Buffet restaurants frighten me. When you walk in, you know that everyone in the joint is there to eat as much they can. They are giddy for it. It can put a lot of pressure on you. What? Merely full? Keep eating. Stop a few plates after you hit "stuffed." It's like everyone is being fattened up for some sort of government harvest. I can't help but think of Midwest feedlots packed with Americans gorging on corn and beef tallow. "Hey mom, this soylent sushi tastes like people! Yum!"
For the sake of loyal Planet readers, I overcame my fears and decided to venture out to try the Crazy Buffet, reportedly one of the nicer temples of mass consumption. My faithful companions and I girded our loins and removed our belts in preparation for a night of serious, meaningless gluttony. Was the experience worth the karmic fallout that comes from violating a deadly sin? Nope.
Forget about how bad eating all you can eat is for your system, your appearance and your love life. What about the food? I can guarantee you that anything that sits in a metal pan over some hot water or under a heat lamp is not going to be spectacular. All it's good for is drowning that pain you keep hidden deep, deep inside — maybe under a pile of mediocre stir-fry or a couple dozen crab legs.
I've heard the words "classy" and "upscale" thrown around in reference to Crazy Buffet. Sure, it qualifies, with a burbling waterfall surrounding the front door, a smart foyer and sweeping modern bar area, and cool colors accenting the subdued genero-Asian décor throughout. There's even a player piano pounding out all of your ragtime favorites. Ragtime?
Of course, wandering through this pretty and soulless decor is a mass of hoi polloi in shorts and T-shirts carrying their third plate of Kung Pao chicken and egg rolls. The place might look upscale, but it's got that Vegas vibe, glitz and glamour, and sunburned tourists in Old Navy madras feeling like they're living in the lap of luxury. All for $17.95.
More than a dozen linear feet of makimono, sashimi and sushi are displayed right at the front, the first thing you see when you roll into the trough room. It's obviously the crowning glory of Crazy Buffet and it's always the item that people mention after a trip to the place. "All you can eat sushi, man! I ate like $100 worth of rice and fish!"
Sure, but it's $100 worth of chewy tuna or funky hamachi or oddly crunchy eel. It's roll after roll with stingy, indistinguishable fillings hidden inside a prodigious amount of under-seasoned rice. It's bitter wasabi, soggy omelet and bland ginger. I've eaten better at my local Publix.
There's more than sushi, of course: like the typical offering of fried chicken nuggets in sauce — Kung Pao, honey and orange come to mind — as well as the usual deep-fried Asian starters, all flaccid and greasy. I was intrigued by tempura-battered deep-fried sushi, but it turns out that tempura can be surprisingly difficult to chew after an extended stay in a steam tray.
A create-your-own stir-fry bar lets patrons fill a bowl with chunky veggies and raw meats to be wokked with either teriyaki or garlic sauce. I ordered the teriyaki, but both the chicken and beef came out with only the overwhelming flavor of salty bouillon. Oddly enough, the bacon-wrapped "filets" being grilled nearby tasted the exact same way. There isn't a sign, so if you want one of these chewy, livery steaks you'll have to ask the guy behind the counter.
Shreds of "Peking" duck were tasty — protected by the bird's natural fat no doubt — but the tortillas and steamed buns provided to stuff the duck into were crumbly and dry. A slew of salads and dishes were perfectly adequate. Not once, though, did I have any desire to return for seconds of anything at Crazy Buffet.
Radio ads tout Crazy Buffet's rotating repertoire of Asian cuisine, with a different country featured every month. A restaurant that essentially serves a Westernized and neutered version of Chinese and Japanese cuisine singles out one country every month to receive the same treatment. Congratulations Korea, it's your turn.
Turns out that this monthly offering has a little more life than the rest of Crazy's tired fare. There's kimchi coated in red chili paste that is almost spicy; tasty, but inauthentic bulgoki; and fatty short ribs that are infused with a somewhat more pleasing variation of Crazy's signature bouillon flavor.
Is the food better than that of a lower-class Asian buffet? Yeah, a little. It's one of the better inexpensive buffets I've been to. Is it better than the real food from your average Japanese, Chinese or Korean restaurant? Not by a long shot.
Here's the bottom line. There are but two reasons I can see to eat at the Crazy Buffet: 1. to get your mass consumption fix in more posh surroundings than the local Ponderosa or Old Country Buffet, or 2. because you are clinically unable to make up your mind. Feel a need to put tiny portions of a couple dozen foods on your plate instead of settling for one or two menu items? Have you seen your shrink lately?
I'll make the decision for you — go to a real restaurant, order an appetizer and entrée, and enjoy food that will likely be considerably better than that served at this buffet.
Brian Ries is a former restaurant general manager with an advanced diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Planet food critics dine anonymously, and the paper pays for the meals. Restaurants chosen for review are not related to advertising.