Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet9/10/2014
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the Chinese buffet is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. People either love them or hate them. Their history in America has been notorious. Las Vegas’ first all-you-can-eat buffet was Chinese. The genre also seems too often beset with problems. Eastern Sushi Hibachi Buffet (ESHB) opened the most lavish such restaurant in Iowa in 2012, in an extensively remodeled 500-seat venue once home to Mondo’s. It had a misty carp pond, a replica of a horse-drawn chariot from the terra cotta army of Xian, an extensive menu of scratch-made foods, and a hibachi station with freshly deboned chicken and skirt steak instead of the frozen mystery meats that most such places serve. Chefs put on an Ohana-class show juggling eggs and dazzling guests with flames.
After only a few months, the owners stripped the real estate to the bone in the dead of night and disappeared from town. The restaurant was also charged with stealing credit card information from customers. Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet came to town on Labor Day weekend with fanfare. In a beautifully remodeled former Lone Star Steakhouse venue, they flashed a stunning wood carving from a giant tree (sandalwood, I suspect, but no one could verify) and a staff that seemed to be more bilingual than those at other local buffets. My hostess greeted me with “We have Peepsi.”
The restaurant also comes with a tainted reputation. The U.S. Department of Labor last year filed a lawsuit against Wang’s Partner Inc., who was doing business as a Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet in Georgia. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, it sought to recover unpaid back wages and liquidated damages of nearly $2 million for 84 employees. Investigators found that the employer misclassified servers as independent contractors, failed to pay servers and kitchen staff at least the federal minimum wage and failed to pay overtime compensation for hours worked beyond 40 in a work week. Additionally, the employer did not maintain accurate records of hours worked and wages paid.
To be fair, each Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet operates independently of others, but all such restaurants carry the same tainted name and very similar logos, menus, web pages and designs. With the memory of ESHB’s bad manners still alive in West Des Moines, why would a new place want to open with any association to bad behavior? Diners do not seem to mind one bit. The 420-seat restaurant has entertained huge crowds since opening. It’s even busy at odd hours like 3 p.m. The offerings ranked in quantity with ESHB’s 10 steam tables serving between six and 18 different items each on my visit. In addition, there was a sushi bar offering 20 different rolls, but very little fresh fish, plus a grill and hibachi station where chefs prepared raw and frozen foods at no additional charge.
Some items were surprising at such low prices (lunch checks average about $8 and dinners around $11): fresh shrimp (but no cocktail sauce); coconut scallops, roast steaks that looked like ribeye, excellent roast chickens, whole baked salmon, clam stuffed crab fritters, and a real ice cream bar with lots of the stuff that entices kids to fro-yo stores.
Side dishes La Mie’s Joe and Christina Logsdon purchased Sweet Binney’s from Ryan Binney, who will work for the expanded La Mie. The retail side of the business in the former Sweet Binney’s is being phased out… Safety Tats are an interesting new product, particularly at back to school time. These temporary tattoos alert teachers, babysitters, day care centers, etc. to food allergies. Available at www.safetytat.com. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet 1801 22nd St., West Des Moines 267-8383 Sun. – Thurs. 11 a.m.. – 9:30 p.m., Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.