CHOPSTICKS  CLEARWATER



CHOPSTICKS  √ooops.√√√

2543 Countryside Blvd, Suite #1

Clearwater, FL 33761

727-726-2171


DEFINING A GOOD RESTAURANT WITH A PROBLEM

I have eaten at 70% of the restaurants in the Tampa Bay Area. I have visited most of the Chinese Restaurants and since its Americanized Chinese Cuisine is a favorite of mine, the buffet is the trend in this area because you get to try everything. When it is run right. And therein lies a problem.  I’ll explain. This place had great fresh food, in the beginning and a bad underlying secret.  


REAL CHINESE FOOD MIGHT NOT SUIT YOUR PALATE
This is American Chinese,  or what I call "mainly Chinese" because the largest players are buffets with the usual Chinese fare and then they add Sushi bars (Japanese) Hibachi stations, cooked to order on a grill, not a wok, and dishes like KIM CHE.  Korean pickled cabbage AKA “the Silent Korean Heartburn”.  

Fair warning, sometimes they make it mild and sometimes it gets stronger by the minute it seems.  You can find hot Kim Che lovers by the sweat poring from their glands and a red flushed look drinking lots of water.

They finish the final steam tables with a pork roast, turkey or prime rib, a few slices of pizza, potatoes, I’ve seen Mac and Cheese for the kids, and so forth.  That way, bases are covered if the weary traveler and family are not into some oriental dishes like Chicken feet, and food that stares at you. Buffets are basically self serve cafeterias and the diversity is needed to satisfy all tastes.  

Having traveled overseas you would probably NOT be happy in an authentic Chinese street restaurant.  Only that TV guy "Eat Anything Andrew Zimmer" can do these things, eat things that stare at you, and not travel with a portable stomach pump, and his lower tract must look like a highway that just had a landslide.

 

CHOPSTICKS - WAS MY FAVORITE - HUGE SELECTION

(Also placed in the top 100 Best Chinese Buffets in the US soon after their opening)

FIRST IMPRESSION
Chopsticks was very clean and inviting.  I do not rate a place that I casually visited once, I make three trips over time, noting the changes and trends, those portable tiny flash recorders are great for notes.  I have eaten there twenty plus times.  We were always greeted, seated and drinks brought quickly.  

Very up (positive) tempo and friendly staff.  A good portion of the help is I suppose authentic, and have a limited English vocabulary, read on you'll see why.  Chopsticks is really totally different from two other places in the area, those I described to avoid at all costs for value and health reasons.  

On all seven food tables or stations, the Hibachi, and the Sushi bars were very clean.  Two staffers were cleaning up the areas messed up by the customers, not the staffSome people can get sloppy, most of the spills like rice were caused or dribbled by the customers. 

None of the food was skimmed over, it was bright and fresh as I sampled down the line, I can sense additives like MSG, and this place was busy and was turning the food as fast as it came out.  And that’s the trick, the foods better when the place is moving the food.

They had everything usually found in US Chinese fare, from lo-mein, egg-rolls, spring rolls, chicken many different ways, shrimp, raw and cooked in various sauces. The roasted chicken, the oysters, the mussels and the snow crab were either ice cold or hot and fresh.  Nothing exhibited anomalies that would deter you from trying them. The extensive fruit, desert and salad bar was right on, cold and fresh.  “Fresh” defines how the front manager tends the food and communicates with the kitchen.

Their Sushi bar has a great palatable and “artistic“ assortment with the usual sliced rice balls, California rolls and ten other varieties plus raw Sashimi grade fish.  I asked. 

FOR THE CONSUMER
Sushi is not raw fish. It is a term for vinegarish seasoned rice used in creation of bite sized morsels with fillings. 
Sashimi is the raw fish sliced and or diced. There is only one grade of Sashimi.  Anything else like blowfish can kill you if not prepared properly.   At some other buffets and on blogs I see critics who are "flatunionary experts" at Sushi for example and come up with a long technical explanation of the Sushi at a Chinese restaurant.  

Get real, It’s an add-on.  Go critique a real Sushi bar where you bring your banker along to vouch for the credit card you are using.   Pure Sushi/Sashimi Bars are in another category of cuisine and when I do frequent one I go with a friend who is a Sushi master and close my eyes and let him order.   

Sushi masters are always looking at the techniques of the competition and they all have a style of their own. He was impressed with
 the spread at CHOPSTICKS in a Chinese buffet because Sushi-Sashimi is a Japanese Culinary Art-form in a Chinese Restaurant.  This is a buy at $12.99-14.99 a person. The former owners / managers did read comments from various blogs and paid attention, maybe this is the way to run a place, totally unlike a good portion of the other places that do not offer this quality in food and personal attention to detail.  


PROBLEMS
They do serve crab legs, and thats the rub, the battle of those greedy bastards who think the crab legs were put out for them alone and take the whole tray.  On more than one occasion, my 6-2 frame and posture with a real mean look and “you are going to leave some for others aren’t you?” and the serving tongs displayed in a menacing position solved the immediate problem.  I don’t like greedy inconsiderate patrons and one fellow in particular really sold the show one night, loading his plate and leaving most of it on the table. Same thing with the crawfish and clams, or mussels.

My second problem with buffets are those who pick through every piece of food in the stainless server bin.  The food and drugs boys don’t inspect this well. And they touch everything, handle it,  turn it over, frustrates me and I usually say something like “Excuse me you are from the health department aren’t you?  I came here to eat, mind if I get ahead of you.

Another problem is when you are good with food , they will come. I won’t try it on a weekend during the tourist season, no way, too packed, too crowded, to many chances to make a meal uncomfortable instead of an experience.  I got here Monday through Thursday, and during the tourist season it gets busy, but tolerable if you get there early.  


COUNTRYSIDE, Fla. - 4/24/13
The owners of a very popular Chinese buffet in Countryside have been sentenced for harboring, transporting, and exploiting illegal aliens after a Homeland Security investigation that began in 2011.   "An event that started in a foreign country. People were smuggled in," explained Homeland Security Public Safety Group Supervisor Ritchie Flores.  According to Flores, Chopsticks owners Jenny Huang and Guang Lin shuttled their 27 employees back and forth from cramped apartments nearby. They shared 3 units, at times sleeping just inches apart, and worked 18-hour days, 6 days a week.

Fourteen of them were undocumented workers. At one point during the investigation, the restaurant shut down because the majority of its staff were considered victims of the crime.  "We did the math. It comes out to about $3 per hour," Flores said.  It's unlikely that any customers ever made contact with them in person. They rarely worked in the dining room, hidden mostly in the kitchen. 

Donna Lancaster, President of Zonta Club Pinellas, a local advocacy group that offers support for human trafficking and exploitation victims, calls Florida a ripe ground for such crime because of its access to ports and seasonal labor.  "Slavery,  Pure slavery. Just slavery of human beings that are being totally exploited," Lancaster said. 

Both Huang and Lin must pay $15,000 fines. Huang faces 60 months of probation. Lin faces a year in prison.  Homeland Security is now investigating where the victims came from, and whether they will lead agents to even more criminal activity.   "How these subjects came into the US, how they were smuggled into the US.  Were they trafficked into the US?" Flores said. Unanswered questions.

After not seeing the owners who were there 24/7 and getting to know them, suddenly they fell off the map.  Asking where they were, I  got nowhere, just stares, ignored and no speakee English.  That's a red flag that got me digging.  This last article is what I found.  This is the second or third Chinese Buffet in the county on trial for trafficking and the penalties were more severe.  


ONCE FOUND - TWICE TARGETED

They had a problem with violations of the restaurant health codes who judging from the notes place CHOPSTICKS under heavier scrutiny because of the personal issues with undocumented help.  6-18-2014

Observation:  
13827880  23-25-4   Basic - Build-up of grease/dust/debris on hood filters.

13827890  36-03-4   Basic - Cove molding at floor/wall juncture broken/missing. Throughout kitchen

13827884  12B-07-4   Basic - Employee beverage container on a food preparation table or over/next to clean equipment/utensils. **Repeat Violation**

13827878  35B-01-4   Basic - Exterior door has a gap at the threshold that opens to the outside. **Repeat Violation**

13827877  14-70-4     Basic - Ice buildup in walk-in freezer.

13827887  14-37-4   Basic - Non-stick coating peeling/chipping off of pans/utensils. Large silver bowl, and rice cooker.

13827888  14-67-4   Basic - Reach-in cooler gasket torn/in disrepair.

13827891  23-09-4   Basic - Soiled reach-in cooler gaskets.

13827885  36-02-4   Basic - Unsealed concrete floor in food preparation, food storage or ware washing area. Dry storage.

13827879  14-17-4   Basic - Walk-in cooler/freezer shelves with rust that has pitted the surface.

13827886  36-27-4   Basic - Wall soiled with accumulated food debris. Throughout.

13827883  22-41-4   High Priority – Dish machine chlorine sanitizer not at proper minimum strength. Discontinue use of dish machine for sanitizing and set up manual sanitization until dish machine is repaired and sanitizing properly. 0ppm.

13827882  08B-01-4   High Priority - Self-service salad bar/buffet lacking adequate sneeze guards or other proper protection from contamination. Chopped green onions, salad condiments, ice cream.

13827876  01C-03-4   Intermediate - Clam/mussel/oyster tags not marked with last date served.

13827881  02C-02-4   Intermediate - Ready-to-eat, potentially hazardous (time/temperature control for safety) food prepared onsite and held more than 24 hours not properly date marked. Sushi fish. **Repeat Violation**

13827889  53B-09-4   Intermediate - Required employee training provided by a third-party employee training program and operator unable to provide original certificate for employees trained.


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