The Food Almanac: Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Today is National Buffet Day. No restaurateur would serve a buffet if he could avoid it. But some restaurants can't get away from the all-you-can-eat curse. The Chinese restaurant category, for example, is going wholesale to buffet service.
The appeal is clear: quantity attracts a wider range of potential customers than quality does. Many diners suspend all their standards of goodness in order to let the all-you-can-eat miracle happen. But put the same food on a regular menu, and they stop coming.
It's possible for infinitely large meals to be good. But it's not likely. Cooked dishes are at their best the minute they come off the stove. Then they go rapidly downhill as they cool and and dry out. Few dishes survive the stem table. (Red beans and soups are among those rarities.) And when quantity is the main draw, the added expense is made up for by depressing the intrinsic merit of the food. You don't see prime beef or organically grown vegetables much on buffets.
There are some good buffets. They're lavish in their cold dishes. They have roast-carving stations and setups where some dishes (eggs, most commonly) are cooked to order. The rest of the hot food is prepared in small batches. The desserts--which are made ahead in most restaurants anyway--are spectacular. But that kind of buffet is rare, and almost always more expensive than what you'd pay if ordering from a menu.
Service is rarely at its best in buffet restaurants. Servers in buffets are undertipped by their customers, who believe that, because they're fetching their own food, the tip should be lower. In fact, it should be higher than usual, because a) the server is doing everything he or she would do in an a la carte restaurant except getting the food and b) buffet diners eat much more and create more used serviceware than they would if ordering the same dollars' worth from a menu. No good waiter stays in an undertipping situation long.
Finally, there is the matter of overeating. Look at the waistlines of buffet fans. Is that above-average girth just a coincidence? Then get back to where the portions are controlled, the food is better, and the experience more pleasant.
Deft Dining Rule #28
Food served buffet-style will never be as good as the same food from the same kitchen served on a plate at your table by a waiter.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Except red beans and rice, which will be better on the buffet.
deglaze, v.--The cooking step of adding liquid to a skillet in which a meat or fish has been seared, and whisking the juices and bits left behind into the liquid to make the beginnings of a sauce. A wide range of liquids work for deglazing, but the most common are wine, stock, and just plain water. Fruit juices and spirits like brandy or whiskey also get wide use as deglazing media. Deglazing is a very effective way to start a sauce. Other ingredients (cream, mushrooms, herbs, onions, peppercorns, or whatever else sounds good) can be added after the deglazing is done. Meanwhile, the meat or fish continue cooking (or just stay warm) in the oven.
Lemonade Creek and nearby Lemonade Lake are high up in the mountains in Yellowstone National Park, in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Both are just off the scenic Grand Loop Road. Not a good place for a lemonade stand, because it's cold up there most of the time, and the little lake freezes over much of the year. You'll have to drive to Gardener, Montana, seventeen miles away and just outside the park, to refresh yourself at the Antler Pub and Grill.
Great Food Moments In Literature
Today is the birthday, in 1871, of Marcel Proust. He is the author of the seven-volume Recherche du Temps Perdu--usually mistranslated as Remembrance Of Things Past. The seemingly endless work (set aside a year at least to read it) is the reflective, image-laden, occasionally perverse recollection of the protagonist's past life. All of the memories are famously triggered when he has tea with the shell-shaped cookies called madeleines.
Food On The Air
American inventor Nicola Tesla was born today in Serbia in 1856. He was a mad genius who invented many of the major machines and concepts now used routinely in electronics today. His most famous contribution was alternating current, which makes it possible for you to read these words. He also was as important a figure in Marconi in the development of radio. So he's indirectly responsible for that program I do on 1350 AM every afternoon.
Annals Of Soft Drinks
Following a tremendous uproar from customers, today in 1985 the Coca-Cola Company returned the original formulation of Coke to the shelves, under the name Coca-Cola Classic. It quickly shoved New Coke off the market (except in New Coke's disguises, such as Cherry Coke, and Diet Coke, which still have the new flavor).
Adolphus Busch, who founded Anheuser-Busch, the world's biggest maker of beer, was born today in 1839. I wonder how he would feel about the efforts of a Belgian brewer to take over his baby.
Music To Eat Dinner In The Diner By
Arlo Guthrie, who came to prominence with the rambling recording of the song-saga Alice's Restaurant, was born today in 1947. His biggest hit was The City of New Orleans, about the train of the same name.
Bernard Buffet, French artist and designer, was sketched out today in 1928. Interesting that his birthday coincides with National Buffet Day. . .Jason Orange, singer and dancer in the group Take That, was born today in 1970.
Words To Eat By
"I raised to my lips a spoonful of the cake . . . a shudder ran through my whole body and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place."--Marcel Proust, born today in 1871.
"Most vegetarians look so much like the food they eat that they can be classified as cannibals."--Finley Peter Dunne, born today in 1867.
"I went to this restaurant last night that was set up like a big buffet in the shape of an Ouija board. You'd think about what kind of food you want, and the table would move across the floor to it."--Steven Wright.