City Light Restaurant

City Light red bean longevity buns

City Light
460 Topsail Rd.
St. John’s, NL
Ph. (709) 747-8377

“It looks like a real estate office,” said companion as we approached City Light. I thought it looked like a furniture store. To be honest, I was more focused on what I was smelling than seeing. It’s never the small downtown bistros that give you a whiff, but rather the large, often stand-alone restaurants putting out massive amounts of food of every description. Food factories. Expensive, rumbling ventilation systems deliver a scent that, depending on the restaurant, can be appetizing, noisome or somewhere in between.

City Light exterior

My olfactory memory kicked in and I was reminded of the aroma from the building’s previous restaurant, Ponderosa. Steak was the Ponderosa’s specialty – red meat, bordered and marbled with fat. The grill aroma of red meat is enticing, as enticing as the fragrance from Purity Factories when hard bread is being baked. The scent emanating from City Light was less interesting. It just smelled like plain, garden variety restaurant fat.

City Light interior

Inside, City Light looks very much like it should, and nothing like a real estate office. It’s a large, bright, comfortable buffet restaurant with choice of booth or table seating. The room’s most prominent feature is the expansive, grill paneled drop ceiling, lit colourfully in dabs of red, white and blue. Much of the room’s light is generated by a series of illuminated steam and ice-chilled tables at the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen.

Mainly buffet
Although it’s possible to order individual dishes from City Light’s menu, the restaurant is mainly set up for lunch and evening buffets. We attended the lunchtime sitting. Two of the three hot tables were in full swing, as was the cold buffet offering sushi, ice cream, desserts et cetera.

City Light buffet plate

I tried some sushi. The roll of rice, nori, and veg topped with gossamer slice of fresh salmon was very good. Vegetarian rolls contained avocado and cucumber, and the spicy and crispy roll was a little like a salty nugget of tempura rice. It was crispy but not so spicy. City Light’s sushi was on par with what I’ve purchased at Sobeys, and that’s about what I expect from a low-cost buffet restaurant.

City Light’s wonton soup tasted like most buffet restaurant wonton soups. It’s usually the one buffet item that won’t be a letdown. Several restaurant food suppliers sell a good frozen version. This may account for the consistency.

Dim sum
City Light had a tiny, steaming section of one table, with only three items, labeled, Dim Sum: a bowl of glassy, straw coloured rice with raisins, steamed pork dumplings and red bean buns. The rice was boring on its own but with the plump, savoury, steamed pork dumplings made a palatable enough snack.

The best part of the Chinese red bean buns I tasted is the story behind red bean buns. They’re also called, Longevity Buns or Birthday Buns. You can pick them out of a line-up easily because they’re sprayed red on top and have a side crease, which makes them look like peaches – if you squint that is. The little pops are meant to represent peaches from a special peach tree that, according to Chinese legend, only bears fruit every so many thousands of years.

City Light red bean longevity buns

Immortals are said to be immortal because they’ve eaten peaches from the longevity peach tree. Thus, it became a Chinese custom to eat the red tinged buns on birthdays in the hope that doing so would ensure long life. I hope this is true, because the City Light bun paid few dividends, despite its roseate exterior. It had the texture of a make-up sponge, and the red bean filling bordered on bland. Verdict? Lots of chew, little enjoyment. I suspect this was a frozen mass-produced product.

Bountiful batter
Fried pork dumplings and pieces of fried fish were side by side. Both had what I’d call a store-bought taste, especially the fried fish. (Think frozen, battered cod with chips.) The golden, thickly battered fish tasted more of batter than of fish.

A dish called pork with mushrooms was more mushrooms – Champagne or button – than pork. Thanks to the mushrooms and stir-fry sauce, the concoction had a slightly bosky flavour. For pure porkiness, the garlic honey pork ribs were better, although I like meatier ribs and a less watery sauce.

My favourite dish was something I make at home, chicken with broccoli stir-fry. What’s not to like about tender slivers of chicken and fresh broccoli seasoned with soy sauce? Combined with City Light’s egg noodles it, and the preceding sushi and wonton soup made the $13.99 all-you-can-eat lunch price a bargain.

* Good  * * Very good  * * * Excellent  * * * * Exceptional

Price Buffet lunch for two with one beer, tax and tip costs approximately $50.

Service Very good.

Atmosphere Similar to a food court on a slow day.

Sound level Moderate.

Open Tuesday to Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday: Closed.

Reservations Walk-ins are welcome.

Credit cards Most major cards.

Parking Building’s parking lot.

Beverages Usual alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Best bets City Light’s sushi, wonton soup and chicken with broccoli.

Gluten free options Please ask your server for details.

Vegetarian and vegan options Vegetarian dishes include ones featuring vegetables, vegetables with bean curd and vegetables with noodles. Butter potato is also available. Please ask your server about vegan options, as some sauces may contain animal by-product.

Wheelchair access Yes, according to the receptionist I spoke with on the phone.