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New Tin Tin Buffet

On June 12, 2007, the legion of fans of Tin Tin Buffet Chinese restaurant was shocked when a fire destroyed several nearby businesses. Although not incinerated, Tin Tin sustained heavy smoke and water damage and was forced to close.

Tin Tin's owner, Xiuqiang "Peter" Yang recently threw open the doors to welcome diners back to an interior that is both familiar and fresh — nary a whiff of the "soggy mess" described by Medford fire Deputy Chief Larry Anderson on the day of the disaster.

I had eaten at Tin Tin a few times prior to the calamitous events and went back recently for a long lunch, tasting a dozen offerings. The line was quickly so long that it trailed out the front door. The adults waited with patience and the kids had a chance to linger over the cute koi pond.

Inside, contented business folk sat alongside families and retired couples. Busy waiters swooped hither and thither, seating newcomers and whisking away plates so guests could return to sparkling tables from their repeat trips to the buffet.

It goes without saying that Tin Tin presents a titanic selection, from freshly made sushi to more than 30 dishes and soups and from a vast salad bar to unlimited ice cream and other sweets.

The value it offers is also colossal. Lunch is $ 7.99, dinner and Sunday Buffet are $11.49. Your meal includes bottomless soft drinks or tea and you may trek to replenish your food as often as your arches permit.

My wife and I are lifelong "foodies" and pride ourselves on our Asian cooking. However, several years ago we spent a month in China and quickly realized our previous culinary forays had been laughably inept as well as misguided.

Even the most ordinary food served us in that land was exquisitely fresh and delicately cooked. Flavors blossomed and individual ingredients, textures, and nuanced spices were fully present and delightfully wedded.

One key element was technique. Chinese cooks slice and dice with ideal uniformity. Thus, when the food hits a scant puddle of oil in a very hot wok, cooking is fast, consistent, and finely tuned.

Discreet sauces emerge from that simple effort with a smattering of additional elements and some thickening.

The New Tin Tin does not and perhaps cannot aspire to such ethereal heights. For one, they are not catering to Asians, they are cooking for Westerners. The array of battered, fried, and high-calorie dishes is testimony to that.

For another, regardless how recipes are prepared, five minutes on a steam table transforms them, and never in the direction of improvement. Sauces are generally heavy.

Nevertheless, my Taiwan Beef was mild and tender. The Sesame Chicken was pleasant and crispy and the Barbecued Chicken had a marinade which compared favorably to the flavors of Peking Duck. The Coconut Shrimp sauce had a deft mustard-y tang.

On the other hand, the Hot and Sour soup was fatty and lamentably similar to other stabs at this recipe in and around Medford. The Pot Stickers were bland as were the Boneless Pork Ribs, General Tsao's Chicken, and Shrimps and Vegetables. Sushi offerings were average and their variety of ingredients didn't manage to declare themselves.

Midway through my lunch I discovered several superior condiments on the salad table. A black bean sauce had lots of zip and a red chili paste took no prisoners. I found that I could steer away from some of the foods' lackluster interpretations by using acute dollops of these and other preparations.

Regardless whether you consider New Tin Tin a source of authentic Chinese cuisine, there's absolutely no arguing with its appeal to thousands in our area.

— Hubert Smith