CHOPSTICKS  CLEARWATER -  Health Problems



CHOPSTICKS  SUPER BUFFET
2543 Countryside Blvd, Suite #1
Clearwater, FL 33761
727-726-2171


UPDATE  - 10-20-2018

THEN AND NOW - MANY YEARS AGO
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. Over the years I have eaten there maybe twenty seven or so times. We were always greeted, seated and drinks brought quickly. 

That was then and this is now... and now had a problem and now changed hands and was never the same four years ago. The owners of a this very popular Chinese buffet in Countryside got caught and sentenced for harboring, transporting, and exploiting illegal aliens after a Homeland Security investigation that began in 2011.

I always wondered why all of these four places which I ate at were help-wise so alike. Three other Chinese Buffets got tagged also. They were convicted in late 2013.  Two were owned by one guy, thats collusion.  I hate seeing a place go down hill, and after last night I concluded that this place could not qualify for a buffet service in some third world gulags. 

Some of the food I decided to not eat as when I turned it over, it was not fresh, and rather than get sick I passed. 

The Kim-Chee which is a Korean staple, not Chinese, looked "contaminated".  I love Kim-Chee I was stationed for a short time there, but not that brave, it looked like last weeks and disgusting. Lots of things I never saw in KimChee,  looked dirty and unknown...

Business is off and I think they are holding food over in the chiller and for service the next day as some of the crab legs were so mushy you could not get the inside out they just "mooshed into nothing". I have no other word for it. I was cutting both ends off and shoving a straw to push the meat out and finally gave up. I pitched it, showed it to the girl and she smiled. I passed on the snow crab.

Last year, It was just that bad, worse than I reviewed it and even offered to suggest things they could do to improve. But I got the bank stare routine. Four years ago, I knew the origional owners and they did a good job, I could communicate with the two of them.  Not this crew. 

When Clearwater Immigration which was nationally praised for their investigation proved four of four of the Chinese buffets here were involved, and got tagged for various violations, not to mention the food police. Fines and jail time.  Two closed and one got sold. Another eatery now offers Vietnamese - Lao style cooking. One reopened a year later. Im not that brave.

The last time I gave them break. So a year later ( now)and the urge to go back to a place I visited a while back if I felt they had gone downhill a bit always believing they would wake up and do things right.

I was wrong. Nothing was right.

At one time I thought this was best in Tampa Bay for American Chinese dinner of sorts. i have been to many places in China and this is not what they eat. You would probably would NOT be happy in an authentic Chinese street restaurant. No one is comfortable with food that stares back. Chinese street food is not bad if you have a friend like Zimmern does to coach you.

In the old days, 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.  When they opened it was really great and went downhill from there.

The usual battles for the snow crab, some folks go there and try to steal the whole bin and not share. Thats normal so I wait and letting people know I’m next and if they jump the line you might just get to wait since I grabbed both tongs and they had none.

My other pet peeve was when people inspect every piece of food in the serving bin. I told one woman if she played enough with the Chicken she would probably revive it. She cursed me out in a southeast Asian language.

Just when I was ready to get some crab, One table of four just cleaned the whole tray of snow crab and all the crawfish. I didn't care this time because the ones I got seemed like leftover from the day before, they were mush. And the meal was deteriorating into a bad experience.

Let them have mush all they want. I waited again and finally got some and they're just the same...small and tasteless. Nothing exhibited anomalies that would deter you from trying them except they were so soft like being double cooked, no crisp breaks on the shells. soaking too long.

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. 

>>>>>    Some hots were OK but the Chicken on the stick and anything not in sauce was not hot at all.

>>>>>    The salads were good and cold.

>>>>>    But some of the dishes piled high like the Crawfish were not hot,  as they should be and that was solved by a family that walked in and took the whole tray anyway. 

>>>>>    The mussels were about half the size of the ones they served during the tourist season, very small but they were on ice, you just took twice as many. And the replacements were just as small.

>>>>>   So much for the shrimp you-peel-em, they were small and tough. 

>>>>>   The Sushi which I once raved about as the best in Clearwater is no more, it looked old, tasted old and the two Sushi chefs were in their own world. It did not have the the fresh enticing look of Sushi made well.  Half were falling apart. Whatever....

Basically the seafood side was not up to par as was the price for the buffet raised by two dollars and they added a 10% tip which does not show on the billing, another discussion I will have with them. 

One must disclose that to a customer. $36 dollars for two on this buffet was a sham. The quality of the food was sub-par and looked like much of it came from the lunch crowd. The luncheon “ Do not eat stickers”  were posted all over the place dinner only which means the food has be laying out on the steam tables till dinner or since lunch.  I should have put that clue together earlier and walked out.

The food police if they had walked in would have stopped the serving on the service tables as not being within temperature. They average 26 violations on their last two inspections... Yes I have my own radial read thermometers when I eat out.

I'm done with them, the place is getting weathered, doesn't look like its had a good cleaning for a long time... and the food was terrible, and no one seemed to care. I’m hoping I’ll be OK in 48 hours...  CASE CLOSED


DEFINING WHAT WAS A GOOD RESTAURANT WITH A PROBLEM


SYNOPSIS
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.  

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 trendy Sushi bars (Japanese)   Hibachi stations, cooked to order on a grill, not a wok, and Korean 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.  Even commercial Kim Chee which is nothing but pickled cabbage is bottled and labeled  “Mild, Spicy, and Corrosive”.

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.  

 

FOR THE CONSUMER - SUSHI EDUCATION

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.   I go there to eat, not play upsmanship with the dialog.

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. Four or five years ago 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 and he felt it was a buy at $12.99-14.99 a person. 

Not the case anymore, the Sashimi has gone south and drowned in the Sea of Japan.  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.  NOT ANY MORE.

  


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.  Update:  Four restaurants were tried and convicted.  


ONCE FOUND - TWICE TARGETED- THE FOOD POLICE STEPPED IN

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  Four years later seems nothing better.

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 utensils. silver bowl, and rice cooker. ( Carcinogen)

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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