A fledgling Asian restaurant "Specializing in Chinese, Japanese, American and Thai Food"--this promotion itself should serve as an ominous warning--has opened in the Cedar Creek Mall just south of Wausau, Wisconsin. The name: Neng Lo's Buffet.
Let me make clear from the start that I abhor "buffets" in general and Asian "buffets" especially. The food sits out on steam tables for gosh-knows-how-long, and any goodness and freshness expected from a stir-fry dish soon evaportates. However, for some reason, these places have become ubiquitous in the Wausau area--supported in part, no doubt, by the thrifty habits and ample waistlines of many here who favor the "all you care to eat and no need to leave a tip" approach. I try to resist going to these places, but they are generally the only game in town.
Let me also make clear that I am accustomed, unfortunately, to "dumbed down" Asian food in this geographical area--forget about green onions, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, citrus leaves, and gosh forbid any hint of hot chile--just make the stuff taste like Maw's chicken or burgers and we won't take offense. (At best, some of these places may use some kind of store-bought sauces.) If I happen to go to a place like this--again, often the only option available--I defend as best as I can by looking around for some seasonings or at least a little hot oil that may be safely hidden away in some corner. Sometimes even the dumplings--no doubt manufactured and frozen in a factory outside Chicago or San Francisco--can be at least partially redeemed by liberal application of seasoning.
Hope or stupidity springs eternal, and I was thus drawn to the newly-opened Neng Lo's Buffet. I thought that nothing much in this area could be worse that what I'd already endured, but how wrong I was! This was truely beyond terrible, absolutely the WORST I have ever experienced in my life: Dumplings left out so long that the skins were tough and leathery; "hot & sour soup" with so few items floating in it that I was not even tempted to try it; spring rolls with nothing but cabbage and, perhaps, a little carrot in them--no seasoning inside except maybe some salt or soy sauce; "Ma Po Tofu" without any discernable spice, garlic, onion, or heat--just a partially congealed and luke-warm slurry of bean curd, ground pork, and corn-starch laden gravy.
I sampled not even a full platter of buffet items, did not finish them, and complained bitterly to the hostess, who contacted the "manager," some kid of about 20. The two were apologetic, but had no compunction whatsoever about billing and accepting $16 and change for the abominable slop that they'd served.
The only satisfaction that I derived from this experience was in turning two other prospective customers away at the front door--in full view of the manager and hostess--by advising them of what lurked inside.
With any luck, this place will quickly fold and cease to be a menace to the unwary. A friend at work told me that she too had tried the place and found the food to be horribly prepared and cared for--and this at high noon, when business was at peak.
Anyway, thus ends my account.