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Buffet Rules

November 11, 2009

I may or may not be off to a buffet lunch later today.

Just in case I do go, I would like to get all of this out in the open beforehand, lest my dining companions think that I wasn’t paying full attention to our conversation, but rather thinking about a blog post throughout the meal.

That would be terribly rude. While I may be fussy, I do know how to act in polite society.  Whether or not I choose to do so is another matter entirely.

It would be a safe assumption that I am not a fan of buffets.  But that is not entirely true.  There are good buffets and not so good buffets.  And there are ways of stacking the deck in your favor.

This sounds so obvious, but many buffets do not abide by this simple axiom:
Good buffets are filled with food that does well in chafing dishes.

That would include braised dishes.  Roasted meats, held under warming lights.  Dishes like quiche that are designed to be served at room temperature.  Soups and stews.  Essentially anything that does not degrade the moment it is cooked.

There is nothing sadder than a chafing dish filled with wilting naan.  Fried foods can be touch and go.  Certainly there is some fried food that holds up well.  Chicken is a perfect example.  French fries on the other hand are terribly fragile.  Even with places that have incredible turnover, like McDonalds, I find myself sending back fries at an alarming rate.

I think you get the idea.

But unless you have a deep knowledge of the restaurant, and know what types of food they generally put out, you are going in blindfolded.  The only solution is to go early.  There is no better buffet than the one that is freshly prepared, just for you, and unsullied by a stranger’s hand.

Usually it’s not a completely unreasonable time.  11 or 11:30 a.m.  One just has to be careful about scheduling meetings.  The best part is that when you get back from lunch, other people are still away, and you can get some quiet around the office.  Okay, actually the best part is having an entire buffet for your private lunch as the first customer of the day.  It’s really kind of awesome.

Sure, I could cook Indian food at home, or Chinese food at home.  And possibly my chana masala will be better than what I’ll get at a restaurant.  But I’m not going to cook up ten different dishes, especially for lunch.

It’s a treat.  And it is one where you don’t have to deal with waiters, waiting for the food to be ready, or the tragedy of portion sizes.  It’s like the plug and play of dining out.

Sure, the food isn’t going to be the same quality as you might get elsewhere.  And perhaps that makes it wrong.  But it doesn’t make it any less fun.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. phairhead permalink
    November 11, 2009 9:57 am

    i’m not usually a fan of the buffet. i like my food hot and i want it the way i want it. that being said, there are a few exceptions to my rule. Yangste River in Boston, best Chinese buffet w/ a wide variety of unique dishes and this little Mexican place in Vernon, NY, they have very attentive staff that makes sure the food doesn’t decompose

  2. November 11, 2009 11:12 am

    I assume you are talking about a Chinese buffet or an Indian buffet?

    If you were going to a Japanese buffet or an American home cooking buffet, I would think the opposite would apply: stay away from the hot foods entirely until you have completed due diligence on the salad-type offerings and the cold appetizers and, of course, the sushi which would be really, really unappealing if presented in a chafing dish.

    Actually, I have very little experience with buffets in upstate NY. I eat buffets when I go to Las Vegas, where my M.O. is the opposite of yours. I wait till the very end of the lunch hour (usually having worked up an appetite trolling the floor of a trade show) then make it my only meal of the day. Rio generally gets reviewed as the best of the buffets; I also like Bellagio (spectacular dishes though not very well prepared) and Todai for Japanese (the quality here varies drastically but you can tell whether it’s a good day by inspecting the sushi offerings before you commit to eat there).

    And, I am a sucker for any buffet that allows me unlimited access to oysters or other bivalves. That is a win for me, a sure loser for my buffet host.

  3. November 11, 2009 12:25 pm

    I think you’ll like the majority of what they’ve got.

    I’m so hitting a level 6!

  4. November 12, 2009 9:49 am

    Which one did you guys go to? Karavalli?

  5. brownie permalink
    November 12, 2009 2:19 pm

    Not being a morning person, I don’t think I’ve ever hit a buffet in the AM with the exception of a Shoney’s in Florida, years ago (and that wasn’t too terrible, but it’s hard to get breakfast wrong). Buffets in the evening are either dried-out or soaked through, overcooked, underflavored and just plain wrong. I haven’t met a dinner buffet yet that I feel is worth the price, but that could just be the quality of selections I have in my area.

    And then there’s the Vegas buffet. What a crock of $hit, at any hour. $40/head for the “good” ones, serving a wide variety of food that’s entirely forgettable. I’d rather spend that $40 on a restaurant that has something I’ll want to come back for again.

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