Five tips for enjoying 98 Pounds' Chinese/sushi buffet
The newly opened 98 Pounds buffet in Bloomington has sparked a surprising amount of positive online buzz for what is—in essence—a straight-up Chinese buffet with a sushi bar twist. For $7.99 (lunch) or $11.49 (dinner), the casual diner can sample a variety of Chinese, Midwestern, and ostensibly Japanese entrées until fully sated.
The place has more high points than you might expect from a restaurant of its humble genre, and it's worth a carefully executed visit if you happen to be in Bloomington. But before taking the plunge, consider the following five commandments for enjoying Chinese buffets.
1. Buffets are not a contest
The typical diner confronts a buffet with a subconscious agenda: to "beat" the restaurant by eating all of the food, thereby obtaining a really great value.
The thinking goes like this: "I've sunk my eight dollars into the project. Now—can I extract more than eight dollars' worth of ingredient costs?"
This is the path to destruction and regret. Your money's not coming back, and you only need a limited number of calories to get through the day. Choose wisely, eat in moderation, and enjoy a few minor impulse noshes to give you the feeling of buffet-spurred excess without the subsequent treatments of Pepto-Bismol.
For example: Try grabbing one of 98 Pounds' cream cheese wontons. Properly crispy, crimped into a mock-flower shape, and stuffed with a bit of fake crab, they're actually crab rangoons, the cheap Chinese mainstay that has largely bypassed the Twin Cities. Or pick up one of the mercifully small and relatively tasty fried egg rolls, or one of the lighter-than-expected pot stickers. Don't grab all three.
2. Honor the humble food
When selling in bulk to largely indiscriminate diners, it doesn't pay to buy fancy ingredients or slave over the prep. So look for affordable and relatively straight-down-the-garden-path options. The Tokyo Chicken (a teriyaki chicken dish that works well with white rice) was a nicely executed contrast of sweet and salty. Also good was the mei fun, a delicate bundle of spiderweb-thin noodles enriched by tiny shrimp. Skewered chicken breasts served with cherry tomatoes were also reasonably tasty and actually boasted a bit of carbon char.
3. Don't eat the sushi
While sushi often has a stark, simple beauty, one thing it isn't and shouldn't be—at least in the U.S.—is humble. If sushi is going to work, it should rely on fresh, often pricey, sometimes downright rare components, including "caught and flown in this morning" fish and fastidiously prepared sushi rice.
The sushi at 98 Pounds is exactly what you might expect at a one-price-fits-all joint. It doesn't taste fresh, it doesn't taste like fish, and it doesn't in any way satisfy that primal longing for sushi that fans are occasionally struck by. Refrigerated supermarket sushi has serious problems, but it is far closer to the real thing than this stuff.
4. Don't eat the dessert
Granted, there's a certain kind of comic Midwestern flair to a Reddi Wip-filled cream puff. That doesn't mean you need to eat it.
5. If you see pepperoni pizza, maintain a respectful 10-foot distance.
That is all.
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