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Linden Place Fancy Former Dim Sum Place now a buffet? LWong?

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You know... the fancy shmancy wanna be Versailles-style place just off of Northern on Linden that has hosted almost every one of my Chinese students' Sweet Sixteens... Someone told me it is now a buffet. Anyone been?

What with Harvest, East, Mizumi, and the recently opened and oft-heralded The Buffet in College Point by BJ's, it's not big on my radar, but I am curious.

Anyone know where Lwong is? Haven't seen him on these Chinese threads in awhile...

Best,
lisa

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  1. Happy Year of the Snake to the Zenfoodist family!

    Sorry that Mother Nature did not cooperate with your planned Chinese New Years celebration at a Dim Sum restaurant several weeks ago on the Chinese New Year’s weekend when the Nor’easter dropped 11 inches of snow on NYC.

    Yes, we are still alive and well, although it indeed has been a long time since we posted on Chowhound.

    We have not been back to the faux French style decorated Chnese restaurant on Linden Place for a number of years now, since our last outing at their Dim Sum lunch was not too memorable.

    As for your post discussing Chinese Buffets, it just happened that we ate at another new Buffet restaurant that opened in the location of the former “Gala Manor” restaurant now called “Oceanica Seafood Restaurant,” (海上天大酒樓, 37-02 Main Street, 37th Avenue, Flushing, NY 11354, (718) 463-6666), before the Chinese New Years weekend. We had tried the lunch Buffet last fall when it first opened and only charged $10 per person, which we thought was a reasonable price for the food offered. When we went again to Oceanica, we were surprised to see that they had steamed lobster claws and deep fried garlic battered Dungeness crabs, which were not offered the first time we went. Every time the tray with the lobsters or Dungeness crabs came out they only lasted for 2 to 3 minutes before the tray was empty. One had to have good timing to be at the Buffet tables when the restaurant brought out new trays of Lobster and Dungeness crabs, otherwise one was out of luck.

    Not all of the lobsters and Dungeness crabs were alive when prepared, as some of the lobster and Dungeness did not have firm flesh, but at $11 per person, one cannot complain too much, as Dungeness crabs sell for $8 per lb at the Chinese grocery stores and each Dungeness crab weighed 2 to 3 lbs each. We had two lobster claws and more than one whole Dungeness crab, hence just eating the Dungeness crab more than covered the $11 charge for lunch (plus tax and tip). In fact, we are not sure how the restaurant makes money when they provide lobsters and Dungeness crabs at the Buffet. There were also the standard sushi, salads, Dim Sum, dessert, and other cooked food items, but one has to be lucky that there are the special seafood items to make the Buffet especially worthwhile. It is possible that the lobsters and Dungeness crabs were a special Chinese New Years offering and there may or may not be lobsters and Dungeness crabs at the Buffet in the future.

    At night the restaurant has a Buffet Hotpot dinner, with a rule of 1.5 hours per table, otherwise they may add on a surcharge for exceeding the 1.5 hour limit. It is not clear how stringent the restaurant is in holding diners to the 1.5 hour limit. Our lunch bill was date and time stamped as to when we started eating, but we easily exceeded the 1.5 hours during our lunch.

    One caveat is that when we had a plate full of lobster and Dungeness crab, we asked a waitress walking by if we could have a nutcracker to break the shells, but the waitress just smiled and kept walking. From her facial expression, the understanding was that this was the standard restaurant practice to slow the diners down in eating the expensive Lobster and Dungeness crabs. (LOL)

    We improvised by using the thicker end of a chopstick to break the shells by viciously stabbing the shells with an up and down motion, although to be fair, most of the Dungeness crab claws were cracked by the restaurant already. If one plans to try out the Oceanica Buffet, one might want to make life easier on themselves by bringing their own nutcracker, assuming that there will be lobster and Dungeness crabs, otherwise they will have to learn on the fly the technique of breaking the shells using a chopstick. Eating at Chinatown Chinese restaurants can sometimes be rough and tumble affairs compared to the niceties at non-Asian restaurants, but when one only pays $11 per person for an AYCE Buffet with very expensive seafood items, one has to expect less than white tablecloth service.

    If one is willing to accept minimal levels of service and décor at Chinatown Chinese restaurants, one can eat reasonably well and get good value for their dollars, but this also means that one is an accessory to exploiting the many low paid Chinese workers, legal and illegal, who work in the Chinatowns, but nothing is free in this world. There is a moral cost in getting good value for one’s dollars in eating at the cheap Chinatown restaurants. To paraphase a line from the novella, “Shopgirl” by Steve Martin, “we cannot justify our actions except that, well, it was life.”

    4 Replies
    1. re: lwong

      So great to know that you are alive and well, lwong! I always love to read your posts. I am a tenacious girl, like so many of my beloved Chinese clients, and even with the Nor'easter managed to go out and treat a bunch of friends and family to a large spread at "the buffet" ( such a boring name, huh?) in College Point a few blocks down from BJ's.

      Billy, one of the owners, put out quite a great assortment of foods on Lunar New Year's Eve. It was really enjoyed by all. Very fresh and great variety. In a brand spanking new venue with a very modern, swanky feel and a lovely view of the sunset over the NYC skyline in the distance. Have you been there yet?

      1. re: lwong

        Is The Buffet a Chinese centered buffet? Second, I appreciate your sentiments regarding the lowly paid workers at cheaper restaurants, but why do you think that the converse is true and these people are paid more at pricier places?

        1. re: budcar

          At pricier places, in which the establishment is making more money on the food, oftentimes (but not always) more money is able to be paid to the workers. When the workers are paid more, they tend to stay longer. Win, win situation for everyone. I have a lot of students whose parents are in the restaurant business....the front AND the back of the house. The cooks at the pricier places definitely do much better.

          1. re: budcar

            While we have taken quite a long time to respond, our information is probably still relevant, as the “The Buffet” restaurant is still open and in business, although you may have gone there already. (LOL)

            The “Buffet” restaurant is indeed an Asian centered buffet, with two large square buffet serving areas, where one square serves sushi and sashimi and the other square serves Chinese dishes.

            Here is an old Youtube link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCVpPn...) of a video uploaded by “The Buffet” restaurant management, showing the spiffy modernist look of the restaurant and views of the food offerings hence the food will be shown in the best light. The raw oysters and clams, however, did not look as super fresh as shown in the video when we were there. The video looks professionally shot and edited, although surprisingly without audio.

            To be honest, we did not consider the aspect you raised about whether workers were paid more at high end Chinese restaurants, but we are sure that in the Chinatown restaurants and in fact all Chinese restaurants charging moderate to low prices, and other similar restaurants, Asian or non-Asian, that the restaurant personnel work very hard for little pay. However after giving some thought regarding your query, we would like to further embellish ZenFoodist’s response by stating that Chinese who work in high end pricier Chinese restaurants, mostly in Manhattan, would in general earn higher wages, since the waiters would make larger tips based upon the higher prices, and that the higher level of service requires people with more skills (knowledge of English, better table service, better presentation of dishes, and better trained chefs and kitchen workers), which usually translates into higher wages. The restaurant business, whether Asian or non-Asian, is one of the sectors of America’s economy that works very well in a free market, as there are large numbers of providers and large numbers of customers where there is no one provider who can monopolize the supply, and customers have tremendous choices of restaurants to select where to eat for all quality and price levels, and there is reasonable entry into the business for new restaurants as old restaurants go out of business. It is probably logical to assume that in a free market economy where high end Chinese restaurants require employees with more skills, that they would also have to pay their workers higher salaries. The high end Chinese restaurants who charge high prices are forced to adhere to market forces, since the wealthier customers who patronize the high end Chinese restaurants are not accustomed to parting with their money unless they receive commensurate service, décor, and food quality.

            While we do not have any data on the earnings of people who work in high end Chinese restaurants, there is an interesting article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01...), which summarized reports on the difficulty of obtaining employment at the elite high end restaurants in NYC, where the “Village Voice” site stated that it was easier to be admitted to Harvard than to obtain a waiter position at the “Per Se” restaurant.

            The Huffington Post article quotes Pierre Siur, the General Manager of the restaurant “Daniel,” who states that candidates must have the following qualifications:

            "We look for the finesse of a ballet dancer, because it's like choreography what we do; discipline of a military person because there are 65 people on the floor in the front of the house; and team spirit of a football team,"

            Employees with the above specific talents and skills, even in a large city like NYC, are not in plentiful supply. While the article did not explicitly state that higher earnings were one of the reasons that people would desire to work for the “Per Se” restaurant, it would not be an overstatement to state that “Per Se” employees earn enviable salaries compared to non-elite restaurants. Quite a number of years ago, we treated out of town guests to dinner at “Café Boulud” in Manhattan and left a $80 tip for 5 people for dinner, which is considerably higher than a tip for 5 people eating at a typical Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Although the Huffington article was discussing non-Asian high end restaurants, we would assume that Chinese restaurants in the upper tiers of the restaurant trade aspiring to be above average in quality and service, would have similar issues in hiring competent employees and would have to pay them proportionately higher salaries. And while the tips at the high end Chinese restaurants are not in the stratosphere like high end non-Asian restaurants, they would also be considerably higher than the tips received at the typical Chinatown restaurant.

            While we are on the subject of cheap Chinatown eats, how cheap can it get in a Chinatown eatery, one might ask. At one of the stalls in the upstairs Golden Mall in Flushing, two people can order three dishes for lunch for just $10 total (this is the walk out total cost): a small soup with vermicelli, vegetables, and several pieces of Tofu Puffs, Guo Tie (10 pieces), and Xiao Long Bao (8 pieces). The quality of the XLB’s, naturally are not as good as those at Nan Xiang on Prince Street or the other better XLB places, but they are a reasonably good value for the price paid ($4.00), while the Guo Tie dish is above average (cooked to order) and made in the traditional manner, with the Guo Tie being made long, narrow, and with open ends instead of a closed dumpling and after they have finished cooking, they are brought steaming hot from the frying pan to your table in about 15 seconds. But one has to suffer dismal décor and ambience by anyone’s standards, with no silverware, only wood chopsticks, plastic utensils, and Styrofoam plates and bowls. But the meal is nutritious, filling, and good value for the money from the perspective of a Chinatown immigrant who does not have much money to spare for ambience, silverware, and décor.

            Here is a link to an old NYT’s article ( http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/job... ) on the life of a Chinese immigrant to NYC with a range of salaries during the last decade.

        2. Sorry to take over a year to respond. It has been a busy year.

          The ZenFoodist extended family were indeed a tough bunch to have braved venturing out with 11 inches of snow on the ground and trudging out to College Point on the day of the Nor’easter to eat at “The Buffet” restaurant last winter in Janaury 2013.

          The restaurant name is definitely boring, but if the restaurant becomes successful and it is known as the “The Buffet” with a capital “T” as “The” buffet to go to, than the owners will not mind having a boring name. (LOL)

          Yes, our family was treated to dinner at “The Buffet” restaurant shortly after it opened in the summer of 2012, where we waited a one and a half hours before being seated. As we have posted on prior occasions, it is best to try out new Chinese restaurants within several months after they open, when there are dozens of plants with red covered flower pots in front of the restaurant, as most new opening Chinese restaurants will offer dishes with fresher ingredients and larger quantity dishes during the first several months in order to have favorable “word of mouth.” Every Chinese knows this, which is why new Chinatown restaurants are usually mobbed at the grand opening and for many months after that until the restaurant ends it’s honeymoon phase with it’s customers, and the restaurant provides their normal dishes (smaller in quantity), but hopefully with still fresh ingredients. If the restaurant is too greedy and pulls back too much with too small dishes and not providing fresh ingredients, than customers will slowly stop coming and in the worst case, the restaurant will close.

          When we went to the “The Buffet,” the premium items offered were steamed lobsters, but half of them were dead lobsters prior to cooking as the lobster flesh was mushy and not firm. In addition, there were also snow crabs, king crab, raw oysters and clams, steamed fish, and fried soft shell crabs that we could remember. We did not eat too much of their sushi and sashimi offerings, even though the sushi offerings comprise almost 40% of the buffet space, as we did not think the fish were of the best quality, which is understandable in a Buffet restaurant, as good quality fish is very expensive. There were only two to three plates of sashimi offered, which were not replenished too often.

          And “The Buffet” is definitely not cheap by Chinatown restaurant standards, as on weekends, the price with tax and tip (added automatically to your bill) runs $40 plus per person.

          It is interesting that “The Buffet” and several other buffet restaurants have opened recently catering to Chinese customers, as it appeared that Chinatown buffet restaurants had seen better days, as the old “East Buffet” has changed their food offerings several times in the last decade, with the “East Buffet” no longer even offering a standard buffet but instead offering a hot pot buffet. And the “East Buffet” in Elmhurst closed down a number of years ago.

          As of today, a check of the Internet shows that “The Buffet” restaurant is still open, which means that they are doing something right, as they have been in business for 1.5 years already.

          The large Flushing Municipal Parking has begun being torn down in several stages, which will certainly impact the economic life of Flushing Chinatown and the downtown area with the eventual loss of over 1000 parking spaces for several years. Although with the loss of many parking spaces already with a partial closing of the big Municipal Parking lot, we have not experienced any additional difficulty of parking in Flushing. It is still difficult to find parking, but not any worse than previously. However, there is a new wrinkle as the Municipal Parking lot #1 had been offering free parking for several weeks in January 2014, but the parking fees have tripled to $3.00 per hour and $5.00 for three hours, since the parking lot is no longer owned by NYC, but privately owned. For the typical Flushing Chinatown shopper who stays 3 hours in Chinatown, this is an additional cost of $2.00, which is economically and psychologically manageable, as long as one does not overstay the initial three hours, as parking will begin to become very expensive compared to when the lot was a Municipal Lot.

          It will remain to be seen how Flushing Chinatown fares after the Municipal parking lot is completely demolished and before the new underground Flushing Commons parking is available. The question is whether it will be positive changes as the Flushing developers have promised or negative ones as many groups opposed to the closing of the large Municipal parking lot have stated. For people interested in technical details, there is a NYCDOT traffic study in PDF format of the impact of the Flushing Chinatown Commons project at this link (http://www.nyc.gov/html/oec/downloads...).

          The Chinese New Year is coming very early this year on 31 January 2014, hence Happy Year of the Horse to the ZenFoodist family. Hope all is well with your family and that your Chowpup is getting taller and easier to handle and soon he will be able to handle two orders of XLB’s by himself without having to take a trip to the bathroom afterwards. (LOL)