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Cheap Eats

If you like Chinese buffets, and, admittedly, some people don't, you'll really like the new Grand Buffet on Alberta Drive in Amherst.

This location -- the site of the former Funny Bone comedy club beind the Boulevard Mall -- can be a bit difficult to find, but people have already started to catch on to the location. The combination of an amazing selection and low prices makes it worth the search.

Ruth, Dan, John and I stopped in for dinner on a weekday, hungry with a capital H. We didn't even sit down to give our drink orders to the attentive server, but had plates in our hands within seconds. But where to start? The buffet has six separate tables containing a total of 62 dinner items (John counted later) as well as soup, rice, desserts, salad, cold vegetables and sauces. Included in the price is a help-yourself sushi bar and a made-to-order hibachi grill area where you select a meat or fish and vegetables and a chef cooks them on the spot.

Some of the food impressed with its quality, which can suffer on the steam tables in a buffet. The mussels were large, plump and juicy; the white-meat breaded chicken morsels that are served with sweet-and-sour sauce were wonderful. "These are sometimes dried out, but not here," said Dan.

We liked the large fillet of white fish and a slice-your-own roast beef rubbed with Chinese spices, although John would have preferred his unspiced. In addition to the usual eggrolls and spring rolls, there were wontons, both fried and steamed, and four types of soft steamed buns kept warm in closed baskets. The red bean ones were particularly tasty.

In keeping with the "who knows why?" tradition of Chinese buffets, this one featured a thin-crust pepperoni pizza, and I sampled it. It was innocuous, except for the small square of waxed paper stuck to the underside.

Desserts range from several kinds of fresh fruit -- pineapple, sliced melon, halved oranges, bananas, and I'm sure there were more -- to chocolate, banana, vanilla and tapioca pudding, apple pie, and squares of several kinds of frosted cake. Ruth and I checked out a rumor of ice cream, only to find a freezer full of tubs of ice cream flanked by a table of scoops soaking in water-filled containers. Something about the arrangement just put us off.

The bill arrived with fortune cookies, and while everyone else's were the usual wise sayings, mine said, "You are not illiterate." Really? We all laughed.

-- Anne Neville

The Grand Buffet is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Lunch is $6.99. Dinner during the week is $9.79; Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it's $12.99 (different selection). It is handicapped-accessible.

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The Grand Buffet

730 Alberta Drive, near the Boulevard Mall, Amherst

831-1727

3 1/2 pennies (out of four)

"Good variety, price."

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