I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
When the word “buffet” is in the title, there’s really no choice on the matter. China Cup is an enormous establishment, the largest of its kind in town. With at least forty tables and 200+ seats, probably more, it surpasses China Sail by a comfortable margin, a shock even to me. Except that China Sail is a restaurant, while China Cup feels more like gastronomic thunderdome. If you want clarification, I felt more like Blaster than Master on entering. I was shepherded into a line which took me directly to the cashier, confidence boosting. I should claim any tobacco or fruits beings brought into the country while I’m here, at the very least renew my driver’s license; that’s how detached this place was to an actual restaurant. It does play all the other cards right, booths and tables, low hanging lights. There were a dozen ceiling fans suspended from a furniture store-like ceiling which I wished were actually spinning.
After preloading my meal at the counter, I was released onto the gargantuan buffet. I’m honest in that I don’t prejudge restaurants, even when the word “buffet” is in the title. Even when I approached the Wal-Mart of smorgasbords, I had a shred of hope that this location, dedicated to this one concept, could improve an experience I usually rate only slightly higher than dental appointments.
China Cup gets credit for selection, that’s for sure. Basically any non-ethnic Chinese dish you could think of is represented, along with French fries and onion rings, the latter two I avoided. As always, I sampled only small portions in order to properly evaluate as much as possible. The first plate was a disaster. The vegetable roll was half-filled with gray grease, and both the battered chicken and the battered shrimp had more batter than meat. The batter wasn’t totally cooked either. Imagine the experience of biting through undercooked batter with the sudden fear about how fit chicken inside was.
I’ve been reviewing these places too long to tolerate this kind of food. I finished the above average wonton, pushed the half eaten roll and battered stumps aside, and fetched another plate. The second helping faired only slightly better. The Szechuan pork was leather and the sweet & sour pork was suede. However, the curried-scented Singapore rice was pretty good as was the peppered beef. I overheard a gentleman ask a passing waiter about the delay in getting the sushi platters filled. Here was I thinking China Taste was unique in this experiment. Although at least served at room temperature, the rolls were only comprised of pickled and preserved vegetables rolled in rice and drizzled with mayonnaise (how elitist of them). One bizarre inclusion was the deep-fried ebi roll, which was spicy and might have been good if it didn’t have the texture of a racquetball. The yam tempura was at least crispy. The laziest dish of them all was the selection of puddings and tarts for dessert, which amounted to lazy spoonfuls of lemon JELL-O pudding haphazardly dropped into pastry shells (pinch me).
The odd praise I could offer was that China Cup looked like a restaurant I might have found in China. A huge expanse of tables and waiters scurrying around. But when I was in China, these places were dim sum which was served at your table. When I go to a restaurant, I do expect to be served. I honestly should rate Chinese restaurants separately from the rest, specifically determined on how long after sitting down I feel compelled to visit a bathroom. With China Cup, along with Taste and Golden Place, it was actually during the meal itself. That’s some rocket-powered grease-flavored slurry there.
With a solid brick wall separating the buffet from the tables, they must be prepared for when an 800 lb. fat guy stumbles after having a heart attack from his sixth serving of brown-flavored meatballs. I wonder what it says about me, at least from the perspective of waiters and other customers. Don’t I have better places to be than clatter at my keyboard alone in a massive Chinese restaurant? I actually felt pity for the lone gentlemen across the way that enjoyed…no….consumed his meal quietly and answered the waiter’s query with “wonderful”.
Dear Lord Superman, can I now be done with Westernized Chinese restaurants?