Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eating Out Lin's Leaky Fusion Reactor

Ok, I think I'm finally stretching the whole themed title thing after two years.  But so what?  It makes me feel clever.  Plus!  Even though they've got a tough to riff on name, Lin's Fusion (Innovative) Chinese Cuisine and Buffet pretty much set themselves up for a spectacular juxtaposition between attitude and execution.  But of course, I foreshadow.

So I'm out watering the lawn when the dinner collective...did I mention I've got a dinner collective now?  It has been a bit of a hiatus hasn't it?  Essentially the collective consists of 3 friends and neighbors who have had me chained to my bbq/smoker nigh nightly since Memorial Day.  Did you know that being appreciated means that you have to work harder?  I dunno who wrote that rule, but they officially suck.

Back to the eatiosity!  So the collective tells me that we're doing a new Chinese place and I'm all, "Cool".  And then they tell me where it's at and I'm all "The New China Buffet?  It's like that?"  They proceed to explain that the place has been totally rennovated and is being relaunched and is totally under the same management.  I like how they snuck that last part in.  But, whatever.  I recently got a whole new lining for my lower intestine, might as well give it a shakedown cruise, right? 

My first impression on arrival is that they changed the sign.  I like the font and color changes.  Though two things gave me a giggle, the word "innovative" anywhere on buffet signage should be percieved more as a warning than a point of pride.  And at the bottom, Full Service Bar and Buffet.  That just sounds like redneck heaven.  Put a fat guy in a mouse suit in a room full of video games and it'd be more popular than Nascar!

Now a little nice.  Upon entering, I must say it was a unique experience for Fresno.  I've been welcomed by hundreds of hosts/hostesses.  Even the best of them are at best attentive and polite.  But at the end of the day, you see in all of their eyes that "I could take 'em or leave 'em" state right behind their smile.  They're professionals, but they still hate your food eating guts.  Walking into Lin's was like walking into the fanfare of a musical.  No less than three people practically jumped out of their skins to offer us a most obseqious welcome and promptly whisk us off to a cozy booth.

Now for alot of mean.  Ok, buffet.  But they set a high bar with the interior decor and nigh terrifyingly warm staff!  But my fork was gross.  Tucked into a tastefully folded black linen napkin of course.  I mean, what's more elegant than feeling someone else's sweet n' sour crust flake off in your palm with every bite?  Not a damn thing.  That and, we got whipped to our table so quickly that we had no idea how much the buffet was, what was up with the bar or the fact that they've got a somewhat extensive tea menu.  More on good things later, I'm on a roll here!

Again, the decor is quite nice.  But one thing I would expect from a place that just reopened would be that they would have the proper labels for all of their food.  I get it with older buffets, shit gets lost, new dishes get made and who is gonna pay for a minimum sign order for one or two new items.  But that high dollar decor makes one expect proper thoughtfulness throughout the operation.  Not so much.  Unless kung pao chicken is baked in oyster shells with cheese.  If so, then my bad.  Speaking of bad!  It's bad when your fried shrimp look like they have seasoned breading, but just taste like new fryer oil and when your coconut shrimp taste neither like coconut nor shrimp.  They were sort of chickeny with an odd, sweet, mayo/pudding sauce.  Not awful, but made me think of those 80's horror movies where the new food sensation was mined in an old Indian burial ground and winds up taking on a life of it's own and terrorizing a sweet family of four.  Yeah Dad drinks, but he's got a hard job and Mom is just doing her best to keep the family together, and then The Stuff melts it's way out of the fridge and shows them what a family can do if they pull together.  Ok, sis did get eaten by it first, but TEENAGERS!  Am I right?

Crabs.  Crabs!  They had crabs.  That's the nicest thing I can say about their salt and pepper blue crabs.  Not soft shells mind you.  These babies are off season as they come and as thorny as a rose bush.  There's a reason they're harvested when they are.  And the salt and pepper had about 9 other components in the mix.  11 secret herbs and spices more frequently tasted in a bucket.  Yes friends, they made delicious crab taste like it had made shameful alleyway copulation with the common fried yard-bird.  And semi-miraculously they found a way to cook the crab until it had the texture of over cooked chicken too!  Truly an astounding and blood drawing dish.  Remember to use them crab crackers kids!

A little more nice and alot more mean starting with the dim sum.  Yup, they've got a little dim sum section.  It's fairly cute with the food even displayed in their little aluminum steamer pots.  And most of what I had was tasty.  The shumai had a nice little bit of savory sausage in it, the dumpling had a nice semi savory and sour meatball, sticky rice with red bean was stickier than rubber cement and delicious.  The steamed buns were even fluffy yet pliable.  However every 3rd one we grabbed...HAD NO FILLING!  At first we thought it was just 1 selection that was a plain bun, but no, 3 different bun shapes each yielded a lack of filling for each diner at different times.  Maybe it's a culinary 3 card monte, keep your eye on the filling, 3 buns in the pan but only one has the cheese, keep your eye on the OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT!  Ooops, sorry bro, maybe you get filling next time.  Sigh.

Now the super mean.  First, sushi bar manned by active sushi chefs should not be serving tuna that tastes more like the bait that caught it.  A seafood lover shouldn't be turning green after taking a bite of what is arguably the least fishy sushi fish out there.  And speaking of green, a half picked at 1 foot tall molded mound of wasabi is not complimentary to the idea of fresh sushi.  The guy will totally cut you up a tuna roll fresh and on the spot, but can't be asked to put out wasabi more than once every 24 hours.  But it doesn't stop at the sushi bar, oh noes.  Ever get gyoza dipping sauce that already has other people's floaties in it?  Ever seen bits of cookie and strawberry and god knows what valiantly struggling to not get sucked back down into the pump for the chocolate fountain?  Ever sat in a buffet for 2 hours with DOZENS of staff running back and forth and never see them change or strain those sauces, much less do a safe and sanitary temp check on food items sitting out over 15 minutes?  Ever had a waiter snatch the plate you were still eating from, directly in front of you and then try to replace it with someone else's dirty dish??  Yes, that happened.  I'm still shocked too.

So, obviously after noting the state of the chocolate supply, dessert was officially cancelled.  And while the girls enjoyed an in depth discussion of the merits of cruise directors and Broadway musicals, a smoke was in order.  And here was where I was truly torn.  After the bait and switch sort of schizophrenic experience of dinner I was ready to tuck in for a happily smug slagging of a faux fancy buffet and crow their deficiencies from the highest tower.  And so I have.  But then came Jin.  As we were sniffing our way through their fancy tea display, Jin sidles up to us and starts a warm and friendly banter that Fresno will likely drum out of him soon enough.  Even the bartender and one of the wait staff came up to ask questions, make suggestions and be generally friendly and engaging.  I've eaten at $100 a plate joints, tipped 20% and still never been treated so well after a meal.

And while I've varied from picking on to outright slagging their food, it is only a $15 buffet.  Parts of it are odd and even awful.  But there are good parts that are overshadowed by my love of nit-pickery.  The gyoza were tasty as was the aforementioned shumai, the tempura items outside of the soggy veg were adequate.  There was a unique baked/fried chicken on a stick that had the crab spices applied to the proper creature.  And also on the chicken front, there was a wonderful chicken congee that was intentially mislabelled as cream of chicken.  Though a bit of a warning, the different texture of a thick congee will make people think that it's made with a different kind of chicken cream, if you know what I mean.

Overall, it wasn't half bad, but it was close.  The bad was bad/wrong b'dong.  But the acceptable was well within buffet allowances.  And the low price brought me to the thought that if we'd had dinner at Denny's, we'd have paid around the same and Denny's sucks harder than microwave dinners and a beating with the belt.  Plus, personality goes a long way with me and Jin was certainly full of that as he floated from table to table with compliments and pimping his teas as hard as a pimp can pimp. 

So, I say try Lin's for the experience at the very least.  Like any buffet, you sort of graze your way towards what you like and get to try things you wouldn't likely buy as an entree.  And at the end of the day, any buffet is a nightmare if you pay close enough attention.  You're getting to gorge yourself for the cost of an overpriced burger, some corners must be cut.  At the very least, they've sprung for a friendly and active staff.  Maybe a few helpful suggestions and insights could help the food be as friendly as Jin.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Eating Out Reuben's Ribs

God bless a liar.  I suppose someone who thinks themselves a comedian rather than a reporter is ultimately pointing out that he's a horrible liar and so I shouldn't blame myself for being a total lazy ass hopless liar sonofabitch.  But I am and I do.  But apologizing blindly to the internet is stupid and all of my excuses have been expeneded.  I'm a bad blogger.  Eat my ass, or better yet, eat Reuben's new owner's ribs and Ghost Chili hot sauce!

So just to gloss over the lost months, we were out getting our blood taken to check out how much damage our fat-centric diet has been doing to our delicate booze filtering liver and having to not eat for 12 hours required a big ass ole reward for our lack of self destructive indulgence!  Bar-be-motherucking-Q time!

Now we've all heard of the spot over by the VA hospital quite a bloody bit over the past 2 to 3.  And I'm glad as hell that I was a horrible lazy ass and took so long to review it to now.  Why, you may ask?  Because it's acutally fucking bomb diddly in my guts good now! 

Now I know what you're thinking, but I had to fast before the blood tests, meaning that this is probably my one and only most soberest review ever.  And don't take it as a bad thing.  Beyond the ribs being falling-apart-tender and the chicken still being juicy and yet smokey and delicious and despite their hot links being bomb diggity hot linguica.  Their damn Bhut Jalokia sauce is 8 shades of tasty and not, I repeat NOT too hot for normal humans.

Don't get me wrong, the heat on that molasses sweet dark brown treat will grow on ya like a warm pond fungus.  But it ain't too scary for the non-hardcore to have a bite or two of.  Though credit where she's due, by the 4th dip even I was reconsidering my bragging about "I GROW THESE DANG PEPPERS Y'ALL!"  Yeah...and they still make me sweat so hard I gotta throw away that pair of underwear.

But above and beyond the meat rocking my socks, it was the personal touch of the entire staff.  The kids behind the counter wanted to make sure I had everything I could possibly want.  And in the course of the eating, not only was the owner sweet enough to ask if my skinny ass was a veteran (because I had blood taken and had a bandage, so presumably came from the VA hospital) but was also kind enough not to pick on me for being a dickhead citizen just having his cholesterol checked.

And fun enough as our conversation expanded, so did our meeting of the family.  First daughters came out of the kitchen and were introduced, then sons and close friends of the family and finally Mrs. (Totally not) Reuben as we talked smoke, peppers, news and food.  And finally I got to hit what has kept me from writing these many months.

There is another near and dear food establishment I've been harboring these thoughts about, but I finally got to talk to a restaurant owner before it was too late.  And that oddball in-my-head tie up is: Don't Fucking Expand!  Yes, I know you've made some money and Fresno is beating a path to your door this month but...DON'T EXPAND!  Yes, you took out a big ass fucking loan to get off the ground and you're pulling in enough cash in the first 6 months to qualify for another loan but...DON'T FUCKING EXPAND!

Why you say?  Everybody I pay to give me advice and the evil fat fuckers who underwrite my loans tell me that this is the best time in my business to do just that!  And all of my fans love me so much that I'm sure my poop muffins taste just like blueberry tarts and they tell me so every day!  My Mom told me that I'll be President and my insurance guy swears he'll eat there 3 times a week!

And you know what?  Nobody is going to tell you that Fresno loves to jab it's culinary interest into a new face.  Loves to throw money at it's tawdry newness and tell it that it's special, it's the #1 in their world, it's gonna bring ALL of it's friends to rub their wannabe, faux rich, no class, North Fresno face in it's big ole food titties and smear the owner with dirty food stripper dollars.

And then that poor fool opens up a bigger dining room with those dirty dollars.  And still then...crickets...  Where went the crowds?  Why when that cramped room, full of personality, still stands empty alongside that afterthought emotionless space that we added on to, what was already working?  Is it the new room, is it the expanded menu, is it the new

Nope!  Dumbass!  Fresno was sick of you and getting ready to ignore you in the first place!  But your dumb ass decided to sink 50 to 100 grand of investor money in something we were sick of by the time you knocked on their door!  If you were smart, you'd have been busy refining your business model and adding burgers to your menu to cement your place in the Fresno Food-Brain.  But no, more art, 5 more tables and the inability for your kitchen or staff to keep up with the same flow of business you had before the expansion kills you every fucking time.

Ok, I don't think I was that expansive, but really thats how it goes down.  And my angst is rooted in another Fresno food institution making an even bigger classic Fresmistake,  I hope this confession will give me the courage to write what I really feel (I know right?  It gets worse that this??)  But for any hopeful Fresranteur, please heed these words and find the way to prove me wrong.