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.