Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Dish: Buffets

My love affair with buffet style food began when I was about 8 years old in Amsterdam. While not old enough to truly "enjoy" the city, it is where I first learned the meaning of the word "buffet" and the phrase "all you can eat". I later discovered that all you can eat was clearly a relative term, since I can eat a lot and others don't know what they are doing when attacking such a large amount of food. Since that glorious moment 18 years ago I have experienced numerous other buffets, some good, some bad, some wedding related. In all I have developed a clear set of rules and ways to judge a buffet. These rules have allowed me to maximize my eating of food so that I can enjoy the full buffet as much as possible.

Recently, I somehow managed to attend two separate all you can eat buffets in a two day period. While my body was not happy with me, each meal was a lot of fun and reminded me why everyone loves a good buffet. The first meal was actually at the highly underrated Diamond Club at Shea Stadium. Before a 1pm game my friend and I sat down to a plethora of eating options. Since it was still early the Diamond Club does the right thing by offering you both breakfast and lunch options. I believe in some far off lands this is known by the catchy phrase of "brunch". While I didn't participate in either, there was an omelet station and a crepe station with each one made to order. The only breakfast I had was a delicious mini bagel and lox with capers and onions. The Jew in me can't resist that at anytime of day, especially for breakfast. My main 2 rules during a buffet are to avoid the breads, pastas and carb heavy dishes, and to make sure you take a little of everything to figure out what is your favorite. As you can see in both of the pictures, I loaded up two big plates trying to figure out what was the best. Most all you can eat buffets will have their standout dishes, and their really disappointing dishes. The roast beef let me down, as did the Cajun catfish, but the pork loin, spicy coleslaw and BBQ pork "wings" were exceptional. Rarely did I go near the vast bread selections, nor did I venture into the mac and cheese land. The Israeli couscous salad, cherry tomato mozzarella and pesto salad, and the roast corn were also worth second trips. The carrots, sugar snap peas and other veggies, as usual, were a bit under seasoned, and the creole rice was very dry. Thanks, however, to my rules, I was able to weed out the so so food items, eat what I liked the most, and still pack it all in to get 4 full plates worth of food...and an ice cream sundae.

The very next day I was at BB Kings Blues Club & Grill in Times Square for a mothers day brunch. While my mom was excited for the Harlem Gospel Choir performance, I was licking my lips staring at the southern style all you could eat buffet. Sadly the choir's performance turned out to be what I enjoyed the most. I should have expected low quality given it was Times Square and tourists are everywhere, but a big part of me really hoped the food would be of high quality because it was comfort food. I again skipped the mac and cheese (I may be the only person to do this) and BBQ hot wings (I didn't want to get it all over my Sunday best) and went right for the fried chicken, fried catfish, grits, candied yams, collard greens, mashed potatoes, and of course the required dressings of gravy, ketchup, and tartar sauce. After the first plate I instantly regretted getting the yams, which were so sickeningly sweet I went through four glasses of water. The grits were delicious, as were the collard greens (pork fat seems to be the key here). The fried chicken had nice flavor, with some sort of subtle sweetness, but it didn't stay crispy in a hot tray sitting out on the buffet line. Many contestants on Top Chef have learned the hard way that heavy batter and fried foods don't do well when they aren't served right away. Interestingly, the fried catfish was my favorite part of the meal. Maybe due to its light thin batter, or that it was really popular, it stayed crispy and delicious to the last bite. I am a little biased, however, because I love catfish. I think I could eat it for dinner 7 days a week. Or maybe I was just really happy to have good catfish after such disappointing Cajun style the day before. Either way, I went back for thirds.

Although one buffet was great, and the other just good, there is something to be said for the fun and excitement of so many different choices and things to taste. There is something to also be said for the American way of all you can eat buffets. Similar to everything else we seem to do, wasting food, and eating too much of it go hand in hand with a standard type of meal that we have. I sometimes wish that places actually limited the number of times you can keep going back up for food, or at the very least require you to finish what is on your plate like the all you can east sushi restaurants. In any case, I will always love a buffet, and you can most likely find me cutting to the front of the line to get the freshest food they put down.

Buffet - French for feeeed me

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Beer of the Week: Bud Light Lime

During my recent celebration of Cinco De Mayo I had the bad luck of trying a new beer, Bud Light Lime, and it raises the new question of where did this trend come from? Miller also has their own lime and salt flavored beer, Miller Chill, and apparently Budweiser seemed to think this was a great idea. Personally, I have not tasted Miller Chill yet, but just the idea makes my stomach churn. While I am not one to argue with putting a lime into a Corona or other light "beach drinking" beer, I don't think chemical lime flavoring in a beer is appealing at all. As someone recently said to me when discussing this alarming trend, "It seems to taste like Windex". I let it go without asking why this person knew what Windex tasted like, and decided to start a crusade against large beer companies attempting to infuse flavor into their beers. What's next, a Bud Light Hot Wing beer because wings and beer go so well together?

Budweiser has clearly missed the point as to why people add limes to beers. It is a subtle, fresh, slightly fruity and acidic way to bring out the natural taste of that particular beer. It is in no way the main taste of the beer, and doesn't linger on your tongue like bad medicine. Corona, Sol, and other commercial beers that you can add a lime to are inherently tasty and enjoyable to drink. Bud Light Lime however tastes like someone tried adding a fake lime flavor to an old skunky Bud Light they found on the bottom of their fridge after a party. It's not like Bud Light is the greatest tasting beer in the world, so why would someone think that adding a lime flavor to an already barely drinkable beer (unless you are playing beer pong) would actually improve the flavor.

Number of Beers Drank in one Sitting: 0
Pair With Food: Why waste your time?

Learn more if you enjoy bad beer

Monday, May 5, 2008

Condiment of the Week: Goya Salsita Chipotle Chile

While Goya products tend to get overlooked at supermarkets, they actually provide some of the better Latin and Spanish pre-made and canned goods on the market. One of my favorites are their line of salsita's that include chipotle, ancho, jalepeno and habanero While all of them are quite good, my favorite is the chipotle which has that perfect combo of spicy and smokey that many hot sauces try to create, but rarely succeed. Tabasco, Jim Beam, and others that I've tried have either failed to get the right consistency, focused too much on the smoke, or too much on the heat, forgetting that they need to all work as one. The Goya Chipotle pours out of the bottle well, but does not come off as watered down, and even seemingly has texture to it from the peppers. When you first taste the hot sauce the smoke engulfs your mouth and can overpower weaker flavors very easily. Ideally, because of this type of taste, the sauce should be used sparingly as an accent to foods and dishes that pair well with smokey flavor. Add to much of this sauce, and whatever your eating will taste like it was in the smoke house a day too long. After the smoke flavor goes away the heat suddenly appears in the back of your throat and will catch you completely by surprise. It's very easy to start eating something with the Goya Chipotle and think it isn't hot at all, and then suddenly the heat will catch up with you and make you turn bright red. While not as spicy as habanero or scotch bonnet, the sauce is still jalapeno based, and will get you if you don't watch out. Maybe it's the wooden top, but there is something that I love about the flavors that make up the Goya sauces. It may still be a huge corporate brand, but it's about as authentic of a taste as your going to find in your supermarket "spanish" section.

Favorite Use: A few drops over rice and beans or on top of a taco
Most Unusual Use: Mix with honey mustard for a spicy, sweet and smoky dipping sauce