That Food Guy
Monday, June 07, 2010
  Lin's International Buffet - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Lin's pagoda-style restaurant with the emperor's soldiers guarding the door.

Lin’s International Buffet
10100 Coors Blvd NW
Albuquerque, NM (505) 898-6868

Practicing our nomadic ways, we found ourselves in New Mexico, near were my son, Larry, and his lovely wife, Vickie, live. On one of our nightly visits, we went to dinner at Lin’s International Buffet. This was my second visit to this particular Lin’s, for the most part a Chinese food, all you can eat buffet, but with some significant differences from most of the others in the class. The differences were significant enough that after my first visit, a bit after the 2008 opening of the Albuquerque restaurant, I did a little background digging to satisfy my curiosity and here is what I learned.

Sesame chicken, egg roll, broccoli beef and frieed rice.Jennifer Lin, a native of China who immigrated to the United States in 1985 at age 17, settled in New York City. She began working in Chinese restaurants and was able to buy her own restaurant in 1988. The restaurant was a success and she later sold it and used the proceeds to travel, including travel and starting a business in Europe. In 1998 she learned about a restaurant for sale in Texas. She bought that restaurant and opened a second shortly after. It wasn’t until 2004 that she opened the first restaurant carrying the Lin name. There are now many Lin’s in Texas and California.
With the opening of the named restaurants, she had a showcase for her vision of the Chinese restaurant. Her vision included, high quality food excellently prepared, elegant surroundings, reasonable prices and courteous service. During my first visit, I was impressed and found that all of her keystones were present. I certainly have to add that the building adds to the atmosphere and elegant surroundings. A large pagoda-style building, a building erected to be a pagoda-style building from the outset, leaves little doubt that it is a Chinese restaurant with serious intent. Copies of the terra cotta statues that guard the tomb of the first emperor of China guard the restaurant entrance. A large crystal chandelier hangs from the lofty ceiling. The large, carpeted dining room and the adjacent private dining rooms can seat 400 guests. Yet the noise level is low prompting casual conversation. Along the back there are the ingredients for Mongolian barbecue and a chef waiting to cook your selections on the griddle. The grill serves rib eye steaks to order. A selection of freshly made sushi tempts the pallet.

The main food service areas are self-serve and all you can eat. There are four long counters to serve the food. The majority of the offered items are Asian, such as Chinese, Thai, or Japanese-style. However, considering the Texas beginnings and the location of this store in New Mexico, there are several foods of a Southwestern foods theme. Also, some simpler foods, like chicken nuggets and French fries, appeal to the children. Enough food selections are offered that even taking the barest amount on a plate would require several trips to the serving line to sample them all.

Lin’s offers a lunch buffet, Monday - Friday from 11 AM to 4 PM. Adults are $7.29 and children $4.29. The dinner buffet, Monday – Friday 4 PM to closing, all day Saturday and Sunday, 4 PM to closing. Adults $9.99 and children are $5.89. There is a senior citizens discount of 10%. Lin’s also offers a take-out menu. You can order specific dishes from the menu.

When you enter the lobby, there s a cashier’s station where you prepay for the meals and beverages. You are then escorted to your table. A server brings you the drinks, provides any additional items you may require and later removes dirtied dishes. Clean plates are at the end of the food sA selection of food from Lin'service counters awaiting your next trip through the serving line.
I usually list each guest’s plate and tell about their food. That doesn’t work well here because of the extreme number of selections. In general, however, I can tell you that daughter-in-law Vickie says the sushi is great, tasty and fresh, well made. Son Larry says the grilled steaks are delicious, perhaps a bit tough, but good all around. The standard Chinese dishes were well represented. I enjoyed all of them with reservations for only one, the sweet and sour chicken. I suppose it would be called New York style, breaded and fried chicken nuggets with some sweet and sour sauce on the side. I have come to expect the New York-style sweet a sour from the store-front Chinese food take-out stores. I would expect more, considering the more upscale presentation of the other foods, from Lin’s. I am spoiled in that I learned to like sweet and sour chicken (or pork or…) Los Angeles Chinatown style, the breaded morsels of meat tossed in the sauce with stir fried onion, Bell peppers and pineapple chunks. New York style falls short of expectations.

Egg rolls were crispy fried with good flavor. The fried rice was prepared more as a side dish rather than a hearty main dish, but was well spiced, nice flavor. Other traditional favorites, some Chinese food and some sushi selections.sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken for example, were represented. All were good and could stand as the main dish in a numbered dinner. The kitchen staff keeps the serving dishes neat, filled and appetizing.
Lots of good food, served in upscale surroundings, attended by servers seemingly interested in your well being, family at your table, it all makes for an interesting and enjoyable meal. An experience we hope will be repeated in the near future.
If you are interested in more information about Lin’s, go to .

I certainly will consider another visit to Lin’s on our next trip through Albuquerque or elsewhere in our travels. However, when I was looking up information about Lin’s, I came across information about an unrelated Chinese restaurant, also in Albuquerque, called Lin’s Oriental Restaurant. It had good reviews. One day I will be obliged to try a meal there just to keep everything even.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010
  Gondolier - Lenoir City, Tennessee

Gondolier 6/3/10
Italian Restaurant and Pizza – Eat In or Take Out
744 Hwy 321 No. Lenoir City, Tennessee (865) 986-6668

On our way to Alaska, we stopped off at Melton Hill Campground. We chose this very nice TVA facility because it is close to our cousins in Knoxville. We happily agreed to meet for lunch at The Gondolier. The Gondolier is a twenty-one store chain located in five southeastern states. They are a self-proclaimed Italian restaurant and pizza shop, to eat in or carry out. This would be my first time at a Gondolier, this one in Lenoir City, Tennessee.
The building is a simple box structure that would make the restaurant equally at home in a store front. A small kiosk in the entry is just for to go orders. The interior is nicely appointed for a pizzas restaurant with booths lining the walls and tables and chairs filling the center. The tables are quick to rearrange and they were able to seat our large party in a matter of moments. It is a busy place with a rapid customer turnover and the servers are constantly in motion. It makes for a somewhat loud background noise level but other than that I have no complaints.
Beverage orders were quickly taken and a tray of piping-hot soft-crust breadsticks was delivered along with saucers of savory marinara sauce for dipping. All most too hot to handle, the bread sticks were tasty with a slight herb flavor. When dipped in the marinara sauce, all very nice. We looked the menu, a six page list of Italian-themed foods, some deli-style sandwiches and offerings from the grill. To accommodate a lot of tastes, they also offer a children’s menu and an assortment of hamburgers. I did notice that the server’s station, near the middle of the dining room, was loaded with pitchers of the various beverages, the usual condiments but absolutely loaded with many sizes of Styrofoam take home boxes and the bottom of the station filled with traditional pizza boxes. The servings are ample and most everyone takes a part of their meal home with them.
I said we read over the menu but one of us didn’t. Cousin Lynn took a long hard look at the magnificent cakes in the refrigerated glass case in, of all places, the restaurant entry hall. Dinner or dessert? Not always an easy choice to make. It was a short self-debate for Cousin Lynn and she chose dessert. She ordered a slice of 4-layer Italian Cream Cake ($5.99). When I asked her how it was she said, “So sweet, so smooth, and sooo good!” I do believe she enjoyed it. It was a very large slice of a very high cake and the last bit just had to go into a take home box.
Cousin Steve ordered a chicken Caesar salad ($6.99). From down the table I could see it was a large bowl, lots of lettuce and croutons and chicken. The menu says with grilled chicken and parmesan cheese. Considering my girth, it would have been a good choice for me. After dinner I asked how he liked his salad and he said it was very good and had a lot of chicken. In the end about a third of Steve’s salad went into his take home container.
Cousin Nancy ordered a small personal, three topping pizza (($7.50). Her choice of toppings was pepperoni, Italian sausage and onions. The pizza arrived hot and steaming, the cheese melted and flowing around the toppings. Gingerly holding the first piece, she took a bite and gave me a positive, thumbs-up sign. It was good pizza! And yes, about half of Nancy’s pizza went home in a box.
My wife, Janis, ordered a meatball parmesan hot sub sandwich (5.99). The menu describes it as “homemade meatballs on a hoagie roll with marinara sauce and melted provolone cheese.” The meatballs were large, firm and seasoned well. There was a lot of melted cheese over. The usual accompaniment is French fries. In this case she ordered onion rings so we could mix and match with the French fries I ordered. And yes, she took about 1/3 of her sandwich home with her.
My personal order was chicken souvlaki on pita sandwich ($6.29). A gyro by any other name... I of course ordered mine with the French fries. The menu describes the sandwich as “chunks of white meat marinated and served on pita bread with tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cucumber dip [tzatziki sauce]). Tasting the tzatziki sauce, I could taste the yogurt, the cucumber and garlic. Certainly a passable sauce though I would have preferred a bit more cucumber to the mix. The French fries were nicely done. The pita bread was folded over a large serving of white chicken meat chunks with fresh lettuce, sliced tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion. I liked the red onions, a good, extra effort choice for this kind of sandwich. Tzatziki sauce and chicken pita, I was all very wonderful and tasty. Would I order it again? Most certainly. It is hard to find a good chicken gyro. But? If I had my way I would make the sandwich more like a souvlaki, with thin slices of meat. My sandwich was full of nice large, tasty pieces of white chicken meat. Biting through the big pieces of chicken makes the bread, even pita bread, and the sandwich fall apart. You end up eating the last half of the sandwich with a knife and a fork. But, as I said, I would order it again.
The restaurant continued to be busy all during our visit. In spite of the workload, our server was able to keep our glasses full, was eve so courteous and was there when called. Our serer and all there rest of the staff added to the pleasure of the meal. On the way out I notice they have a Lunch Specials menu good from 11Am to 3PM. It has most of the items from the dinner menu but at a reduced price.
And no. I was the only one who was able to finish their meal and I had to go home without a doggie bag. In a way that is too bad because a bit of that chicken souvlaki sandwich would have made a wonderful midnight snack. (Sorry about the photos with this one – it just wasn’t my camera day.)

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