Buffet Met Barbecue
James Square Plaza,2309 Nott St. E., Niskayuna, 344-7518.
Serving lunch Mon-Sat 11-3:30, dinner Mon-Thu 3:30-10, Fri-Sat
3:30-11, Sun noon-10. AE, D, MC, V.
Service: All Yours
Start with a close-up: a single pink baby rose, its petals
spangled with tiny drops of dew. Perfect in its imperfections,
it’s a fake, those dewdrops frozen against the silky fabric
of the flower. The soundtrack is “Lara’s Theme” from Dr.
Zhivago. Pull back slightly and a series of buffet tables
is revealed: seven of them, a row of three and a row of four,
one behind the other. Each is several feet long, with a waist-high
assortment of food and a chin-high hood to light it. In the
space between you see the torsos of the hungry, in this case
four very fat bodies drifting in criss-cross symmetry, plates
piled high. The music changes to “Summertime,” with an accordion
The phony foliage, the amusingly multicultural music, the
all-you-can-eat concept—only on the surface is this an Asian
restaurant. Welcome to America, baby. Assimilation is the
watchword at the Golden Phoenix, with convenience, its brash
younger brother, slewing over into excess. You pay your $6
or $9 or $10 (depending on time of day, and day of week) and
you take your choice, over and over and over. And you serve
All of which align this place with the many other Chinese
buffets that dot the area. Golden Phoenix has something else,
however, that sets it apart from most: a Mongolian barbecue
station at which you put together your own bowl of selected
Here’s a concept that has fueled full-fledged restaurants
(even chains) in other markets, but it hasn’t succeeded the
few times it’s been tried here. But it is sneaking into other
area Chinese buffets (Clifton Park’s Dragon Buffet is another).
It’s based on the notion that Mongol warriors, who had to
eat on the go, cooked meals at their campsites over heated
What this gives you is the opportunity to put together something
a little healthier than the fat-saturated items offered at
the other stations. And there are enough flavoring agents
to make a meat-free dish taste terrific.
Unlike what’s at most of the other buffet tables, the Mongolian
barbecue ingredients are raw. Shaved pork, beef and chicken
are the meatstuffs (I saw no lamb, usually another staple
of these setups). There are onions, mushrooms, sprouts, snow-pea
pods, peppers and other veggies, and minced garlic and ginger
mingle with the many sauces, offering a range of flavors and
spiciness intensity. Assemble the ingredients you prefer in
one of the large bowls provided, and hand it to the sautée
chef: It’s cooked as you watch, over a large, hot grilltop.
(Avail yourself, while you wait, of the adjacent sushi offerings.
They’re freshly assembled throughout the day, and include
nothing more ambitious than a variety of rolls, sporting nothing
more adventurous than shrimp or salmon.)
Because I like strong flavors and hot peppers, I was generous
with the garlic and spicy black-bean sauce. Back at my table,
enjoying the cooked result, I considered the proportions and
mentally adjusted them for my next visit. You don’t usually
get this level of interactivity with a restaurant.
To my daughter, an Asian restaurant holds the bright prospect
of what’s essentially an American dish: General Tso’s chicken,
invented, as best as anyone can determine, in New York. According
to Eric Hochman, it was part of the mid-’70s incursion of
Hunan and Szechuan dishes into the Chinese-American Cantonese
tradition, and first appeared on the menu at Peng’s in Manhattan.
Like many sauce-dependent dishes, it’s best appreciated when
hot out of the wok. Time spent in a chafing dish takes its
toll, but those who seek a gooey sweetness in their comestibles—and
this certainly includes those who are 5 or are 5 at heart—won’t
My strategy, when considering such dishes, is to slowly roam
the buffet aisles so that I’m able to see which trays are
getting refreshed. Then I snap up that item only.
All the standards are here: beef with broccoli, sesame chicken,
roast pork with snow peas—you know the stuff. Egg rolls, fried
dumplings, crab Rangoon and such are there for the taking,
and I’ve even seen crab legs, still in the shells, alongside
a supply of drawn butter.
A raw bar gives you clams and shrimp, a salad station offers
iceberg lettuce and the usual array of vegetables, and you’ll
even find standbys like macaroni salad, to which my wife shamelessly
helped herself. Soups include wonton (add the wontons separately)
and hot-and-sour, and the latter is one thing that does well
while simmering in a steam table. All in all, the Golden Phoenix’s
buffet boasts an array of more than 200 items at any given
Steer your food-phobic parents here and let them heap their
plates. You can grab a tasty Mongolian meal, and all should
be happy. Fine dining it’s not, but it doesn’t pretend to
be. The staff circulates constantly, removing plates and refilling
drinks. They’re very pleasant and add to the easygoing sense
of accommodation that informs this place.
Dinner for three, with tax and tip, was $29.
for the old State Street Pub to reopen next month with a new
face and a new name, and an old friend as chef. Andrew Plummer,
chef of the now-shuttered Allegro Café in Troy, will helm
the kitchen at McGuire’s (Lark and State streets, Albany),
which promises an upscale menu similar to Allegro’s. Building
owner Tom Despart said that he waited many years to find the
right fit for the building, something other than the kind
of bar it’s been in the past. Meanwhile, the old Allegro space
(33 Second St., Troy), under the thriving Daisy Baker’s, is
slated to reopen in the fall as a more casual dining venue
called Bacchus. . . . also in Troy, the LoPorto family
has opened another restaurant, this one a sandwich shop. Francesca’s
(Broadway and Fifth ) offers a breakfast and lunch menu
on weekdays that includes salads and an imaginative variety
of sandwiches, including wraps, as well as pastries. It’s
open Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM to 3 PM. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland.
fax info to 922-7090)