Sunday, January 02, 2011

Little Amy Linthicum: Big Buffet Babe

"Forced" Feedings Lead to Chinese Buffet Threepeat

"Feed me!!!"

My omnivore girlfriend Amy started the New Year in grand fashion by consuming three all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets in 24 hours.

"You're gonna blog about this, aren't you?" Amy said, pleading, "But it's not my fault - I was forced to go to all of them!" It's true, of course: Amy's mom dragged her to Dundalk's Best Buffet at 801 North Point Boulevard for their traditional Friday afternoon lunch, and I tagged along to "force-feed" her at that night's New Year's Eve dinner and at New Year's Day lunch the next day - both at the delicious Hibachi Grill franchise, where $6.99 buys you lunch and $9.99 gets you dinner. (Amy's mom actually prefers Best Buffet.)

The double-down date at Hibachi Grill allowed us to compare the eatin's on offer at both their original Parkville location on 2033 East Joppa Road and the newer chow palace across from Eastpoint Mall at 7911 Eastern Avenue in Dundalk.

While they are basically the same, there are some subtle differences between the set-up and foods offered at the two locations. (By the way, word is out that a third Hibachi Grill location is due to open on Liberty Road; when I mentioned this to Amy, she shivered, anticipating my agenda for next year's Chinese New Year dining plans.) For example, at the Parkville location, you pay after your meal while at the Dundalk restaurant patrons pay up front and are issued silverware as they walk in. Also, I noticed that the Parkville waitresses all wear white blouses and black slacks with matching black vests - your standard Chinese restaurant garb, in other words. Dundalk's Chinese waitresses, on the other hand, wore solid black and were allowed more personal fashion flair with a decidedly punk edge (Lycra leggings, tattoos, hair coloring, clunky keychains, piercings) that made them seem - dare I say it? - downright sexy. They even had a token white girl hostess, with henna-colored hair, who looked like her second job might be managing a Hot Topic store.

Typical Dundalk Hibachi Grill Waitress

"I knew you'd pick up on that," Amy deadpanned upon hearing my fashion critique of the Dundalk dining divas. We even saw one old dude with a mullet give a waitress a hug. "Look at the horn-dog getting frisky with the Chinese babe" I said, to which Amy responded, "I think they know each other, must be a regular."

They sure were nice to the regulars here, giving them Chinese calendar wall scrolls. I had to ask our waitress for one, which I got only after complimenting her on her scorpion hand tattoo. I wanted to ask if it was a Chinese mafia symbol, but thought better of it.

And, speaking of tattoos, Amy correctly pointed out that more clientele at the Dundalk Hibachi Grill had neck tattoos. I had noticed this too, and it made us shudder, thinking of all the inmates we had watched on MSNBC's Lockup: Raw.

"What's up with all the neck tattoos these days?" Amy queried, to which I replied, "I think it's so people can show off their ink in the Winter when their arms and legs are covered from the cold. It's really a half-measure because in Wintertime, the only available space is the face and if you get ink on the forehead people assume you're either crazy or a criminal (or both), so this way you can still wear a turtleneck so you can go to work and don a v-neck afterhours to show off your colors." She seemed to buy that explanation.

General Chow Time at Hibachi Grill

The food is pretty much your standard Chinese buffet fare, as far as selection goes, in both locations - which means lots of General Tso, honey, bourbon, and sesame chicken to choose from, plus many concessions to American cuisine (from ham and corn on the cob to all sorts of beef, cornbread, mac and cheese, and pizza choices), and a great selection of hot and cold fish (salmon, flounder, mussels, clams, and countless varieties of fried, steamed, black peppered, or coconut-dipped shrimps). Oh, and lest I forget, they both had those yummy buttered-and-salted potato skins that melt in your mouth. Both locations served sushi and the titular "hibachi grills," as well.

However, the slightly bigger Parkville location had much better ice cream, dessert, and salad bars. Parkville Hibachi gets bonus points for offering romaine and radichio lettuce, while the Dundalk Hibachi only had bland iceberg lettuce ("The polyesther of greens" as John Waters calls it) and minimal toppings. (We passed on the salad bar!) Also noticeably missing from the Dundalk Hibachi desert bar were any semblance of nuts and, much to our disappointment, those delish heated Chinese sesame balls filled with bean curd. We also wouldn't have minded seeing some fried zucchini slices like the ones Parkville had; they reminded us of the fried zucchini from the old Haussner's restaurant. Amy pointed out that the Dundalk Hibachi also didn't have any prime rib, her favorite meat dish at the Parkville buffet.

But there was one thing that only the Dundalk Hibachi Grill served and which, alone, made the trip worthwhile: collard greens. These slightly bitter, albeit buttery, leaves of crunchy soulfulness are to die for - and I almost did, going back for three heaping servings that bloated me with so much late afternoon tumescence (tom-escence?) that I had to go out later that night for a reluctant 5K run to air it all out! (TMI?)

Meanwhile, Amy resigned herself to a single New Year's Resolution: "I'm going back to my salads tomorrow!"


Addendum (1/5/2001):
Subsequent to this post, Amy outlined her detailed Chinese Buffet Eating System:
"I have a whole system for eating Chinese Buffet. Plate #1 is heavy on veggies. A few other items are strewn above them to add more flavor. I avoid most of the deep fried but decide which are must-haves and put a few on plate #2, along with more veggies. If they have taco meat, I sprinkle that over one little section. I avoid rice and noodles, which is the opposite of what I do in a non-buffet Chinese restaurant. Dessert must include an almond macaroon if they have them. (Best Buffet does.) I never do the ice cream. If there are other desserts that look good I take small slivers."


Addendum 2 (1/8/2011):
Following our New Year's Day visit to the Dundalk Hibachi Grill, Amy later came across this news item in the Dundalk Eagle's police blotter for December 30, 2010; apparently, an all-you-can-eat buffet isn't good enough for some cheapskates - who are always looking for a free lunch!


Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet
2033 East Joppa Road
Parkville, MD 21234
(410) 882-8238

Hibachi Grill and Buffet
7911 Eastern Avenue
Dundalk, MD 21224
(410) 285-0755

Best Buffet
801 North Point Blvd.
Dundalk, MD 21224
(410) 288-3316

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