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A delicious buffet -- oxymoron or possible?

Is it possible to have a great buffet? I'd like to believe it is, but ... you know ... mass prepared food sitting in warming trays for long periods of time, etc. Seems like it is pretty much be impossible to provide quality food in buffet conditions.

Anyone ever been to an awesome buffet?

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  1. If you mean out at a restaurant in the States, I have never found a buffet a really enjoy. In Italy, we did go to restaurants that offered a large antipasti of room temperature dishes all laid out on a long table and that I really enjoyed. But hot food sitting in warming trays, no thanks.

    4 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      That's a tradition in southern Italy especially I think—at least I saw it there far more often. And yes, it was often incredible—hard to move on to a plated course afterward, in fact. (But I managed.)

      Best eggplant dish I ever had was at a restaurant in Lecce with such a set-up.

      1. re: escondido123

        Oh yeah, sounds like a Tuscan table. The late Le Madri in NYC had a nice one. Love that sort of food -- olives, meats, cheeses, bread. No sterno in sight.

        1. re: Bob W

          Although I love the one you're describing, the ones in Italy were vegetables and seafood with little meat if at all. The ingredients tended to be cheap, but the execution was brilliant. Meat and cheese were something you ordered at your table, I think because of the cost.

          1. re: escondido123

            Yes, entirely veggies, the ones I'm thinking of in Puglia and Sicilia anyway.

      2. Okay, it doesn't necessarily need to be a hot buffet. Could be cold, room temp, hot, or a combo of any of those conditions.

        Escondido: Mmmmm, Italy! My dream foodie vacation.

        1. The Wicked Spoon Buffet at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas is outstanding on every level.

          So, no, it is not an oxymoron.

          1. Sure you can have great buffet. Some small towns have them with smaller containers and a quick turnover and are packed. I've eaten at some that all the veggies were from the garden, everything was made from scratch and had really good fried chicken. We have some pretty good Indian buffets where we live, one in particular has Indian, Korean and Nepalese. I once went to a BBQ buffet that was good. It can be done.

            1. It's entirely possible. There's nothing wrong with keeping food warm for a while, so long as it's the right kind of food. Cassoulet, braised short ribs, soups, and stewed dishes from coq au van to doro wat to rogan josh to feijoada hold up very well. Eggs Benedict or stir-fried dishes? Not so much.

              Then there are the room-temp and cold options. The antipasti mentioned above are a good example of the former; for the latter, the Sunday brunch buffet at the Mark Hopkins has a big bed of crushed ice with oysters on the half shell, crab claws, and several varieties of caviar with all the fixings. Hard to complain about that.

              But the simple fact of the matter is that you have to charge people a lot of money if you're going to let them eat their fill of expensive food. Very few buffet customers are going to pay that premium; they're more interested in quantity than quality. So most buffets provide unlimited amounts of mediocre food for a bargain price. Not exactly my cup of tea, but when you have to feed a team of ravenous teenagers it can be just the thing.

              1 Reply
              1. Have had some terrific smorgasbords.

                10 Replies
                1. re: DPGood

                  Yes! Buffet done well. A smorgåsbord doesn't try to be everything to everyone (i.e., cheeseburgers,pizza, crab legs, a full contingent of stir-frys, sushi, AND a soft-serve bar?), but rather showcases good foods that go well together and hold well in a self-serve dining situation. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the all-over-the-map buffets, despite seeing the wisdom in the appealing to a broad spectrum of palates, business-wise. That's just me. I like more - what should I say? targeted? flavorwise? - buffets. And the smorgåsbord, well done, accomplishes that.

                  (I wish, being a Scandinavian, and living in Minnesota, that I could find a good smorgåsbord! You'd think we'd have more of that particular food culture, but we don't, oddly. Or at least I haven't really found it. Where, if I may ask, are you finding good smorgåsbords?)


                  1. re: cayjohan

                    You raise an interesting point. Chicago, with a strong Swedish heritage, used to have a lot of Scandinavian restaurants that served smorgasbord. Two of the best were Bit Of Sweden (Swedish) and Kungsholm (Danish). Now, I can't think of a single one.

                    1. re: Querencia

                      I haven't been to a single one in 25 years in the Twin Cities. Maybe I missed something, but the Scandinavian traditional board just doesn't seem to have stuck here. It's a pity - I think someone's missing out on a good business opportunity. I'm largely disinterested in other run-of-the-mill buffets, but I'd lay down cash for a good traditional smorgåsbord. I won't hold my breath around here, though - we've got a neighborhood place called the Finnish Bistro that serves - what? calzones and gyros, of course. <sigh>

                      1. re: cayjohan

                        Scandinavian food used to be a bigger thing everywhere years ago. Nothing of the (Kungsholm, Danish Food Centre, eyc) sort in NYC or environs as far as I know. No smorrebrod either!!! A crying shame.

                    2. re: DPGood

                      There was a Scandinavian one near our home in Southern California at least 40 years ago.Though I'm sure it wasn't authentic, it did have interesting foods which I did not appreciate but my parents did.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        Did you live in the Valley? I remember going to that place.

                        1. re: susans

                          No, it was out in San Bernardino/Riverside, I think Upland.

                          1. re: escondido123

                            Griswald's in Claremont? I have fond memories of it back in the late 60's or early 70's

                            1. re: jjw

                              Thank you, neither my sister nor I could think of the name...that was the place!

                    3. Barbecue and fixins' - nice smoked barbecued ribs, brisket, mustard-laced vinegary potato salad, barbecue beans, mac & cheese and corn bread. Strawberry pie or banana cream pie? Why not both. :)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Ribs as barbeque? i shall now swoon. But all the rest, I'm in. Except it's nana puddin'.

                      2. Various Chinese hotpot places or Korean grills may have buffet options. Take as much raw stuff as you want, cook at table.

                        1. Well, common American lowest-common-denominator food often suffers in buffets, though most people crave dependable mediocrity rather than excellence. This is also true of favorite Chinese and Indian buffet foods in the US too.

                          A really good buffet involves food that can be prepped quickly in smaller batches and replaced as needed. A really good buffet therefore involves considerable risk of waste and therefore costs more, all things considered.... But Americans want to have their cake and eat it too so dependable but not too expensive mediocrity rules.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Karl S

                            "A really good buffet involves food that can be prepped quickly in smaller batches and replaced as needed"

                            Or food that lends itself to long cooking -- stews, casseroles, etc. -- which is what the good buffets around these parts serve. Certain Indian dishes, BBQ, and soul food all do well on the steam table.

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              Lots of Lauras on this site. I live in Cabo and the name is far more common in Mexico than in the states. I think maybe there's a correlation of the name with good palates. People say you like the food you grow up with, but I never did. My mom cooked with lots of canned food, and I never liked it. I still have the most vivid memory of the first time (age 10) I ate genuine butter and how wonderful it was compared to the margarine we had at home.

                              I was adopted at birth, and assume my palate is hereditary.

                              I agree with you, Laura, about the buffets. My first reaction was braised food, which I've only recently started cooking as a way to save dinero. Short ribs are about $3.40 a pound. I love being able to keep reheating and eating. Got a great recipe off Rick Bayless' site that uses two cups of Bohemia beer (just don't add the1.5 teaspoons of salt he says - add it after you're done to taste with the reduction process).

                          2. Don't know how it is now, but back in the day, the San Jose, CA, country club did a spectacular buffet: nothing too fancy, but top-quality ingredients, impeccably prepared.

                            Also, if you're near a Fago de Chao, their "salad bar" is an impressive buffet. Skip the meat, and just dine on excellent veggie dishes and very good smoked salmon.

                            1. Absolutely. Luxury hotels with good kitchens often have spectacular Sunday brunch buffets. But as alanbarnes notes, they ain't cheap.

                              And the so-called salad bars, though they usually go far beyond salads, at good churrascarias are often pretty sumptuous too.

                              1. On the other hand, buffet for a party at home is wonderful because you can put on a fancy show but with a lot of stuff you've done ahead of time. My go-to for summer dinner parties is Middle Eastern/Balkan---first a cold table of hummos, baba ganooj, fatoosh, stuffed vine leaves, tabbouleh, cucumbers in yogurt, Kalamata olives, sliced tomatoes, cheese, etc. Then a big pan of moussaka and a big dish of spankopita. Then baklava, plenty of coffee, maybe a fruit sorbet for people who want a lighter dessert. Everybody loves this, you can do every bit of it yesterday or the day before, and buffet service works better for this than a sit-down.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Querencia

                                  Oh my gosh I want to go to a buffet at your house...

                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    I love all the foods you mention - thought our guests would too - they barely touched anything and asked where the "real food" was... Go figure.

                                    1. re: Querencia

                                      So agree with the buffet for home entertaining! We go full-out every Christmas with a smorgåsbord (upthread mention), and with various other buffets throughout the year. It's our favored service, as the vibe is casual.

                                    2. Buffets at Indian restaurants are an excellent value, and a great way to expose new people to Indian cuisine. Many curries and stewed dishes in the Indian repertoire hold up very well to the buffet treatment.

                                      One of my earliest excellent buffet experiences was on a school trip to the UN building where we had lunch in the UN delegates dining room, which at least at the time served up a great variety of international food buffet style. It could have just been the newness of the cuisines, or the glamor of eating in the same room as real UN delegates, but it blew me away, and I swore I would dine there every time I returned to NYC (sadly, I never made good on that, though I plan to do so the next time I am in the city, if it's still open to the public).

                                      In college the HRIM students ran a restaurant in the student center called Vita Nova which offered a buffet option. The quality of the food was always excellent when I went, and it was there I was first exposed to whitefish salad, which I continue to absolutely love.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                                        The UN used to run weeks of a particular cuisine or restaurant's food in the 90s - I particularly remember a spectacular Hungarian buffet. I presume these went bye-bye because of 9/11.

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          From the UN website...

                                          8. Dining Room

                                          The Delegates' Dining Room at UN Headquarters is open for lunch Monday through Friday. A reservation is necessary and should be made as far in advance as possible, by calling (212) 963-7625. Business attire is required: jackets for men; jeans, shorts, sneakers and flip-flops are not permitted.

                                          Hours: Monday to Friday – 11:30 am to 2:30 pm

                                          1. re: ssioff

                                            I didn't look, thanks for this. I wonder if there are any such specialty weeks being run.

                                      2. I've found that the majority of Indian food on buffets holds up very well and sometimes even gets better with time in the warming trays. That salmon at the chinese buffet on the other hand . . .

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Rick

                                          Around my area, buffets seem to be the standard thing in Indian restaurants. They typically cost $8 or $9, have lots of chicken and veggie things and no lamb or seafood, and most are swimming in sauce.

                                        2. Small town (like 15k pop) Chinese buffet done by a good family. Food on the buffet is in small amounts but refreshed rapidly and hot. Yum!

                                          1. I've liked a few of the Vegas buffets, particularly the Paris-themed one.

                                            1. I've been to three places with buffets with food that's as good or better than really good cooked to order restaurant food. :

                                              Tamarind --Savoring India in Pittsburgh, PA (the one in Greentree) -- Insanely good buffet serving regional Andhra food every weekend. The secret might be that they bring the food out steadily in small batches.

                                              Grand Concourse, also Pittsburgh, over-the-top brunch buffet in a great restored train station on the river.

                                              Pure vegetarian Indian buffet at the now defunct Woodlands in Denver, CO.

                                              1. Regular, everyday buffet restaurants - I believe it is possible to have a fine meal at one, if you know in advance the restaurant's strengths and weaknesses.

                                                For instance, I know local Chinese buffets where, in one, the dim sum are very good and the authentic Chinese dishes (like chicken feet) are very good, but the ordinary Chinese-American foods are very bad and the sushi is terrible. In the other, the sushi is fresh and workmanlike (no one would call it 'great', but it's very very edible), there is a decent made-to-order pho, but again there are selections to stay very far away from.

                                                1. I would say one in a thousand is good. The rest are regrettable.

                                                  1. I think the key is to know what foods hold well and which foods aren't remotely improved by it, and stick to the first category. It seems ridiculous to me that some buffets put out foods that were never meant for a long sitting period, on (it seems to me) the theory that MORE is BETTER, even if the food is not good.

                                                    1. The Waiohai at Poipu Beach on Kauai had a spectacular buffet setup, with five or six separate "islands" featuring different kinds of foods, from sushi and sashimi through egg dishes, meats, fruits or what have you, all served in a gigantic covered-but-open pavilion. Unfortunately said pavilion and the Waiohai itself were washed out to sea in 1991's big hurricane … but twenty years later the memories remain. My first Bloody Mary with fresh-grated horseradish … and the food was all very, very good, and you really paid for it!

                                                      1. The most interesting buffet I ever went to was a Hunan one at the Hilton by the railway station in Taipei in 1980: everything was fresh and replaced every few minutes as it was eaten, and one of the dishes was bull pizzle soup.

                                                        1. The smorgasbord at the Copenhagen central train station was quite memorable, though it has been 23 years.

                                                          1. I absolutely love the breakfast buffets that are included in some hotel stays in Europe and especially in China. You never know what to expect, the first day at least, and there are often some terrific things to try. And the fruit and juices - the Renaissance (Yi Yuan) in Shanghai had fresh guava juice among other treats.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                              Even though we were on what was essentially an eating tour of Hong Kong, shepherded by Martin Yan and Shirley Fong-Torres (this was in '95), one of the high points of my day was the breakfast buffet at our Holiday Inn on the Kowloon side. The main table had two American sides, a British side and a European side, and the side table had a big pot of congee and an assortment of dim sum and other Chinese items. Eggs to order and waffles were available, too. Fried eggs, kippers, bacon and potatoes was a good start, with fresh fruit and muesli as a healthy dessert, while Mrs. O hugged her new best friend the congee … guava and other interesting juices were offered there, too. And the coffee was amazingly good.

                                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                                That's exactly what I mean - we were last in China in 2008 and the buffets in both hotels were excellent (the Sheraton Suzhou was the other one), with Chinese and Western sides, and eggs etc cooked to order. The best ever though was at the Taihu Sunshine Hotel in Wuxi in 1994, where the buffet featured soft tofu made that morning by the very affable and charming man who served it - with soy, hot oil, pickled veg and whatnot, a breakfast for the gods. That was nice.

                                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                                  That was also our experience in Hong Kong hotels, except that the non-European/American selection was not just Chinese; it was where I learned that miso soup is good at breakfast.

                                                                  1. re: susans

                                                                    The Grand Hotel in Taipei has Japanese items too. Man I want a trip to Asia sooo bad.

                                                              2. Korean buffet at Heebeen in Annandale (Alexandria) Virginia is great -- I don't like their sushi much but there are 6 types of meat to grill at your own table, 3 rices, 4 soups+ (some prepared fresh), dozens of side dishes (pan cheon) as well as other hot foods and a seafood shabu shabu you can make at your table. I agree about the salad bar at Fogo de Chao being great. I got delayed in Frankfurt overnight once and the hotel brunch buffet was the best breakfast I'd ever had.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: margaretelise

                                                                  On the same lines, at Aristocrat Mongolian BBQ in Taipei back when, all sorts of meat, sauces, onions, cilantro, whatnot, fill a bowl and have it cooked on the huge grill by the sweating cooks, served with shao bing (sesame buns) to stuff it into. Hotpot too if you wanted it, and boiled peanuts and cabbage salad before. I still can't figure out why this didn't catch on big time in the US.

                                                                  1. re: margaretelise

                                                                    Love HeeBeen, we go nearly everytime we visit the DC area!

                                                                    1. re: margaretelise

                                                                      On German hotel breakfast buffets, oh man yes. The Brötchen...and the Quark!

                                                                      1. re: margaretelise

                                                                        I'd forgotten about that! The places we stayed in Germany had the most incredible breakfast buffets.

                                                                      2. CHIMA in Ft. Lauderdale. Excellent soups, salads and vegetable dishes on the buffet while the Brazilians march endless meats or fish to the table.

                                                                        1. Its been a few years, but, La Coquina at the Hyatt Grand Cypress resort had a wonderful Sunday brunch. The buffet was in the kitchen and the food stations included nice twists like eggs benedict with buffalo. Wonderful bread selections, my favorite, cheeses, were also varied and plentiful. Nice choice of smoked fishes. Large and varied buffet with several fresh preparation stations to make your favorite. We thought about going for Mother's day but it had become too pricey for our family of 8. Might be less on a non holiday Sunday.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: salligator

                                                                            How do they keep the yolks on the bennies from overcooking?

                                                                          2. Buffet is my personal least favorite dining option, not necessarily because the food can be rather ho-hum, but because I really don't like to have people pawing over and through the food I'm contemplating eating. I am not a neat freak or germophobe by any stretch of the imgaination but poor personal santitation presents a risk. And having worked the other side of a buffet table, I've seen what people going through a line do to the dishes.

                                                                            That caveat notwithstanding, the best buffets I've been to have been in Mexico, and not the all-inclusive resorts. The last buffet I did in Mexico was in Etla just outside of Oaxaca City. There were easily well over 100 different offering including all 7 of the Oaxacan moles, and they were quite respectable. There were also soups, fruits, vegetables, salads, salsas, fish, turkey, chicken, pork and beef in every imaginable combination. There was also a full blown taqueria, a grill doing different specialties and several woman cranking out tortillas hecho a mano.

                                                                            Then there was El Famoso on the road to Mitla which had some pretty tasty cold offerings, grilled to order meats (decent), cazuela after cazuela of soup and guisados (mostly good, a few rising to very good) and a little Zapotec lady making tortillas hecho a mano.

                                                                            The Villa Bejar in Cuernavaca does a righteous breakfast buffet, The hotel is rather Morroccan in deisgn and feel, but the buffet is purely Mexican. It is also (or at least it was 3 years ago) the business power breakfast spot for movers and shakers in Cuernavaca.

                                                                            Closer to home the breakfast buffet at the Hotel Coral y Marina in Ensenada is also pretty darn good.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                              Thanks for ths info. Once I sell my condo in Cabo I want to use some of the cash to travel to the mainland and live the foodie-traveller life once again. I'll be saving your recommendations in my "Food" file on my computer, Gracias!

                                                                              1. re: lauraincabo

                                                                                Good luck selling your place :-). To travel through mainland Mexico on a foodie trip will be a blast. There is so much to see and eat, more than you can possibly imagine. The diversity will floor you. Be sure you check out the archives over on the Mexico board, tons of reccomendations over there

                                                                            2. Yes it is possible if you ONLY pick the items you REALLY have a taste for. Our eyes tend to be bigger then our stomachs so we gorge, and then are miserable.