My first experience at the brand new 99 Market Ranch in Plano was not a pleasant one.
The Asian supermarket chain opened its first location in North Texas last week to much buzz. I paid a visit to the monstrous market during its soft opening on the hopes that I would avoid any crowds. No such luck. On the evening before the market's official grand opening, it was already teeming with both shoppers and the curious.
99 Ranch Market is sort of like an Asian grocery store Ikea -- as in, it's about the experience as much as it's about the shopping. The grocery aisles alone would take days to explore. Upon entering the massive complex, however, it's only natural that one's first inclination would be to head straight towards the siren calls of the food court. Groceries will have to wait for a Basket Case blog post.
From afar, the food court is a mirage of beauty and gluttonous opportunity. Upon taking a closer look, the images disappointed. To start, the prices are ridiculous. If I were to pay the same prices that 99 Ranch Market charges for their hot food options, I would rather eat at a proper sit-down restaurant. Not that I'm a miser when it comes to food prices, but...
As far as Asian supermarket chains go, 99 Ranch Market's most obvious contemporary is Super H Mart. Both are upscale Asian supermarkets, the former being Taiwanese while the latter is Korean. As I've blogged in the past, Super H Mart's food court is one of my favorite dining destinations, yet their prices are comparable to 99 Ranch Market's prices. However, at Super H Mart, I don't mind paying the prices because the food looks and tastes of a decent quality for the price. 99 Ranch Market's food is comparable to what I would find in a Taiwanese schoolyard cafeteria. Considering the price tag, servings are quite small. For a $6 bowl of noodles, I was expecting much more. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Like Super H Mart, the market offers a bakery. Desir bakery is a typical Asian bakery with different breads, cakes and pastries. Price-wise, the prices are comparable to Mozart Bakery and Super H Mart's Tous Les Jours. Baked goods-wise, Desir is inferior to both. I picked up two breads, a sesame bun and a curry onion pork bun, for the parents and moved on.
Navigating around the maze-like food court was intimidating enough, but the crowds made it even more difficult. From a distance, my heart skipped a beat when I saw shiny metallic dim sum steamers. When I took a closer look, the quality of the dim sum left something to be desired. Everything looked small and shriveled, as if they came from out of the freezer section of the grocery store. Pass.
I was beginning to sense a trend of the negative variety. Out of curiosity, I ventured over to the sushi station. While the bright colored fish looked fresh enough, there was an obvious lack of knife skills when it came to the slicing. The fish slices were uneven and looked as if they were cut with a small saw.
I wouldn't find any better at the rice plate station. For around $6-$7, a plate of rice is accompanied by two meats or vegetables. The offerings were bleak. Like the dim sum, none of the entrée options looked fresh or appetizing. I had only one option left.
As I waited in the noodle line, I was given a card similar to a sushi restaurant order card. I was given a card, but no pen. The lady behind the counter had to fill out the card for me, which wasn't a big deal, except I don't understand the point of the cards. After placing an order for a wonton beef noodle soup and a dza jiang mien, or minced pork over cold noodles, I paid my $12 for the meal and went to wait with the masses.
Once they called out my number, (they call out the numbers in Mandarin Chinese) I returned to the counter with my ticket in hand. Seeing as how the food court seating area was fully occupied, I had requested my meal to go. This is when it started getting really weird.
My noodle bowls were packed in to go containers, but I wasn't offered a plastic or paper bag until after requesting one. Then, the lady behind the counter and I stood there looking at each other for a few awkward seconds, waiting for the other to pack the order in the bag . She soon relented and packed the cup of SOUP at the very bottom. I knew bad things were to come, but the pack of hounds waiting for their food behind me made me feel guilty for holding up the line.
With food in hand, I left the market and five miles later, eventually found my car. As I reached inside the car door to put my bag of food on the floor, I noticed the cup of soup had spilled over inside the bag. I sighed and walked the five miles back inside the grocery store to look for some help. This is when it gets even weirder.
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Seeing the line back at the food counter, I walked to the customer service desk to see if anyone could help me. Two customer service workers proceeded to stare at the plastic bag with its spilled contents like it was a dinosaur skull at an excavation site. When they finally understood what I was trying to tell them, one worker left, saying she was off duty. Her co-worker took the bowl of noodles out of the plastic bag and handed me back the bag of spilt soup. I'm not kidding. This happened. He then told me to just go back to the food counter to ask for another soup. Fine.
I eventually received my replacement cup of soup, and yes, I had to repack the whole order by myself. The worst part is, once I got the food home, it wasn't even worth all the trouble. Although the beef in the wonton beef noodle soup was seasoned well, the infamous soup tasted of tap water. The servings were small, as well. Despite the large sized bowls in which the food is packed, the bowls were only a third of the way full.
Maybe I'm being overly critical. It was, after all, still the soft opening. Maybe the newly trained staff was overwhelmed. However, I can't imagine this experience ever happening at, say, oh...a Super H Mart. For all the anticipation and excitement, nothing much about 99 Ranch Market lives up to the hype. Once some time passes and the crowds simmer down, hopefully all the kinks will be worked out. Until then, I'm steering clear of the madness.
99 Ranch Market 131 Spring Creek Parkway, Plano, 972-943-8999