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ISSUE 121 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/28/2007

China Buffet bombs

By Mark Legler
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 28, 2007

Nestled in the QUADS district of Northfield, in the prestigious River Park Mall, sits China Buffet. China Buffet, or CB as the regulars probably call it, is a shining example of how Sino-American cuisine can bridge cultures.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of CB's business practice is not the fact that they leave their food out all day from 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. - that's right, shrimp cocktail under bright lights for ten and a half hours - but their inventive menu choices.

I was slightly confused as to what garlic bread, onion rings, mozzarella sticks and donuts were doing in China Buffet. Then I realized what should have been so obvious. This was the fabulous "fusion" style I had heard so much about. CB had boldly combined Chinese, American, and Italian food, all prepared in the style of Nursing Home.

China Buffet is unique in other ways as well. No instruction or service is given to the diners, which would be unnecessary judging by the physiques of China Buffet's patrons. These folks were pros. Without direction, man, woman and child alike trotted over to the buffet line to get seconds, thirds, and what the hell I could use a couple more of those hot wings.

We were however asked what we would like to drink. Be forewarned, in Chinese culture when you order a beer, as I did, you will receive what we call root beer. What a sweet surprise!

Looking around the establishment, I marveled at the inventive décor. A mix of ancient Chinese artifacts, model ships, and "Harvest" themed faux vegetation, it adhered nicely to the fusion philosophy.

The carpet was extremely dirty. After saddling up to the buffet, I noticed a hilarious touch. The food was all labeled with those "Hello, I am…" tags. I was tickled at this dash of anthropomorphism CB decided to add to the dining experience and spent the next ten minutes introducing myself to my meal.

CB keeps customers scrambling with their trough-style dining. Will there be more than three of those little mushrooms stuffed with acrid sour cream? How many refills of my hot and sour soup can I get before I reach the three-inch thick crusty bottom layer? (Not even one in my case). Can I have some chopsticks? (No, China Buffet obviously and correctly believes that chopsticks are stereotypical, and whites' use of them is patronizing and embarrassing).

Still not used to the "fusion" style, I found most of my dishes a little disappointing. The General Tso's Chicken was about ninety percent sauce, a less embarrassing way to replicate the rush of pouring a bottle of barbeque sauce down your throat. The egg rolls were all rotten cabbage.

The wontons were a flavor extravaganza, with cream cheese, and… okay it reminded me of when I would lick the cream cheese off my bagels in the first grade, except a little grosser. By the end of the meal, I was fully immersing every bite of food into a soup bowl-sized cup of sweet and syrupy red sauce, in a vain effort to distract my taste buds. I finished off my meal with a visit to the traditional Chinese soft-serve machine to indulge in more fusion with something they call Chocolate-Vanilla Twist.

After getting our check, we took part in a practice undoubtedly millennia old, what they call the cookie of fortune. These things can totally see into the future. Mine seriously said, "Keep negative comments to yourself."

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