GREAT BARRNGTON, Mass. – I like to try new things, for the most part. New colors, new smells, new hairstyles, they all seem so nonthreatening and impermanent, and therefore, safe, maybe even fun. However, when it comes to food, I am a dictator. Not of presentation or even ambiance, but of taste. And this is why, when I had dinner at the Hong Kong Buffet which recently opened on Main Street, I was faced with that one adjective that no restaurant should be; odd. Not quirky and fun, not eclectic or New York deli rude (which would’ve been fine) or uppity or gross, but just odd.
An odd assortment of prepackaged desserts and a sesame pork ball make their debut at Hong Kong Buffet on Main Street.
It doesn’t help matters that the Hong Kong Buffet occupies the space that was the once-legendary Deli with its legendary bagel sandwiches and even more legendary cook, Frank Tortoriello. I’m not sure how long ago the Deli closed but it is so near and dear to us southerners that there is even a Facebook page dedicated to its memory. The location has switched hands several times, and each time with little success. I was hoping HKB would be different.
To its credit, it is a genuine buffet that offers several dozen dishes and sides and desserts; and it is all-you-can-eat for $11. That’s where the perks end. This is clearly a case where quality suffers (immensely) at the feet of quantity. Sure, I can eat a lot of the mayonnaise shrimp but why would I want to? Yes, I can pile my plate high with General Tso’s chicken, but after the first two sickeningly sweet bites even my iron palette wavers.
I know, I know, it’s standard Americanized Chinese food served buffet style, you get what you pay for, right? But would it hurt to have more than one vegetable dish amidst a sea of meat and shellfish? And where is the brown rice? And the one tofu dish that seems universally to be known as “Buddha’s Delight” or something along those lines.
This is not even the standard fare that I would gladly wolf down straight from the take-out cartons on a gluttonous Friday night. This food is unfamiliar, even to me, and seems to be comprised of three ingredients: thick, syrupy brown sauce, mayonnaise and/or soggy panko breading.
Not to mention, the tea was bitter. Even more so than the run-of-the-mill Oolong you get at most Chinese eateries. This tea had been sitting and waiting, perhaps just for me, for a long, long time.
I certainly don’t want to wish ill on anyone brave enough to open a restaurant in downtown Great Barrington, but rest assured, the competition is fierce and having a niche is crucial. Perhaps HKB will develop a following like its predecessor. Or, perhaps, it too will succumb to the curse of the Deli.