After much anticipation, the University Buffet opened this past week, and, well, it was good, but nothing fabulous. Pay when you walk in for the buffet (they also have a regular menu) and you'll be seated in one of the two dining rooms that flank the buffet, asked what beverage you would like, then go for it!
They had a very large assortment of Chinese foods: Mongolian beef, General Tso's chicken, several different chicken and beef stir fries, fried shrimp, chilled shrimp, mock crab, clams, whole steamed salmon, a variety of noodles, steamed dumplings, stuffed tofu skin, and stir-fried veggies.
The sushi area has someone making it fresh all day, with about 10 varieties of the usual rolls: tuna, California, vegetarian, etc. Passable; nothing too special there.
Then there is the "fried" station with egg rolls, wontons, battered and deep-fried chicken, regular fried chicken, etc, and even french fries.
The salad bar had the usual offerings, and a large selection of fresh fruit; papaya, orange, pineapple, etc, and I have to say it looked really delicious.
There were 3 types of soup: egg flower, hot and sour, and fish ball.
Desserts are reserved to fairly pedestrian cakes and bars, and ice cream.
I had a small piece of quite a few items; the pros and cons:
Good - Gen. Tso's chicken - crispy coating with large pieces of chicken (not the kind that is mostly batter), deep-fried medium-sized head -on shrimp had a light, nicely flavored sauce, clams where steamed and tender, a really nice stir-fried bok choy; simple yet appealing, and a Hunan fried spring role that had a great vegetarian stuffing and a light, crispy, and not greasy, wrapper. Almost forgot, there was a really tasty tofu skin with a black mushroom filling.
Not so exciting - Sushi. really boring, and especially beware of the battered and deep-fried roll that was unidentifiable. The cold steam shrimp were hit and miss; some were firm and tasty, and yet others were mushy and off-flavored. The was a really strange faux crab dish with an odd cream sauce, pedestrian chicken wings, and the hot and sour soup was hot, but not sour.
The manager explained that their is a larger selection of seafood in the evenings and on Sundays all day, and that about 80% of the offerings remain the same, with several new ones added each day to keep it interesting.
Service was very quick and friendly, and all food was refilled promptly so you never saw a lot of empty steamer bins. The place is very busy at lunch, but you can get in and out of their pretty quickly if time is a constraint.
I'd suggest really taking your time to look over everything as their were some items in covered steamers that were not marked, that turned out to be nicely steamed buns, and there were some additional sauces (hot chili, etc.) that were a bit hidden in the corner to the left of the sushi counter.
I have to admit I was disappointed that they didn't have any Vietnamese dishes, but for the money and the preparation, I will certainly go back, but might not go out of my way...
225 University Avenue W, St Paul, MN 55103