February 21, 2006

Mid City Mall’s #1 Asian Buffet means ‘trouble’ for food fans

Comedian John Pinette, the big guy Jerry and the gang made fun of for his size in the series finale of “Seinfeld,” used to have a bit in his stand-up routine dedicated to his love/hate relationship with Chinese buffets. He loved them; they hated him. He would mimic the staff’s directives to him.“You here four hour! You go now! … You too fat! Eat some vegetable!”Since I’m roughly a third the size of Pinette — and that might be an optimistic estimate — I like to think I surprise any buffet proprietor when I bring a book and sit down for a satisfying hour or so and do my best to inspire that same kind of revulsion. Just like the world champion hot dog eater, the 150-pound Takeru Kobayashi, I can put it away. So I often wonder if the wait staff is chattering — in Chinese — about how the skinny guy in booth 13 just finished his fourth plate of food and is going back for ice cream. I wait for the manager to come after me and accuse me of filling up a bag to take to hungry friends.“You too skinny! Who you give food to? Where you hide it?”Now I have a special place to call my buffet away from home. And they better hope they never get Wi-Fi wireless connection at the #1 Asian Buffet, located at the Mid City Mall.The #1 Asian is the latest addition to the Mid City, and it’s a perfect fit for the head-scratching collection of grocery store/quilt store/library/movie-theater complex in the heart of the Highlands.My non-scientific survey of many of the Chinese/Asian buffets here in Louisville and Southern Indiana puts this one now near the top of the list.(There’s a place in Clarksville, cleverly called Asian Buffet, that I like quite a bit, simply because they usually have “Superman” ice cream for dessert.)Obviously, if you’re having dinner at a buffet of any style, you’re not expecting haute cuisine, so if you know what you’re getting into, the #1 Asian Buffet is a treat.Sure, you can also order off the menu at the #1 Asian, but why in the world would you want to spend anywhere from $6.95 to $9.25 for a single dish, when you can try any number of them, and crab legs, for $8.59?I often like to have one plate of appetizers; a plate or two of the dinner items; a plate of fruit and pudding, maybe cake; and a bowl or two of ice cream.A staple of any buffet is the selection of appetizers, from Crab Rangoon to egg rolls. I’d give the egg and spring rolls a pass here, but the Crab Rangoon is good, if inconsistent. One night they were very crabby, with not too much cream cheese, and on another visit, they were exactly the opposite.The food at the #1 Asian has a more almost home-cooked feel to it — for example, the fried rice isn’t a perfect tan color and you can actually taste the peppers in the pepper chicken  — than a lot of buffets, and is generally very good. And the #1 Asian has unequivocally the best fried dumplings I’ve had at any buffet, period.Now, maybe the sushi I tried had just been sitting there too long. Maybe if you see the sushi chef set some out fresh, then give it a go, but on the whole I’d recommend passing.If you’re not really in the mood for Asian cuisine, you can chow down on some macaroni and cheese, baked beef, stuffed barbeque chicken and spinach and cheese casserole.One thing about the buffet  — and one I think no one realizes  — is how healthy it can be. (Of course, that’s not if you eat the fried goodness I gravitate toward.) You can have a wide variety of steamed, baked and grilled foods and fresh fruit. (No one’s making you have ice cream after dinner.) Ask the chef at the grill table to make you something fresh.The place seems sure to catch on. When I saw one of my best friend’s brothers — a man who enjoys his food — there for his fist visit, all he said was, “I think I’m in trouble.”The #1 Asian Buffet, at the Mid City Mall, 1250 Bardstown Road, serves its lunch buffet Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The prices are $5.59 for adults and $3.99 for children (age 4-10). A dinner buffet is served Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m., at $8.59 for adults and $5.29 for children, and Friday-Saturday , 4-10:30 p.m., at $9.99 for adults and $5.59 for children. The same prices apply for the Sunday special seafood buffet served from 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. The restaurant accepts most major credit cards, and is wheelchair accessible. Call 451-6033 for more information.