Mosaic / Reviews / November 3, 2010

Masters of the stir-fry? Not really

The buffet is a restaurant medium with a very simple, easy objective: more. More, more, more. More entrees, more sides, more desserts, more combinations (Who says you can’t have a caesar salad and a cobb salad, or a cheese-steak sandwich with cheesy tortilla soup?).

And when you boil it all down, that’s really all we as patrons expect of a buffet—sad as that may be. We should not expect innovative choices on the menu. Dessert expectations, too, should be tempered (those expecting bananas foster ought to be disappointed, whereas those who appreciate some frosting on their brownies will usually walk away pleased—as always, it’s the little things in life).

I preface this review of Galesburg’s new Master Stirfry with that declaration because I do not want people to think that I don’t get it — the “it” being buffets. I understand them. I may not like them in general, but I certainly understand them and the purpose they serve.

The initial sense when I pulled into the Master Stirfry parking lot was “Is this a good idea?” I will say, up front, that my visceral response was “Why wouldn’t it be?” I mean, stir-fry is in the damn name. Stir-fry, by nature, is a delicious treat; the only way it could be ruined is through the presence of, say, too much baby corn. I figured that, at the very least, stir-fry was a fall-back option, should all else go wrong.

All else went wrong. I walked in, and was immediately confused. I was told to first sit down. Then, drink orders came. Then, after about five minutes, they said, “Go get food.” I hadn’t paid up front, a strange touch for buffet-style dining, as this just encourages the old dine and ditch. But, no matter. I approached the buffet area.

It was interesting. A combination sushi/stir-fry bar, next to four to five rows of hot dishes, ranging from chicken strips to miso soup to sprinkled brownies. I opted for the stir-fry, but was presented with only four sauce options: garlic, soy, sweet and sour and a fourth I do not remember. I can tell you that it was not some vaguely named option like vegetable and I can tell you that because, for whatever reason, I mumbled “vegetable” when the stir-fry cook asked me what sauce I would prefer. And he obliged with some sort of sauce.

But this saucy miscommunication did not ruin my meal. It was, in general, alright, despite the mealy vegetables and strangely-seasoned pepper chicken.

What is wrong with Master Stirfry has more to do with the restaurant’s aesthetic. It is painfully confusing, as the prices are nowhere to be seen upon entry (I later found them on a laminated, glass-encased promotional flyer in the foyer in size 14 font) and the wait-staff is not so vigilant that they will help you to sit down and explain to you the Master Stirfry process.

I should note that, upon rereading, this seems like an awfully foolish notion. Do I mean to say that I actually needed someone to explain to me how a buffet works? What? Of course I know how it works, but in a dining situation so simple as a buffet line, we as consumers swear off all theretofore common sense. We are now in a feeding pen. In a buffet, we are all cattle.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention how tacky it is. I can’t even explain, you have to see that aspect for yourself.

At the same time, I feel terrible writing this as Master Stirfry is a new, local business. It is not some ill-conceived chain. For all I know, it’s the manifestation of a family’s dream— long-awaited, now-realized.

So, you know, go there. Eat. It’s reasonably cheap ($8 for dinner, I think?) and not all that terrible. Just don’t dine and ditch, don’t let your hoity-toity liberal arts-tainted view of the world prejudice your view of the elaborate fountain at the entrance, or the concrete tigers outside. It’s a buffet—you might as well not even open your eyes.

Kevin Morris

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