Grand City Buffet (St. Louis Park, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
The Grand City Buffet is impressively large. You won't see everything on your first trip to the food. You'll get back to your table, look at your dinner companion's choices, and say something like: "I didn't see the roast duck," or "What do you mean, they serve sushi?"
There are seven tables of food (both hot and cold): salads, main dishes, and desserts. They promise over 180 different items, but since different preparations rotate in and out, you can expect something new all the time. We can't even begin to list the many dishes that are available, but we've made some observations to get you started.
Dishes we liked: roast duck, with its five-spice flavor; the tender barbecued spare ribs; stir-fry octopus, which wasn't at all tough; the sweet glazed Japanese chicken; Mongolian beef; sesame chicken; spicy chicken; the broccoli-like gai lan. Basically, any strongly flavored dishes are good.
Choices that were only okay: peel-and-eat shrimp, fried wings, tofu, tripe, frog's legs, the various soups, the ice cream, the salad bar, the fruits.
Dishes that were dismaying and not very good: sushi, prime rib, stuffed potatoes, crab Rangoon, clam chowder. A subcategory here are dishes that were bad, but that your kids will like: pizza, French fries, all the desserts -- including the Jell-O.
Undoubtedly you'll find your own favorites, and the best thing about a buffet is that you can try everything. We noticed a small subset of the dining population who are there for the crab legs, and who tuck away great piles of them. Once, one of the kids with us made a meal of the peel-and-eat shrimp.
When a buffet fails, it's most commonly because the food sits out too long. Chinese food especially is much better fresh, so nothing here will be as good as ordering it right from the kitchen. But Grand City is regularly crowded, and the dishes turn over fairly quickly. Watch the service and get it while it's hot.
It wasn't until our second visit that we found the chili sauce and the hot mustard; they're in the back, on the salad bar, near the salad dressings.
If none of this appeals to you very much, there's even a Mongolian barbecue. Just fill a bowl up with your choice of meat and some vegetables. (Our advice here is not to take every ingredient, but only pick a few so the flavors stand out.) Bring your bowl to the chef and tell him what sauce you want. There's teriyaki sauce, curry sauce, spicy sauce, wine, sesame oil and Mongolian sauce, which is a sweet-salty-hot combination that we really like. He'll ladle the sauce over your food, and cook it on a hot stone slab until it's sizzling. Warning: the hot sauce is actually hot.
One last note: Thursday through Saturday, at 7:30, karaoke starts. Now, you might decide that you want to finish up and go by then, or you might decide that you can't wait to join in. As long as you can read Chinese, you're welcome to sing.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.