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

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