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China Buffet ***

2429 Military Road, Niagara Falls (297-3432)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

The challenge: to enjoy a satisfying meal on an extremely low-fat diet regimen.

The emphasis: satisfying meal and extremely low-fat.

The obstacles: finding anything that is extremely low-fat that offers anything remotely resembling taste.

I've been on this diet -- wait, make that lifestyle change -- for almost two weeks now, and have come to the conclusion that it might be more fulfilling to simply eat the paper that the diet is written on.

Wash it down with a good swig of water and you've got yourself a tasty, extremely low-fat meal. As tasty as they come, anyway.

I still can't believe it. Me -- a semivegetarian? Someone say it's all just a nasty nightmare. . .

Alas, it is not, and I have been relegated to scouring cookbooks for anything remotely interesting that meets two simple criteria: no fat and no sugar. I had almost written off restaurants -- when it suddenly struck me.

Vegetarian . . . vegetables. And where do you find lots of vegetables? Chinese! And what's the great thing about Chinese? All-you-can-eat buffets!!

Sure, you'll be hungry again a half-hour later, but I experience that after virtually every meal now. At least this way I can enjoy it a little bit, and have a little variety, to boot.

For our stuff-a-thon, we selected the China Buffet on Military Road. I knew it must be good because I see busloads of Asians and Asian Americans going in there all the time, and busloads of people can't be wrong.

Sure enough, we had an enjoyable time, pigging out on everything from chicken to beef to pork, to fish and eggs and seafood.

And, of course, plenty of vegetables. They had the beef and fish and pork. . . . I had vegetables on the side, vegetables in broth, vegetables in a mix.

I even invented new ways to eat vegetables. But I had fun doing it.

China Buffet puts out a nice spread that includes some hot and spicy dishes, some curry, a little sweet-and-sour, the usual stir fries, and a few American dishes, as well.

For dinner, they put out crab legs and mussels, but you've got to be nearby when the pan gets set down, because they don't last long.

It's not that mad-dash for bargain wedding dresses they like to show on TV sometimes, but it's close.

If you like Chinese, there is simply no way you can leave this buffet unsatisfied. There's just too wide a selection, and they all seem to be well-done (speaking from past experience, of course).

On this trip I tried the curry chicken and vegetables (with mostly veggies); the chicken and mixed veggies (with mostly veggies); the mushroom chicken (with mostly mushrooms); and some of the seafood medley (you know it).

The curry was very tasty, not too curry-ish. Even borderline curry fans would like it, I'd bet. The sauces were nice but not overpowering. The veggies were . . . really good, actually.

The nice thing about buffet is that you can sit there and sort through the pans to grab just the things you like (or need). . . . Yeah, yeah, yeah, maybe the other diners will toss you a few glances, but I'd like to see what they do after two weeks of eating nothing but tofu.

Eventually, I even concocted a tasty vegetable soup by mixing some of the won-ton base with lots of chives and adding in mushrooms, some broccoli, water chestnuts and . . . OK, a few shrimps and a little chicken.

So it wasn't strictly vegetable. The intentions were there.

I still think it could be a big seller, if marketed properly.

Maybe I should go into the low-fat diet business.

The girls found the broccoli chicken especially tasty, with ample hunks of melt-in-your-mouth meat, and they also declared the sweet-and-sour pork to their liking.

The Chinese sugar-dipped doughnuts (I'm sure they have a much more exotic name for them, probably something like "Moon and Stars Love Sweetness" or something) were a hit for dessert, as was the low-fat ice cream . . . yes! That's right, it said low-fat.

And who am I to question it?

The buffet features other healthy choices as well: a large salad section, along with fresh fruit. At $8.25 for dinner ($5.50 for lunch) it's a veritable culinary paradise for dieters, without sacrificing those who don't have to watch what they eat.

They offer a regular menu, too, and carry-out, of course (you can get the buffet for take-out, as well).

What more could anyone ask for?

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