Eastern Buffet offers tastes of the East, West, North and South – Columbia, SC

Recommended: Yes

It took me two days to make the drive so I stopped twice for lunch. This was my first lunch. And yes, I was craving Asian food both times. So sue me. (But not really, please!)

I got off the highway just outside of Columbia, SC in search of a Starbucks and a McDonalds (gross, I know), both of which had been promised to me by the little blue FOOD sign for this exit. Unfortunately, I was able to find the truck loading zone for Wal-Mart before I could find the Starbucks. So after wasting at least fifteen minutes searching for coffee, I decided I needed to refuel on something better than McDonalds (whew!)

As always, I thought sushi or hibachi would be a great choice for lunch, so I drove around in circles through strip mall hell looking for the promise of Asian food. And just as I was about to give up, I caught glimpse of a building with the word BUFFET on it, so I stopped for a closer look.

That is how I found Eastern Buffet.

The door promised a $7.95 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet which was good enough for me. What I didn’t realize was HOW MUCH STUFF could be included in a $10/with tip meal. So here’s a breakdown of what I got:

First plate. Vegetable lo mein, mock crab meat in butter sauce, seafood salad (like, octopus, mock crab, and shrimp) also in butter sauce, mac and cheese (wtf?), an egg roll, 3 crab rangoon, sweet and sour sauce, and some broccoli I *borrowed* from the beef & broccoli.

How was it? Aside from the mac and cheese, everything was pretty good. The vegetable lo mein was by far the best thing on the plate because it was SO FLAVORFUL. The crab meat and rangoon were probably tied for second because they were both pretty delicious. The egg roll could have been cooked a little more because at some points it was mushy instead of crispy, but I mostly just ate the veggies inside anyway.

So on to the second plate. It was at this point, somewhere between shoving my face full of food and heading back to the buffet that I realized there was a whole untapped resource in the back just waiting for me to find.

SUSHI!

Now I know a lot of buffets have sushi, but I’m not much of a buffet person, so it was a pleasant surprise. I took note, and got ready to fill up my next plate.

Second plate. Kimchi (lots of it), chilled seafood salad, more lo mein, some shrimp scampi looking deal, a plantain (yes, like from Latin America), and sushi! I should also mention it was at the point I noticed a very suspicious food station next to the food area with raw vegetables and a sign that said “Choose your Meat: Shrimp, Chicken, Beef.” But I’ll get back to that.

The second plate was excellent. The kim chi was mind-blowing for anyone who likes spicy food. Which I do. It was so good, in fact, that it lead me to believe that the owners were probably Korean because it reminded me of kim chi I would get from Korean friends who’d gotten the recipe from their moms, grandmothers, etc. It was spicy and delicious, and definitely not the watered-down Americanized version I’m used to. The scampi was good, and so were 2 of 3 sushi rolls. One was a bit…squishy, for lack of better description.

And then there was the plantain. What the hell was a plantain doing at an Asian restaurant? I don’t know, but if they keep making them the way they do, they can have all the plantains they want. And I will keep eating them!

Now back to that strange little food station next to the sushi. After a closer inspection (unfortunately with a full plate), I realized that included in the price of the buffet is the option to get a specially made hibachi meal! You load up on your plate which raw veggies you want, choose your meat, and request rice or noodles. Then the multi-talented hibachi grill expert (who also rolls your sushi) will fry up your hibachi style meal to your liking. And you can even go get a plate from the buffet while you wait!

In reference to the name, you can see where the east and south come from I’m sure (plantains from Latin America and well, duh, it’s a far east buffet), but what about the rest? They also offered plenty of American favorites like mac and cheese, chicken wings, and the like which is very Western. As for the north, well, to be honest I kind of just threw that in there, but the chilled seafood salads were very reminiscent of German and Norwegian chilled salads, so I guess that works.

All in all, this place is a PHENOMENAL deal with enough food to find something great. I learned the hard way that they weren’t on top of their mac and cheese game, but it’s not like I wasted my money on something I wouldn’t eat. I set the plate aside and went back for more.

Rating: 8/10 (would be an 7 if it weren’t for the GREAT value)

Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse – Beckley, WV

Recommended: YES!

I guess it takes a vacation and the opportunity to try some new restaurants to get me blogging. Or maybe it’s this really nice iMac I have access to that makes me want to blog some restaurant reviews. Either way, here it is.

After a few hours worth of traffic jams all up I-77N, I decided to stop for some real food to hold me over for the next six or so hours I would be driving. Sorry, Comfort Inn complimentary continental breakfast, but donuts and apples just don’t fill me up. I was craving sushi, and I decided to stop at Fujiyama, a place I’ve passed a hundred times taking this trip, but never stopped to try.

Well, today was the day. Or rather, yesterday.

The restaurant is in a mini-mess of chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations, so it’s easy to miss. And once you do see it, you might have wished you had missed it and continued on to the nearest Applebees. (And I hate Applebees.) But looks can be deceiving.

Even though Fujiyama looks like a run-down shack of a building (especially when it’s raining – which for me, it was), once you step inside, you won’t remember where you are. The interior is quite grand and dimly lit, perfect for romantic evenings, although at lunchtime, it’s rather full of families. There’s a large seating area for guests not choosing to trek to the back of the restaurant where the hibachi cook-in-front-of-you stuff goes on, but I never made it that far back. Instead, I sat at the sushi bar located right in front of the hostess stand.

Now the only thing odd about this sushi bar is that is considerably lower than your typical sushi bar, so you feel VERY short in comparison to your sushi chefs. Nonetheless, it’s a nice, intimate little space. While I was looking through the menu, the sushi chef began chopping away and quickly served me with a small complimentary dish that consisted of sliced crab meat, cucumbers and possibly some cabbage in a light, slightly spicy, cream sauce. It was delicious. And it put me in the mood to try more new things.

They offer two sushi lunch specials. Choose from one list of sushi options and get 2 rolls plus soup or salad for $9. This list contains all your usuals like Philadelphia roll, tuna roll, California roll, etc. But since I was being adventurous, I chose the from the 2nd list of rolls for $13. I settled on an Ohio roll (spicy salmon wrapped in seaweed and rice topped with tuna – mmm) and a New York roll (crab, tuna, yellowtail, avocado, and cucumber wrapped in seaweed and rice topped with masago – a HUGE roll.)

For starters (well, after that crab salad), my miso soup was great. Unlike most places who skimp on the tofu, seaweed or green onion, the only thing Fujiyama might skimp on is enough broth for all the stuff they put in their soup. And it was extremely flavorful. My sushi rolls were up in no time, and they were enormous. There were 8 Ohio rolls and 5 New York rolls, and I had to take 3 and 2 home, respectively. The Ohio roll has something a bit crunchy mixed in with the salmon to give it a slight spice, and the New York roll is almost too big to fit in your mouth. Everything tasted fresh, and I didn’t even bother asking for any extra dipping sauces or the like because the taste of the rolls were so good on their own.

I’m not sure the people there realize how lucky they are to have good sushi since I didn’t see too many people with sushi at their table. This place definitely beats out a lot of the sushi restaurants in Savannah where sushi runs rampant. My only problem would be that the wait staff was a bit unorganized and slow, but it was lunch rush. What was lost in the speed of service was definitely found in the friendliness and helpfulness from everyone working there.

Oh, and they have a koi pond fountain inside. I really don’t think I could ask for more.

Overall rating: 8/10