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Mar 19, 2007 06:01 PM

U Hilton Cafe Sierra Seafood BARFet

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'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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  1. Wow, sorry you had such a bad experience! I've been many times over the years and have never felt it was that horrible. It reminds me of a Vegas Buffet - just with more asian-type foods. Not worth the $40 IMHO, but when are expensive buffets ever worth their price?

    I've also always gone to Self-Parking. I wonder if there was a big wedding/event going on there at the same time and that's what took up all the self-parking?

    I'm going there in 2 weeks for a party and I really hope that it hasn't declined as much as you say!

    4 Replies
    1. re: maybelle

      Okay, went to Universal Hilton Buffet this past friday night like I said I was going to, and I have to say that I didn't think it was a BARF-et at all! I really enjoyed just about all the dishes that I ate. I've never been a big fan of their lobster, but I thought the prime rib was tasty and not rubbery at all, sushi was decent, cold seafood good and I even saw bits of Shark's Fin in the soup! I LOVED that they had ice cream bars, sandwiches, nibs etc for dessert and stuff myself silly there.

      The place was busy, but not packed like it normally is on a Saturday. The food was turned over enough that I didn't think anything looked like it was sitting out for a long time. So... hopefully, the OP just went on a bad night!

      1. re: maybelle

        This seems like a great place for me to take my family from the Valley, who are not Chowish, love to eat, seems like there is plenty for a variety of eaters...are there vegetarian choices? Ice cream bars grand for the young ones! Our or more outings a year do not require the finest of food, just a nice environment and a variety of choices. Do tell more about crab/lobster, please!
        We have done places like Maggiano's.

        1. re: Jesdamala

          They have a salad bar, and a few Asian-style veggie dishes like eggplant. They also have creamed corn, mashed potato. They have a sushi station, so you could order veggie hand rolls there. They also have a pasta station, and you could have the cook make the pasta with veggies only. However, I don't think it's worth the price if you are vegetarian.

          They have many styles of crab: king crab legs, Chinese-style crab with ginger and scallions (yum!). Their lobster thermodor is all you can eat. They also have raw oysters, mussels

          1. re: WHills

            Thank you! May not the the Chowist of places, but could suit this family!

    2. Wow, I've always had a good experience with the buffet too, but sometimes the food is "off" but never bad. Also, I've never had trouble with the self-parking in the 10+ times I have been there. Maybe there were banquets going on or something.

      2 Replies
      1. re: WHills

        when you've been in the past, was the food out in the lobby? Or was that just so that they could fit more tables in on a Saturday night?

        1. re: jackattack

          Yes, they expanded the buffet by adding stations in the lobby area. It's always been crammed because it is such a popular buffet.

          I've always enjoyed the shark fin's soup, crab with ginger/scallion, hand roll station, pasta station, and other seafoods. They have been "off" on occasions, but the food is generally very good. I consider it the best Asian style buffet in L.A.

          Maybe you went on an "off-night." I have found the food to be not so good on nights when they have many weddings and banquets because maybe the main chef is busy doing that instead. Given that you could not find self-parking, it may have been a wedding night.

      2. Never been, but your headline cracks me up.

        1. I think you are nuts. I have been to this buffet at least 20 times. I have never had any parking problem. They have the best prime rib I have ever tasted and I am a prime rib fan. The place is spotless, the room is very attractive. The piano player is wonderful. The shrimp are excellent, the lobster are small but you can have as many as you want. Were you expecting 10 pound main lobsters at a buffet? They have two different kinds of crab legs. These are either cut in half for you or drilled to make it easier to open. They also have several kinds of smoked samon (lox at 20 per pound) and several smoked broiled salmon. The sharkfin soup and the white clam chowder are excellent. They also have about 50 other items I did not list. The meal includes drinks (non alcholic). The help is friendly and prompt. The included coffee is excellent and if you could not find anything on the desert tables, at least 3 then you are truly jaded.
          enjoy mike.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mike young

            I must concur with bite bite's comment above -- I read this review because of your awesome headline. And I'm glad I did -- hilarious but very honest-sounding review. You must have gone on a really off day, as others have mentioned. I don't think you're nuts or making it up. Plus, I agree that the people who sneak free bites while passing through the buffet are really friggin horrible, to say the least.

            Now I almost wish you'd have more bad experiences, so you can provide additional entertaining reviews in the future.

          2. I just went back last weekend, and it was good, as always.

            Things I loved:
            Creamed corn
            Shark's fin soup
            Crab with ginger/scallion
            Prime rib
            Jellyfish salad (yes, it was delicious)

            Things that I would avoid:
            King crab's leg (too hard to eat)
            Escargot (too chewy)

            We arrived at around 6:30 p.m., and we had no problem with self-parking. I have never had problem finding self-parking at this place. Also, I'm not sure why you paid $12 for valet. You must not have had it validated, because with the validation, it would only be $4.

            Yes, it was a bit too crowded, but I guess I would rather have it be too crowded than empty with low turnover at a buffet. There were problems with the staff trying to refill the food with people in line, but the foods were never empty for long and were replenished throughout the evening. The wait staff was very helpful and nice.

            Why I think this buffet is an excellent deal.... You go to a nice hotel, the hilton, in a prime tourist spot. The $40 buffet includes free drinks ($2 per pop of soda or iced tea at a restaurant, and $2 per pop for after dinner coffee) + half lobster/prime rib dinner ($30 at average restaurant) + shrimp cocktail ($10) + caesar salad ($5) + seafood pasta dish ($15) + dessert ($5). You get the picture.... It would cost much more than $40 if you went to any of the restaurants in Universal Citywalk and ordered everything individually.

            1 Reply
            1. re: WHills

              Were the bread baskets empty all night again? I guess they want you to fill up on expensive lobster instead of cheap bread and rolls...interesting new restaurant concept. How was the cheesecake with Peking duck topping, by the way? Hope you were careful with that fountain full of chocolate magic shell , if you drip any on your arm it hardens instantly and must be surgically removed.