafe Sierra, Universal Hilton.
The buffet is served in what appears to be a couple of old meeting rooms that are connected to each other. It's noisy, tables are very close together, and service is crazed /non-existent. Several people near us wanted to complain about one thing or another, and there seemed to be no manager, just a host who kept saying "I'll seat you in a minute". That was his answer no matter what the complaint. (ie "There are no plates anywhere, and people are slipping because the cocktail sauce is all over the floor!" "Okay! I'll seat you in a minute!" )
Half of the food served at this buffet is presented in the hotel lobby.(Yes, IN the lobby.) More offerings are situated in the middle of one of the dining rooms, and desserts and asian items are in the back of one of the rooms. (yup you read that correctly, there is a table with Peking duck right next to the cheesecake, or should I say....there is a table of cheesecakes that have peking duck drippings all over them!) Oh well, you get the picture. If this review seems a little disorganized...it's just to give you a better feel for the frenzy of this place. This restaurant is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime Especially students in "how not to run a restaurant" classes.
Okay, back to the lobby. There is someone serving sliced lamb, sliced prime rib, and the cafe's version of "lobster thermidor" which is just lobster with buttered breadcrumbs on top. the lobster tails are about the size of a jumbo shrimp, and some of them are smothered in bbq sauce so that you don't recognize the "off" taste of the overcooked, watery, ultra-soft lobster. Next we saw three big empty baskets surrounded by butter. I imagine they once contained bread or rolls, but from 7:30pm to 9pm they were not replenished even once. We sampled cold, waxy chinese dumplings, and some decent salmon. They had scary-looking sushi selections, and some jellyfish that looked like cold gelatinous meatloaf. These two items were sitting by themselves near the dining room entrance, next to "shepherds pie". Little kids seemed to enjoy touching the jellyfish with their fingers and watching it wiggle. Yukon Gold mashed potatoes were actually pretty decent. There were a number of salads that pretty much went untouched as the hords of hungry seafood lovers went for the shrimp and crab only. Desserts were mostly subpar Sara Lee type items as well as a "chocolate fountain" surrounded by bruised fresh fruit. The chocolate looked and tasted like that "magic shell" stuff , the hot chocolate hardened onto the warm fruit in about 2 seconds flat.
On the positive side, the large cocktail peel-ur-own shrimp were delicious, not overcooked, and abundant. Only once in 90 minutes did I see the tray empty and only for a few minutes. So if you think you can devour $40 worth of decent shrimp, this is the place for you to go hog wild.
The crab legs were hit or miss, some great, some watery and tasteless. It usually took them about 5 minutes to replenish the serving trays of crab, and they would bring out about 10-15 crab legs at a time. This for, maybe 200 guests? The clientele were mostly big groups of 6 to 10 celebrating birthdays, and there were lots of kids running around with ice-cream sandwiches ( one of the more stellar dessert selections).
The haphazardness of the whole set-up must be seen to be believed. Hotel guests and "others", especially sneaky teenagers, would walk through the lobby, grab a few shrimp and run to the elevators unnoticed. A few "thieves" that we saw looked like they grabbed a plate, filled it up, and then headed up to their hotel room, unnoticed by any staff at all. Some of the lounge guests seemed to think that the buffet was a happy hour spread and took platefuls back to the lounge with them, I'm not sure if the bartender later presented them with a bill or not. And the set-up is such that nothing can be refilled or replenished without all customers moving out of the way and allowing the server access to a table, there is no access from the other side of the tables. Many times we saw, for instance, 4 people in line for the shrimp with the fifth person in line being the server who was about to replenish the shrimp, waiting his turn.
Price is $40pp plus $12 valet parking (the 'free' self parking is apparently always full). Soft drinks are included!
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