China Buffet 5/19/99
3525 Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Space G, Torrance, CA 90505
Phone 310-325-8424, Fax 310-325-3472

6/10/99 - Update. Went back for lunch today. They added a vegetable soup, deleted all seafood except one with shrimp and the artificial crab salad, added roasted chicken and stuff to the American section, and added chicken dishes and a mushroom dish to fill in. The manager said they had expected to only get about 25% oriental customers. Also said dinner includes more seafood, crab legs, and sushi, but check it out first. It's a good introduction to Chinese food, nothing is bad, but nothing is outstanding either.

Location. North side of PCH, in the second block east of Hawthorne Blvd., north east corner of PCH and Madison St. It's in a shopping center, in the place that was Jake's Soup Exchange.

Description. All you can eat buffet with Chinese and American food. Large American salad bar; four Chinese soups; several Chinese appetizers; several Chinese pork, chicken, beef, seafood, and vegetables dishes; some American dishes; and several American deserts. That's for lunch; dinner adds sushi and perhaps other items. Someone said the owner also has a buffet in New York. The menu says they have over 80 fresh items daily, but I don't think the count would go that high. The menu also mentions crab-meat Rangoon which I didn't see either day, maybe it's for some dinners only. They've only been open a month and they have already shortened their hours, so always call for the newest details.

Introduction. They opened Monday 5/3/99, and I ate there for lunch on both on Friday 5/7 and on Saturday 5/8/99. On Friday I arrived about 3:50 p.m. so I paid the lunch price and got to see the dinner items. On Saturday I got there about noon. Many items were the same both days, and I'll try to indicate which were available on only one of those days. On Friday I did violate my own rule: only go to a buffet during peak hours when they put out fresh food.

*Hours. 6/5/99. They shortened the hours. Lunch: Mon - Sun 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. Dinner: Mon - Thu 5 - 9:30 p.m., Fri 5 - 10 p.m., Sat 3 - 10 p.m., and Sun 3 - 9:30 p.m. But, do call first.

*Prices. Lunch: Mon - Fri starts [??] at $5.99, Sat & Sun $7.99. Dinner: Mon - Thu $8.99, Fri - Sun $9.99. Kids are less. Doesn't look like the prices changed.

Accompaniments. There are no porcelain spoons, you have to use the metal spoons. The chop sticks are those little, bamboo sticks. No rice bowls, you have to use the small soup bowls on the other side of the room. I don't remember any condiments, not even soy sauce, nor any dipping dishing for them. I do recall something, maybe duck sauce, on the buffet. The menu is all English, a bad sign. There is only one number "8" in their address, zip code, and phone and fax numbers; very unusual for a Chinese business, "8"'s are good luck.

Salad/Desert Bar. They have several prepared salads and several ingredients for make-it-yourself salads. I did like the crab salad (although they said all crab was artificial) and the tomato salad. Several desert items were located here but will be discussed later under Deserts.

Soups. They had four Chinese soups: wonton, egg flower, hot and sour, and seafood. The wanton soup was just the broth, the wontons are on the side, so this makes a good sipping broth. The other three soups were overly thick and over loaded with eggs; as is common in American/Chinese restaurants. RESTAURANTS - please get a clue: soups are not library paste, nor are they egg dishes; please get the thickener and eggs under control. Most Chinese soups are meant to be a beverage. Of those three, the hot and sour tasted ok; maybe it could be thinned with the wanton broth. I don't remember seeing any seafood in the seafood soup, I just took the liquid, but it did have a seafoodish taste.

Appetizers. There were several deep- and shallow-fried items which I don't usually eat. These included two types of egg rolls, pot stickers, fried wonton-wrappers chips, scallion pancakes, and perhaps others. There were also boiled wontons for addition to the broth. I did try a pot sticker, and it contained a lot of ok stuff, maybe pork. The scallion pancakes are somewhat like a popular, street-food item from the Beijing area years ago.

Starches. I recall, maybe, steamed rice, fried rice, noodles, and chow mein. Watch out for dried-out rice on a buffet, it could break a tooth.

Deserts. There were more than enough American-style deserts. The salad bar in front offers cookies, cake, fresh fruit, etc. In back is a soft ice cream machine. Also in back are other items like home-made muffins, waffles, cookies, pudding, jello, prepared apple slices and strawberries, and more. Save a spot for a chocolate-chip cookie.

American foods. This section, in the back, is somewhat undefined. Both days, I think, it contained baked and oven-roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, plain pasta?, pasta with Italian sauce, and one or two types of pizza. I only tried the pizza, with a very thick and soft crust, which was almost ok. On Friday, as they transitioned into the dinner items, they also had over-cooked green beans, and some kind of chicken with traces of tomato sauce, maybe Italian. Two other items were displayed for a photographer: what I'd call country pork ribs and what looked like a whole ham. I tried a rib, no taste, but no one ever asked for a slice of ham and I didn't either. It appears this section contains no meat for lunch, but may contain something for dinner. Do check it out before you commit if this section is important to you.

Chinese food. The good dishes were available both days and included the shredded pork with scallions, sliced chicken with mushrooms, beef and broccoli, meatballs, and fried green beans. I don't care for battered and fried items like the orange chicken, sesame chicken, and sweet and sour whatever (pork or chicken), but their's were ok. I also don't care for chopped chicken dishes, but they were ok. The tofu dishes were bland but ok. Another good dish available on Saturday only was the marinated mushrooms, but the BBQed chicken and steamed vegetables on Friday were only ok (I prefer the vegetables from the meat dishes). The chicken satay was dried out both days and no sauce was available. The seafood items included mussels, fried squid, very thin fish steaks, artificial crab (they said it was all artificial), and shrimp. These were the only marginally ok items on the buffet cause they don't hold up on a steam table; they may have been better when freshly cooked. I've had it with frozen, overcooked shrimp.

Dinner. Remember, this is a new restaurant, and it appears they're still working to define their menu. I'm not clear on the differences between the food items for lunch and dinner. Dinner appears to include four types of sushi (lots of rice and not much fish) which I have seen but not tasted. It may also include more meat in the American section. Dinner is up to $4 more than lunch, so I would visually check it out before I committed to dinner.

Summary. Remember, I tried them twice in their first week, and I don't have a good definition of the differences between the lunch and dinner items. Everything is subject to change. Also, Chinese food doesn't keep as well on a steam table as, for example, Indian food. This appears to be Chinese food customized for what they assume are American tastes. A good test was their black bean chicken: when you can see but just manage to taste the black beans, it's the American version.

Recommendation. I suggest you try them, for the first time, on a Monday thru Friday, when you're very hungry, between about noon to 1 p.m. and when the price is only $5.99. Try to sit where you can see fresh items go from the kitchen to the buffet. Or, try to ask the bus people which fresh items may be forthcoming. Then form your own opinion. The lunch here is only $1 more on Monday thru Friday than the other four Chinese buffet restaurants in the South Bay which I know about, and this place is worth the extra $1. However, remember two of the other places include a beverage; but I prefer room-temperature water and a sipping broth anyway. For the weekend lunches and the dinners, you'll pay from $2 to $4 more and it's up to you to determine the value. That why I specialize in lunch specials.

The * marks changes since date show.