July 10

Buffet Day

The Buffet Curse. Mother Sauce. Leek Creek. Proust. Tesla. Adolphus Busch. Arlo Guthrie.

Today's Flavor

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 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.

Edible Dictionary

bechamel, French, n.--One of the "mother sauces" of classical French cooking used as a starting point for many other sauces. It's essentially a blonde roux with milk whisked in, with a pinch of nutmeg. Chefs from the old school insisted on straining it through cheesecloth to make it perfectly smooth. Bechamel adds richness and texture to a sauce or a dish (particularly gratins), without adding a foreground flavor. I like using it as a base for crab cakes and stuffings for things like eggplants or mushrooms. It's named for the Marquis de Bechamel, who employed a sauce like it in the cooking for Louis XIV's court.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Leek Creek flows south from some hills in northeastern Texas for about eighteen miles. Through intermediate streams its water flows into the Red River, then all the way across Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico via the Atchafalaya. Lee Creek winds through swampy land near its southern end, with pine tree farms and hundreds of gas wells the main local activity. The nearest restaurants are twelve miles away, across the Louisiana state line in Vivian. Outlaw Bar-B-Q sounds logical.

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, for which I would like to thank him personally. Most recently, Tesla's name appears on the next generation of automobiles.

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).

Brewmasters

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.

Food Namesakes

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.

Words To Drink By

"Fill up the goblet and reach to me some!Drinking makes wise, but dry fasting makes glum." --William R. Alger, "Wine Song of Kaitmas."