The Devil’s Restaurant

There’s this Indian restaurant which I enjoy a great deal. It’s fairly priced, the food comes out hot, and they serve a good nan. The quality of the food itself is also quite good, and I found myself droolingn over their version of Chicken Tandoori. In short, it’s a place I woulnd’t be embarassed to find myself.

So imagine my suprise when I went there for lunch recently, and I found myself staring at a buffet line. I now know how sports fans feel when their favorite athelete is discovered taking steroids. Say it ain’t so, chole!

It’s one of my basic rules of dining, that I call the Law of Buffets:There is no such thing as a great buffet. Sure, there are some good ones. But they are few and far between. Normally, buffets are horrible wastes of time and food.

And yeah, yeah.. some of you more traveled folks out there may point out to me that the Bellagio in Las Vegas has a kickin’ buffet, serving everything from smoked salmon, mussels to fresh made bread or pizzas. But a buffet is a deal with Satan. It breaks one of the most traditional of restaurant philosphies, that of intimacy.

When I order a meal at a non-buffet restaurant, I am commiting to a verbal agreement between the cook/chef and myself, that they will be making a meal for me and me alone. The plate that comes to my table has been (hopefully) given individual attention to make my individual experience at that restaurant pleasant, but yet unique. The plate of salmon I get may be quite different from the plate of salmon the table next to me will recieve. I like that thought a great deal, even if it may not be true in execution.

But that intimacy is lost on a buffet line. Cooks for buffets (and let’s face it, there are precious few chefs working in buffet joints) are making food for the masses. The chicken breast I pick up was not sauteed in an individual sauce pan before it was plated and set to my table. Oh no. It was baked with two to three dozen other chicken breasts. It was treated like every other piece of meat that went through the kitchen. In short, buffets are not democracies, but rather communist states. Every dish is just like the other, and there’s no room for experimentation or diversity.

That’s not the only thing that disturbs me about buffets. My corollary to the Law of Buffets: All franchised restaurants with buffets have horrible food. This works if teh restaurant in question is a buffet place by choice, like the faux Japanese/Sushi buffet called “Todai”, which is so horrible that I once had a slice of teriyaki chicken that literally squeaked as I bit into it. This corollary also works for franchised restaurants who “happen” to have a buffet. I’m reminded of the Ponderosa Steak house chain who’s steaks were so horrible that their advertising campaign essentially said “Come to Ponderosa Steakhouse…where you’ll want to try our salad bar”. How ashamed of their steaks did they have to be where they actually wanted you to eat from their lettuce buffet, instead of chowing down on some prime rib?

Oh yeah.. salad bars? They’re nothing but the poor man’s buffet. But there’s no hot food to be had (except, if your lucky, some soup). Instead you get tow different kinds of lettuce. eighteen different salad dressings and other salad acoutrements. i.e. a lettuce buffet.

If hell exists, I’m quite sure their cafeteria is a buffet line, full of dried out meats that have been sitting under heat lamps for hours, and three different vegetables that are swimming in their own juices, with every flavor having been seeped out into a lifeless veggie broth. *shudder*

I still have a soft spot for that Indian restaurant. But even now when people ask me for a decent Indian place, I’ll respond “The dinner menu is not bad, but be forewarned: Lunch is a buffet.”

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