San Gabriel Hilton Seafood Buffet
Haven't seen much comment here about the food at the San Gabriel Hilton except some passing negative comments about the banquet food (though nothing compared to the venom on the subject found on the Chinese wedding message board). With this in mind I wasn't sure what to expect at the San Gabriel Hilton weekend Asian seafood dinner buffet, but in the end I was favorably impressed. Perhaps the best point of reference is to compare this buffet to the Universal City Hilton's Asian Seafood buffet. In this regard the San Gabriel Hilton is much more sedate and less crowded--no waiting in line for items or worrying about items running out. The San Gabriel Hilton may have slightly fewer items, but with fewer Western items probably has more dishes for the Chinese palate. Perhaps the biggest advantage that the San Gabriel Hilton has is a number of more innovative items, such as rice noodles and clams in a scallop shell, deep fried sea bass roll, caesar salad with roast duck meat and tuna lettuce cup. Standouts included the prime rib (as good as we've ever eaten anywhere), mango pudding, abalone mushroom, and made to order fruit slushes (included in the hefty $39 price). If you load up on the abalone, fresh lobster, prime rib, rack of lamb, suckling pig and shark fin soup it's certainly worth the price of admission. The San Gabriel Hilton is at 225 W. Valley Blvd., and the seafood buffet is in the hotel restaurant on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.
(Sorry, this is really long. But the buffet was really huge. Heh.)
I just went to the Trinity tonight, as the SG Hilton's buffet restaurant is called. It is still $40 a person, pre-tax, pre-tip. They pull a bad little move with tax, but I'll get to that later.
At first I was bowled over by the sight of tables covered in beautiful food, everywhere. But then when I grabbed a plate and started picking out what to eat, I realized the selection was actually rather thin. I went around the room twice with a half-empty plate. Granted, I am not the fondest seafood eater, and there was plenty of that to go around many thousands of times over, it seemed.
Along with lobsters halved lengthwise that were fried on one of those diner-type flat metal grill surface thingies, and simultaneously doused with water, thus getting steamed under a giant metal shell-lid (like a giant upside-down wok they put over the pile of lobster-halves), they had shrimp, king crab legs, raw oysters galore, New Zealand mussles drowned in a mayo-type sauce topped with 6-8 balls of orange caviar, smoked salmon w/capers (that was a good one), 3 or 4 types of sashimi, and a variety of sushi rolls.
The oysters were not great, tasted very bland (but didn't taste toxic either, which is something in my book); the NZ mussels w/caviar were better. The sashimi was ick -- slushy with a hint of sourness -- but I knew beforehand only to try 2 pieces out of curiosity, since buffets can never afford to put high-quality sashimi out in truckloads like they did here.
For dim sum there were cha shao baos, which were really incredibly tasty, along with 3 or 4 other steamed items that I don't remember. Oh there was that daikon jelly block in soy sauce which was really good, too.
The lamb and prime rib looked nasty, like desert roadkill under the harsh sun. I didn't have either, but according to two co-diners, it was way over-cooked and impossible to chew, let alone cut with the butter knives provided.
There were no smoothies! I wanted one! The dessert table looked nice at first, but upon closer examination I found that it was mostly the same type of thing, only presented with different 'frosting' covers: tons of creamy mousse squares that were nevertheless very good, individually plated mini cheesecake slices -- not bad, a couple different types of whole, sliced cakes with fancy frosting, fresh tropical fruits/melons/berries, creme-brulee-esque custard cups -- very very tasty and caramelly -- and mango pudding cups.
I ate mostly dessert. I never eat dessert at home, so when I'm faced with pretty-looking sweets, I go nuts.
The savory dishes really, in the end, were incredibly tasteless. Nothing offensive (except maybe for the prime rib jerky), but it felt like huge quantities of stomach space-filler were displayed.
The waiters were really really nice and attentive. But the restaurant calculated tax based on the retail amount + gratuity for large parties. This doesn't amount to a huge amount, but can anyone confirm that this is technically not legal? This was pointed out to the manager and he fixed it without blinking, which led us to believe he/they knew all along what they were doing wasn't quite kosher.
I was going to start a new thread on Trinity, but Butter's review covers a lot of my own observations. Some things have continued to go downhill...
Service is still good, and the mostly young staff really hustles. Decor is what you'd expect out of any corporate hotel breakfast room/buffet room. Price is now $50, plus tax and mandatory 15% gratuity for large parties.
The selection is probably even more stripped down than before, with just a smattering of Western dishes, and not that many pan-Asian steam table dishes. The emphasis remains on cold seafood, and fresh cooked lobster.
The lobster is still being cooked in the same manner as above, on a large griddle/plancha. It would help if the chef knew what he was doing in this case, as everything at his station was being way overcooked. The lobster tails were cooked to the point of the meat pulling away from the shell in a contorted shrivel, and the abalone was served in the style of "little rubber discs in XO sauce."
Working from the back of the room where the mad chef and the lobster are located, the tempura was never replenished and remained empty during my visit. The salad bar was disappointing, with some "greens" and about six different dressings.
The crab legs were OK, but small and required a lot of effort to get some bang for the buck. The raw oysters were bland; the raw mussels were bordering on good but were sadly not topped with salmon roe (if it weren't for the nasty mayo sauce they might've been better). The sashimi bar looked pathetic (better fish can be easily obtained at your local Marukai) and the only "sushi", California rolls, appeared to have been delivered by Ralphs. On to the hot food...
The Asian side of the table contained some beef and Chinese broccoli (bland), stir-fried sweet and sour chicken wings (weak), soy "abalone" slices with gai lan (not good), and some other offerings I seem to have purged from my memory. The dim sum was a joke: some shriveled har gow, some jǔ ruò, a steamed egg custard, and so on. Egg rolls were hours old and tepid, fried shrimp was straight from the freezer. Definitely puts the worst dim sum joints in L.A. in a much better light.
"The lamb and prime rib looked nasty, like desert roadkill under the harsh sun." I can't top that one. Status quo. (Oh, and what's with the cheap bottom-of-the-line stamped cutlery? The silverware at Denny's must be better than this stuff!)
The remaining Western dishes are more in the style of the HK-diner food in M.P. "Roast Veal in a Cream Sauce" was more like little cubes of chewy beef in Knorr's Random Sauce. Fried fish looked like Gorton's. And so on and so on and so on.
That's pretty much it. The clientèle (mostly Chinese, and a lot of young adults who must think this is the pinnacle of fine dining) seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I was counting the minutes until we could leave this hell hole. I avoid buffets at all costs (had to go this time), and this place is no different than your worst nightmare HomeTown Buffet that happens to serve lobster.