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Around the World in an Hour

Annabel's World Buffet goes global



Boy, was I skeptical. Korean, Mexican, German, American and Southern food all on one buffet? That sounded like a Tums commercial waiting to happen. These all may be cuisines I love, but I wasn't sure how I would feel about them side by side.

After my first visit to Annabel's World Buffet, I discovered I felt just fine, albeit too full to move.

What Annabel's lacks in ambiance, they more than make up for in the warmth of the staff. They're extremely welcoming; whether they were refilling our glasses, bringing a new dish out from the kitchen or removing dishes from an empty table, staff members asked us how we liked the food. These are people who care about the food they prepare -- and care about how well people like it.

Being relatively new, Annabel's still has a few small kinks to work out on the buffet line. But Annabel's succeeds where almost every other buffet fails; they are not afraid of chilies in the kitchen. If the dish is supposed to be spicy, you can rest assured it will be. But for children's tender tongues, they've devoted a section of their buffet to less fiery fare: hot dogs and buns, unseasoned green beans and corn, gelatin, chicken nuggets (usually dinosaur-shaped) and smiley-faced potato rounds.

One side of the buffet begins with a nicely stocked salad bar that has some surprising additions. There's generally a platter of California rolls or kimbap to be had, plus several traditional Korean side dishes, like kim chee, lightly dressed bean sprouts, spicy pickled daikon radish and more. Usually you can get coleslaw or potato salad, but keep your eyes peeled for something that looks like spicy coleslaw with krab. It's a winning combination of smooth, creamy, cool and hot. This is also the spot to look for guacamole and salsa if you've chosen a Mexican meal.

As you wander through the Korean section, you're likely to find kim chee soup -- tangy, spicy and robust -- as well as a delectable, firm and tender squid dish or two. When they have it, the spicy squid is always the first thing on my plate, although the batter-fried squid and vegetables (very like tempura in the lightness of the batter) are also very fine. I also recommend the stir-fried cellophane noodles that look like amber filaments; they'll help cool your mouth after the squid. Often they offer bulgogi, too, a spicy, thinly sliced grilled beef redolent with garlic, green onions and soy sauce. A similar grilled pork dish is frequently available, too.

On a recent trip, both the Korean and Southern sections had pigs' feet, and I admit I didn't jump at the opportunity to try them. I've two reasons: First, I'm not sure how to approach eating a pig's foot. Second, I'm not enthused about eating anything's feet.

But the buffet goes on and on and on. In the Southern section I got some collard greens that were cooked right and spiced up enough to make my nose run; I wished I had snapped up a piece of corn bread to eat with them. I bypassed the fried chicken (competent) for the chicken fricassee, which was tender and savory, cooked with big chunks of carrot and celery. I still haven't gotten around to the ribs and the barbecued chicken, both of which smell promising.

In the German section, I've tried rouladen, which was only OK, and schnitzel, which was perfectly golden brown, crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

I haven't forgotten the Mexican food. Overall, it's not bad, but it just doesn't stand out as much as the other cuisines. The exception is the green chili, which is thick from long simmering and spicy enough to dance across your tongue in a fandango. There are soft flour tortillas and corn taco shells, alongside seasoned diced chicken, shredded beef and ground beef, for making whatever you wish to create. Sometimes they've got sauted onions and peppers for fajita fixings; sometimes they've got nachos. The chicken enchilada casserole is warm and gooey comfort food, but nothing special (unless you top it with the green chili).

If you have room, visit the dessert line. Though it hasn't had the thought put into that the rest of the menu has received, you're sure to find something to round out the meal. There's soft-serve ice cream (cones or bowls), a few sugar cookies, gelatin, and apple or cherry pie, and some cherry and apple turnovers made of flour tortillas that are quite good. I keep hoping to find a sweet potato pie there, and maybe one of these days I will.

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