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April 2017

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NOT A GRAND BUFFET

Despite what some people may think, it does not give Femme de Joie pleasure to write negative things about restaurants. Well, perhaps that should come with a qualification: it does not bother her to write negative things about restaurants she feels are overrated and overpriced, and which have a dedicated fan base who will inexplicably continue their patronage. Femme de Joie's insignificant little opinion is not going to affect those places one way or another. It does bother her to knock a struggling restaurant, or one that is not part of a chain, or one which has been hit badly by the recession.

Which brings us to Grand Buffet. Mlle. de Joie has always been dubious about the wisdom of putting Asian food on a buffet. It's not meant to sit around under heat lamps or over a steam table, getting congealed and overcooked. With American dishes like mac and cheese or meatloaf, it doesn't matter a lot; it'll still taste pretty much the same after an hour. Not so with California roll, stir-fried bok choy, or orange chicken. They do not improve with age. After "enjoying" lunch some years ago at another Asian buffet in Redding which shall go nameless, Mlle. de Joie resolved to never set foot in another one again.

But Grand Buffet opened and good reports were heard in the land, and Mlle. de Joie paid a lunchtime visit. She was delighted to find it was actually quite good, with the best egg fu yung she'd ever eaten, a variety of dim sum, and some of the less popular dishes like salt and pepper squid available. All this, plus the price was very attractive.

You enter and are seated by a hostess, who takes your drink order and directs you to take a plate and serve yourself at the buffet. Take a new plate each time you go back. When the waitress sees you're winding up. you will be brought your bill with the requisite fortune cookies.
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(Pictures posted on Yelp by Brooke B.)

So for a year or so, Mlle. de Joie and Amico del Signore enjoyed an occasional dinner at Grand Buffet. The price was right, there was a great selection of Asian dishes, the food was well-prepared, and the restaurant was well-managed.

Recently our friends Matteo and Christiano said that not only did they think the quality of the food was not what it had been, but they also reported feeling definite ill effects afterwards and, in one instance, even before they had finished their meal. We trust them and their taste, but we did not want to believe that a favorite spot was sliding. Trouble in paradise.

On our last visit we saw a sign reading "UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT." This always worries Mlle. de Joie: did the old manager get a better offer elsewhere and move on to better things? Or did the accountant tell the owners, "Fire whatsisname and bring in someone who can save you money"? Time will tell, and so this week Mlle. de Joie opened her copy of Time. The news was not good.

The salad bar had been moved from near the entrance to a location further back, which seemed odd: don't you want the flow of diners to move smoothly from starter to dessert? Maybe not. Also, one side of the table was salad bar; the other side was desserts. The rest of the salads made been moved to another table, where one side had salads and the other side had desserts. Maybe we're missing something here, but this didn't make sense to us.

We've noticed an increased preponderance of non-Asian dishes and "filler" dishes - items that are cheap to prepare, hold fairly well on a steam table and, we suppose, appeal to people who don't like Asian food but nevertheless find themselves there. Marshmallow salad (a dish Mlle. de Joie has always found loathesome), "salt and pepper potatoes" (renaming them does not make them into an ancient dish favored by Hunanese royalty: they're still home fries), and assorted deep fried this'n'that are taking up room previously occupied by Kung Pao chicken and pot stickers. A formerly impressive selection of dim sum had all but disappeared, replaced by seafood newburg, roast beef, stuffed mushrooms, and blackberry cobbler.

We also noticed a decrease in the quality of the food. On our previous visit, Mlle. de Joie ate a baked oyster. It did not taste bad but she was aware all night she had eaten it. On this visit, A. del Signore ate an oyster and experienced similar deja vu. The greens on the salad bar were not particularly crisp - they had a decided softly wilted mouthfeel. The sauce on the orange chicken was devoid of any orange taste or any heat from chilis. And the Mongolian pork was oddly soft and had an un-pork-like texture.

Now then, there is no way to write this next part and not sound elitist, but here it is: we were bothered by the sheer hoards of unsupervised children who were dashing about shrieking, playing keep-away with each other, and generally ensuring the noise & chaos level stayed at an orange alert level. What really appalled us, though, was seeing one boy of about eight years stick his head considerably under the sneeze guard, idly play with the spoons in the condiments and dressings, lift the spoon full of chili garlic to his mouth and eat it, then stick the spoon back into the container. While Mlle. de Joie had a certain perverse admiration for someone who can suck up a whole spoonful of chili garlic and not dissolve into a sweaty weeping coughing fit, she and Amico del Signore yelled at the kid and chewed him out loudly, then spent some time trying to explain to a non-English-speaking employee what had happened so that they'd replace the container of sauce and the spoon.

This is not to say everything is bad at Grand Buffet. The fresh fruit selection is very good and kept attractive. The seaweed salad located in the sushi bar is unusual and delicious - in fact, the sushi & sashimi is fresh, if not especially innovative. Amico del Signore is very fond of the ribs, while Mlle. de Joie likes the anise-spiced roast duck.

Overall, Grand Buffet is not what it used to be. Clearly some cost-cutting measures have been taken that are affecting the overall "dining experience" (a tiresome phrase but occasionally useful nevertheless). It is hoped this is a temporary setback and that it will be back on its feet, but we can't see ourselves returning until we hear good reports again.

Grand Buffet, 2650 Hilltop Drive, Redding. 530-221-1111. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Vegetarian and vegan options. Credit and debit cards accepted. No checks. No alcohol. On-site parking. Coupons for discounts available in the back of the AT&T telephone book.

Comments

I too found it strange that the salad bar was on the same table as the desserts. In fact, I made a couple of laps around the bars trying to find a "salad only" grouping and finally came to the conclusion that they were organized this way on purpose.

I want to like GB a lot, but I don't know that I'll ever go back.

(Anonymous)

I agree with your review. This used to be my favorite restaurant, then they started changing a few things. Little things, but it was the stuff that made me love it. For instance. Their wonton soup was my favorite. Then they changed the wonton wrapper they used. It used to be thin and good, now thick and gummy. It alone was enough for me not to go back!! I hope they pick it back up again, I like liking that place!
In an age of Swine Flu and other communicable diseases I believe that it's best to avoid restaurant buffets. It seems that you know your food and that you are selective in where you dine out . . . so I don't think I need to say why it's best not to graze buffet style.

I like what you post.