During the current lockdown/shelter-in-place/do-the-right-thing stasis in our lives, one of the things I do miss is heading out to a local restaurant, where somebody else makes the food and cleans the dishes, and all I have to do is shove things in my mouth. On the flip side, some dining emporiums are not all that great. I yanked this example out of the archives, wherein I reflect on a chewing spree at “The Bamboo Palace”, a pleasant moniker that doesn’t adequately capture the mayhem within. Enjoy.
10 Things I Learned at the Chinese Buffet Today
1. There’s nothing like “all you can eat” to bring in an interesting crowd.
Wow, some of these people have no shame. Would it have killed you to actually brush your hair? Or at least pluck the rolling paper out of that rat’s nest? And, while I can understand you wearing sweat pants up in here so you can remain comfortable while your belly size doubles, could you at least tie the drawstring so it’s not so obvious that you’ve had an appendectomy? And I realize this is pushing it, but could you change your shirt? You’ve still got duck sauce on it from the last time you were here. This morning.
Yes, I know that you really don’t care, because you don’t know me and you will never see me again. But the image of your butt-crack next to the Kung Pao Chicken will be with me forever, and that’s not really fair, is it?
2. The hostess is not impressed with the “party of one” concept at an establishment designed for high-traffic.
“Just one?” she queries, glaring at me with complete suspicion. When I confirm, she studies her table-assignment chart, desperate for some clue on how to handle me not bringing relatives or friends and thereby potentially impacting the revenue flow. She finally sighs, glumly asks me to follow her, and leads me to the furthest point in the building, a rarely-used, ignored-by-servers corner where she had to blow dust off the table and throw away the soy sauce that had turned into molasses. Later, whilst enjoying my egg drop soup, I discovered Jimmy Hoffa under the table. (He made me sign a non-disclosure agreement, but I used a fake name, so it’s not legally binding.)
3. The plates are tiny.
Again, I understand what’s going on here. The plates are small so you can’t take as much. Got it. But do you not understand the psychological damage caused by this reprehensible design flaw? It means I have to make return trips to the buffet if I have any hope of getting enough protein to build up the strength I need to sign my credit card bill, should I live long enough to do so. Give me a plate that’s bigger than a hubcap on Barbie’s Malibu Camper. Besides…
4. The tiny plates do not stop the woolly beasts intent on taking full advantage of the free-for-all in the buffet line.
These Neanderthals (and you know who I’m talking about) will fill plate after plate before they even start eating. (I’m surprised that they can wait that long, pigs that they are, but I digress.) Back and forth from buffet to table, meaning that said table is eventually covered with 37 plates piled high with food. You can’t even see the people anymore, hidden as they are behind mounds of Mu Shu Pork. But you can hear them, smacking and grunting like Donald Trump when he accesses his Twitter account.
They will never be able to eat all of this, even though, based on their appearance, they have certainly tried to do so in the past. Most of it will just be thrown in the trash. Get ONE plate at a time, you mal-functioning twitrod. And if they run out of my favorite dish because you’re being an ass and using a forklift instead of a ladle, I will march right over there and challenge you to a dancing “West Side Story” rumble that will end all dancing rumbles. But speaking of favorites…
5. My current favorite dish on this particular buffet is Egg Foo Yung. I’m in love.
I don’t know what it is at this restaurant, but somebody in that kitchen knows what they’re doing when it comes to Egg Foo Yung. For the uninitiated, it’s an omelet of sorts, crammed with veggies and onions and who knows what. Then you top it off with a brown sauce that probably has enough fat grams in it to shut down my circulatory system with one bite. Oh. My. God. I have an unholy infatuation. It’s not unheard of for me to knock the slow-ass hostess aside and race to this station before she even shows me my decaying “table for one” in the Hoffa quadrant.
6. Some people navigate buffet lines like they drive on roads.
Why are you stopping right in the middle of everything, blocking my access to the dish just on the other side of you? WHY? I realize that there are a lot of choices, and the sensory overload can make you palpitate a little bit, but that’s not my issue. It is imperative that I get to the Black Pepper Shrimp before Thunderina and her inbred cousins beat me to it. You must understand this, as nations could fail if you don’t. Pull over to the shoulder and let me pass.
And this business of going the wrong way in the line? Oh, no you didn’t. When it’s slow up in here, you can approach the stations from whatever direction you want, and no one blinks an eye. But when it’s busy, like now, there’s a protocol. You gauge the general flow, and you get at the end of the line. This is now a one-way street. Don’t come charging up from the wrong direction and then glare at the rest of us like we have somehow violated your Second Amendment rights. We will rise!
7. People are just stupid.
So I’m sitting there, munching on the delicacies arranged on my plate with loving devotion, glancing around furtively like a dog with a bone, because I know the woolly beasts will snatch up any food that isn’t locked down, when I hear a couple near me ask their server for the manager. Oh? This could be fun.
When Mr. Whoever finally comes trotting out of the back office after hiding his nearly-depleted bottle of vodka, this couple, especially the man, who has seen a few buffets in his life but not a lot of formal education, actually complains that there was broccoli in one of the dishes. Complains! Totally offended that it was there. Holy cow. Did you not see the broccoli when you were scooping buckets of it onto one of your many plates? It’s not hard to identify broccoli. It’s not one of those deceptive things that can hide easily, like bits of jalapeno or Rudy Giuliani’s soul.
The manager, flummoxed, points out that there are quite a few options available without broccoli. (Uh, yeah, Complaining Dude. There’s 400 things over there without any green color. You know, that color that might mean broccoli, and you shouldn’t get it if you don’t like broccoli or anything the color of broccoli?) The couple demands their money back. Okay, A, they haven’t paid yet, so shut up, and B, screw you and your stupidity. The manager tells them they will still have to pay, and marches away. The couple’s timid little server then races up, and she is instantly berated because there are too many ice cubes in their drinks.
8. There’s something really wrong with the bathrooms.
Okay, I’ve noticed it before about this place, so it doesn’t actually startle me, but it does make me ponder. There’s graffiti on the wall above the urinals. Graffiti. Seriously? What kind of hoodlums would go to a Chinese restaurant, in non-crime-infested, fairly affluent Cedar Hill, Texas, and spray paint a gang tag in the john? Are you telling me you searched this place out on purpose? (What, did you hear about the Egg Foo Yung?)
And to top it off, some of the wall art has been there for years. Management does nothing about it. The main part of the restaurant is pristine, you can eat off the floor while chaste and complacent servers satisfy your every need, but if you gotta take a leak you’re walking on the wild side. Apparently, it gets real in that bathroom, where you better wear the right gang colors or you’ll never make it back to the sushi that is botulizing on your neglected tiny hubcap.
9. What’s up with the soft-serve ice cream?
I don’t think such a thing is Chinese, or even Asian in general (I may be wrong), but there’s a mega soft-serve ice cream machine off to one side, unfortunately located in the loser zone where parties of one are seated. I don’t know what ingredients are in that mess, never tried it, but something in there has an amazing effect on children. They can smell the chemicals the very second they walk in the door. Next thing you know, the little urchins are clawing and belting one another in the face with Hello Kitty backpacks, vying to be the first in line to receive the sugary goodness.
And the parents? They don’t care. There can be bloodshed and dismemberment, but Mommy and Daddy calmly keep munching on Lemon Pepper Beef while their offspring savagely rip each other apart just to fill their waffle cone.
10. I don’t understand the obsession with the complimentary fortune cookie at the end.
I don’t want one. Those things are bland and non-appealing. And they contain cheerfully-intentioned slogans that actually make you feel worse. “You will find true friends in next year. Yay!” Like I don’t have any right now? Thanks for that.
But the servers in this place insist that you enjoy your cookie. I can take the cookie off the little plastic bill presentation tray and toss it aside without any separation anxiety whatsoever. Within seconds, the server has retrieved the discardment and is proffering it again. I don’t want the damn cookie. I will gladly tip you 50% if you will just forget about the cookie.
Nope. They follow me to the door. Cookie for sir?
I reluctantly take the stupid thing with me, and then I throw it in the glove box of my car where there’s about a hundred of them, years of neglected detritus.
Cookie #23: “Well, there’s another one.”
Cookie #31: “Haven’t we suffered enough?”
Cookie #42: “He’s kind of cute, though. And he smells like Egg Foo Yung. Reminds me of home…”
Previously published. Slight changes made for this post. I probably should have changed more, as this is not one of my better efforts, but it’s 1:23am.
Story behind the photo: A bit of nosh from BBBop in Oak Cliff, Texas. Granted, it’s Korean food and not Chinese, which paints me as culturally insensitive, but it’s now 1:26am and I’m just trying to get the hell out of here.
Wait, not yet. Quick survey: Dear Reader, have we grown bored and unsatisfied with my continued usage of “Corona Chronology” to headline these posts, or are we still good? Just wondering. After all, I’m here to serve you and I just want you to be happy. Unless you get in my way at the buffet. Then we might need to talk. In the gang-tagged bathroom, where a dance fight might break out. (“The Jets are gonna rumble tonight!”)