Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cafe Z

Rather modest plans led me to the Shangri-La hotel - lunch at Mooney's pub. However, Mooney's is only open for lunch Friday to Sunday, so I asked for a table at Cafe Z. The dining room is large, light, and comfortable; well appointed without being overly formal. And the food is exceptional.

The buffet has an enormous number of choices, spread over several stations. Your paper place mat has a map, which you may want to use for a walking tour of all the stations before starting to fill your plate. Otherwise it is easy to miss some options, such as the Indian food station which is located near the toe of the L-shaped dining room. Servers with grilled meat on skewers also circulate, Brazilian barbecue style, offering diners chunks of barbecued beef, sausage, toasty seasoned chicken wings, and tandoori chicken. The dim sum station:

The cooking here reveals an understanding of non-Chinese food that is extremely rare in Chengdu. The vegetable, salad, and cheese station had several Middle Eastern dips and salads, which I was excited to try. The fatouche, complete with mint and sumac, was excellent. I am still trying to figure out the carrot salad, which tasted strongly of garlic, and...lemon, olive oil, onion, and parsley? Ingredients this basic have no business tasting that good.

As with most buffets, not every item was done well. Most items in the hot food serving dishes were more lukewarm than hot. The warmest thing about the Hungarian goulash was the paprika in the sauce, and the meat was tough. The bear paw tofu was bland and soggy, and the sushi was not much above the local zombie-fish standard.

Saving room for dessert, always a challenge at a buffet, is important here. The crème brûlée , topped with kiwi, blueberry, fig, and currant, was beautiful. The crumbly, house made apple strudel was served warm.

The servers all showed a good spirit of hospitality and were quick to top up water glasses, whisk away used plates, and bring new silverware. I felt more cared for than at most full service restaurants.

The lunch buffet is Y128 per person, which only includes water to drink. Coffee, which you really do need with that dessert, is another Y35 and there is an automatic fifteen percent service charge. They also do a more elaborate buffet at dinner, and a seafood buffet on Friday night.

The place is priced for a special occasion and delivers; it has the power to pull your day above the ordinary. Back outside in the humidity, waiting for my bus beside first ring traffic, I felt like a new arrival in a foreign city.

Address: 成都市滨江东路9号

in the Shangri-La hotel, close to Jiuyan bridge

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