WITH colorful flags snapping over the former Kenny Rogers' Roasters and with its playful new name, Great Fortune has clearly attracted some attention along bustling York Road. The place was close to full the night we were there.
Happy-looking diners, their plates filled to overflowing from the all-you-can-eat buffet, looked as if they considered it their own great fortune to have stumbled on this place, which invites you to eat until you burst for $14.95.
FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's restaurant review in the LIVE section, the price given for Great Fortune's dinner buffet was incorrect. The price is $9.95 Monday through Thursday and $13.95 Friday through Sunday.
The Sun regrets the errors.
It should be noted at the outset that Great Fortune does have a traditional Chinese regular menu, with all of the usual dishes - egg rolls, fried rice, moo shu pork, General Tso's chicken. However, no one seemed to be ordering from it. In fact, the waitress who seated us seemed surprised that we even wanted to see a menu. Looking around at other diners' plates, piled high with crab legs and every possible combination of dishes from the buffet, we followed suit.
Great Fortune has several dining areas, all of which ring the buffet stations. At the first station, there are fruits and salads of all kinds, including tuna, cole slaw, a ham-and-cheese combo, lettuce and Jell-O. None of the items here is even vaguely Chinese, except for a tub of pickled cabbage. This cold-food station does have some Japanese dishes, however, most notably sushi, which comes in several varieties: tuna, a kind of California roll and a pickled radish roll.
None of the sushi was particularly brilliant in freshness or quality, but it makes a nice break from your fifth plate of Chinese food.
Another station has a vat of big, floppy wontons, steaming baskets of dumplings with various fillings, steamed clams and mussels and king crab legs. These ingredients can all be added to any of the five soups you can dish up yourself, or they can be eaten by themselves.
The soups - hot and sour, egg drop, chicken broth, chicken noodle and vegetable broth - were adequate on their own, but probably the best thing about "all-you-can-eat" is that it's an invitation to play with your food. The combinations we tried here were too bizarre to recommend. You'll have to invent your own.
The most popular station, not surprisingly, displayed a vast array of Chinese food, each labeled (if occasionally vaguely). There were many deep-fried and sauced dishes, or perhaps it just felt as if there were after we tried them all.
While lemon chicken, orange beef and General Tso's chicken were the best of the lot, each a variety of breaded, fried nuggets with a goopy sauce, we've definitely had better elsewhere. With so many choices, though, it was easy to balance the heavily fried items with lightly fried and steamed ones, like Sichuan chicken with carrots and celery, pepper steak, beef and broccoli and stir-fried vegetables. Of particular interest among the vegetables was a pleasantly sweet and savory eggplant with garlic sauce.
All this food is just the tip of the iceberg: Cooks and waiters continually stream in and out of Great Fortune's kitchen, bringing fresh pans of almost anything you can imagine. Many of them are old favorites, like fried rice, lo mein, spare ribs, egg rolls, shrimp toast, teriyaki chicken, sesame noodles and roast duck. Others seem to come from out of left field, like good baked salmon fillets and broiled scallops.
For those who could still eat, after eating all they could eat, the dessert station was popular. Unlike many traditional Chinese restaurants, Great Fortune has a wide variety of pastries, many decidedly not Chinese, like sheet cakes, eclairs and brownies, for instance. There's also a frozen yogurt machine.
In the spirit of the place, we tirelessly tried a little of nearly each and every thing. It's fun, particularly at the beginning of the meal, when you're still really hungry, to take a dozen morsels to the table only to jump up in a minute to try something new and different.
Many people in the restaurant made six or seven trips. More serious eaters piled their plates high from the start and worked methodically through their favorites. We found some dishes much better than others , so it will take some experimentation to uncover the best.
Don't go to Great Fortune for lovingly prepared individual dishes of exotic food. Go to do what the sign says: Eat all you can eat. In addition to the dinner buffet we sampled, the restaurant offers a lunch buffet Mondays to Saturdays, a seafood buffet on Sundays and holidays, and a carryout buffet, with food sold by the pound.
Great Fortune Buffet
10026 York Road,
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Price: $14.95 dinner buffet
Food: * *
Service: not applicable
Atmosphere: * *
Ratings system: Outstanding * * * *; Good * * *; Fair or uneven * *
; Poor *