Thursday, 19 March 2009


I don't know where to begin.

I guess the beginning is as good a place to start as anywhere. Buffet. LJ & I were looking to go out and have a wide sampling of food items for a reasonable price. The problem? In my opinion, casual food in Ottawa is just done poorly. And buffets here have been one of the offenders. I know what your thinking, buffet food is about quantity, not quality. And normally I agree, but I have never experienced this lack of quality before.

We've been to 3 Chinese buffets that ranged from mediocre to terrible, an ok Chinese/Indian mixed buffet, a North American buffet chain (that LJ and I disagree on the quality, but to give you a hint, I am not a fan), and just a few weeks ago to an 'international' buffet in Gatineau that had some of the worst food I have ever eaten at a buffet (but to be fair, there were a few gems). and I love buffets.

The only buffet that had quality food was at Banco, the Casino du Lac-Leamy, also in Gatineau.

Important to this blog, most of these places have wings, and I just never did reviews of them. And most of these buffet wings were terrible, and we never went back to these places for me to do a review. But doing some random surfing of the net of restaurants in Ottawa, I came across another buffet in town, and this one had a side restaurant pub with a deal that caught my eye:

$1.99 chicken wings? Seriously? And all I have to do is buy a drink? I don't have to be a member or anything, and this is on a Saturday night? Tonight is Saturday night! Where is this magical place and can this place be too good to be true?

The Rideau Carleton Raceway. Horse racing, slots, and food. It seems like every casino has a buffet, and as mentioned with the above Quebec gambling buffet, they can be pretty good quality. I had never been to the raceway before, just south of Ottawa in the outskirts of the airport, but LJ had heard good things, and Saturday was also their Prime rib & Seafood buffet and we decided to check it out.

Of course once you enter (and we got ID'd by security), you have to cross through the slots and gaming area to get to the food. The beeping, the dinging, the flooding sound of hundreds of machines giving and taking money - it's too much for me. I don't care for gambling, mainly because I'm not lucky, nor skilled enough to win at other casino games. I don't find it fun, but that's just me.

Fortunately, the dining area is glassed off and soundproofed from the casino floor. But the dining area was not as 'classy' as I had expected. The seating is on several tiers facing big windows where, if it wasn't still winter and night, horse racing would be going on that everyone could watch. The carpets were stained, the tables and chairs cheap, and lighting was industrial mixed with x-mas lights. It was a little off-putting. Our waitress got our drink orders and we were off to the buffet.

There was a big line up for the prime rib and shrimp skewers. There was a long table with 'main' dishes, then another table for salads. There was a dessert section, and on the other side of the prime rib line was some cold items like shrimp and pickles. And then there was . . . well, that was pretty much it. LJ and I both looked at each other and said, this is it? This is 100 items?

Our first round through, I forgot I had my camera and didn't take any photos. I made up a salad with lettuce, onion, croutons, peppers and Caesar dressing (nothing else in the salad bar interested me). My plate got some potato salad, some ribs, chicken wings (I'll come back to the wings and ribs in a minute) and a couple of skewers of grilled shrimp. The shrimp was blah - and dry and the grilling didn't actually add anything. Overall pretty disappointing. As was the fatty, gross prime rib.

On the second tour of the buffet, LJ went with crab legs. These were a popular item and some people (and you will see them at every buffet) mound their plates so high, that not everyone gets a fare sampling. I have no patience for cracking crab legs, and with the shrimp putting me off, I didn't have any. LJ said it was ok. Note that butter self serve in plastic containers - not environmentally friendly, but there were no small bowls to use.

On both my first trip to the buffet I got the ribs (about 3). They were tender, meaty, and had a tasty bbq sauce on them. The sauce itself was sweet, only so slightly smokey, but I don't doubt it is some sort of bottled sauce. These too were a popular dish, and of the buffet, the only item I really liked. On my second trip I picked up about 5 more, but by the 3rd (after eating 6) I was not enjoying them anymore.

So how was the wings going to fare?

Buffet wings are always exciting to start with for me, because its all-you-can-eat wings, which is good. However, the quality can often be poor, which is bad. But I have rarely met a wing I won't eat. Again, its a sickness with me.

These wings were breaded. It was a thick breading, and its consistency made me sure that these were a frozen product that they bake off at the last minute and serve in big trays. There is no seasoning on them, so on their own, they are pretty bland.

Their size was about a small to medium. They weren't very meaty, and the breading overpowered everything. The colour wasn't very appealing to me either. The wings weren't crunchy but chewy, and it took a lot to get them down after a few.

As I mentioned, they were a blah wing on their own. I had grabbed a lemon wedge my first time for my Caesar salad, but I ended up using it on my wings just to give them some moisture and some tartness. On my second go at the wings at the buffet, I grabbed a plastic cup and had some bbq sauce (they also had honey garlic, but why?). The bbq sauce wasn't the same as the ribs, nor near as good, as it was extremely sweet. For most of them I just rubbed them against the ribs for their sauce. I should have used some ranch or something. On my way out that night I saw one guy with a big pile of wings on his plate and a jumbo bottle of Tabasco sauce. I said to LJ I should have asked for that, and she said "would it have really made the wings better?" No, no I guess it wouldn't have.

FINAL SCORE: The pub simply serves these buffet wings themselves, so the $1.99 deal is not worth it. These were terrible wings no matter which way you slice it. After my second plate, I got dessert and that was it, I just was sick of the food.

The part that killed me was a conversation with our waitress. I asked what the weekday buffet was like, as it is $9.99 (as opposed to our $19.99 weekend buffet). She told me, in honesty and earnestness that the weekday buffet had the same number of items (she stressed that), but that the recipes weren't as rich as tonight's. Let me say it again, they were not as 'RICH' as tonight's. Simpler, less decadent. And she meant it.

But people seemed to love the food. And I find this everywhere in Ottawa. We go to casual restaurants that come highly recommended, or I read good reviews, and find the quality is just not what I'm used to. I think its little pond theory, and its not meant to be offensive to Ottawaians, but its where people in Ottawa who have rarely lived outside of Ottawa love the only food they have been exposed to. Sure there is a great diversity of food (Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, Indian etc), but its just never on par with what I had growing up in my small town, neighboring areas, or my last home of Toronto for 8 years. Ottawa is a beautiful city and a friendly people, but I miss the buffets from South Western Ontario!

Sorry about that Ottawa, I've just been keeping this in for a while, and the Rideau Carleton Raceway was the last straw. You really need to step up your game and get your wings out of the 'second thought' category and stand up. We shouldn't have to settle for this. I'm not writing this to be a 'hater' but to let the pubs and restaurants and even the grocery stores know that the good people here deserve better for the prices they are paying.

Rideau Carleton Raceway Buffet & its wings: FAIL 1/10

Rideau Carleton Raceway Buffet
4837 Albion Road, Ottawa


Chris said...

I've cooked better looking wings out of a frozen bag in my oven! Those look like you could get them for $1.99 or at a buffet! Oh....wait;)

The only breaded wings that I like are Hooters, I am always a sucker for theirs providing they have a decent cook. Otherwise, I like mine skinless on the grill!

Entertaining review just the same so I give it a PASS even if the joint failed.

Teena in Toronto said...

I'm not a fan of breaded wings. Just give me chicken, skin and sauce :)

Anonymous said...

I lived in Ottawa and been to the RCR a few times for supper, the ribs are really tender and juicy... Absolutely yumtastik :-p

Please give RCR another chance and try their chowder, my wife loves them and always goes for second bowl. As for the roast beef, just ask the server for the non fatty part, they'll cut you a nice piece.

Actually, looking at the ribs you've posted, I'm hungry again (ate about 2 hours ago).

Lord of the Wings said...

@Anon - thanks for your post and I appreciate your loyalty to RCR :) I don't have any immediate plans to go back but I'll put them back on the radar anyways!