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November 10, 2002
all I can eat.

There was no such thing as “All you can eat” in Poland or Germany. At least I do not remember it being there. My mother would always prepare food for a 5 head family. Me being the thinly single child, I would usually collapse under the amount of what was there for me on the plate. So this was more of an “all you must eat” situation.
A friend from high school, who was the master of a deal told me about the all you can eat idea on one of my first visits to the States. “You basically eat as much as you can and pay a flat fee.” I imagined moving to America and having a meal once a month. A kosher Sushi place on 72nd street offered an all you can eat sushi platter and I was ready to try the adventure, as I have been in situations where I had to finish a meal for four, and did. But in this case the offer was more of a trick, it seemed, as the customer could order as much as they wanted but were not allowed to share and had to pay a penalty for pieces of fish left behind. That did not sound right.
So the first real “all you can eat” place that I encountered was this Korean buffet restaurant somewhere deep on Queens Boulevard, tucked away between an abandoned lot and a McDonald’s playground. It was a huge place with an indoor fountain, tons of fake flowers, and a piano player. There was a buffet area and there were just massive amounts of people piling their plates with whatever food was there. Over and over and over again. The food variety was focust on an east Asian seafood mixture which seemed to be quite popular with people from that region.
The evening experience yesterday was even more “exciting.” I have the flashy folded menu here before me and bags under my eyes to prove that I survived. The place is called Harvest Buffet and sits on 14 Northern Boulevard in Great Neck in Long Island. The restaurant looked very much like a small diner inside and out. There were the booths, with tables with rounded corners, squishy green pleather on the seats making squeaky sounds as one would move just in the sest way. There were those cheap restaurant chairs that one can buy in restaurant supply stores and which are extremely popular in some low end restaurants, screwed together very obviously out of pieces of black metal tube. There were dividers between seating areas, just to help comprehend the space and to guide traffic from and to the sacred center of the place. The buffet.
All you can drink soda was included there were about twelve sorts of beer which were not. I went for the cheapest of the deals which ment a $18.95 on this slow motion explosion Saturday night. And we’re off to the race. I should not be writing about all this here. There are people starving in this country even and there I was looking at mountains of over 150 different things hot and cold, ready to eat in any amount I could possibly want, a maddening array of Chinese, Japanese (style), Korean, Italian and American food, plus a desert wall with a multi flavor soft-ice machine, and pots with beverages, hot cold from pecan coffee to bubble tea.
I got some kim-chi in a tiniest of containers and went back to the table to think about my shock. It was too much, nothing was left to the imagination, it was all there, out for grabs, and lots of it. Yes, I went back often and yes I had a lot of food and mainly sea food. I did not have the oysters, but sesame flavored jelly fish was good, and so were the various sorts of scallops and crab-cakes and other little things nicely prepared and not quite as bad as one would think. I would try to make country specific plates, like Vietnamese, all Japanese style or Chinese. I would build little pictures out of the elements, there were potato fritters that looked like smiling faces which made this exercise really possible. One of my little guys on the plate had a spicy Korean mini-calamare hat, arms out of cold sesame noodles and a sweater out of seaweed salad. I took an extra little guy home with me for exciting photo-shoots. Will need to take him out of my now probably quite greasy jacket pocket. (He is ok, I will now have to wash my hands though, excuse me please.) I soon fell behind. I could not eat as much as I thought I could. I switched from eating to looking at what everybody else was doing and it was not difficult because the place was packed like the 1 train in the evening. Some of the restaurant patrons quite clearly were pros some seemed to be there for their very first time. One older gentleman had his plate packed into such compact puzzle that it was like a tower of food in his hand. He used large crab-chips as floors to support the structure. He must have been very strong because this thing looked really heavy. Some other people just went for what was expensive. They were there to get their money worth no matter what. Piles and piles of huge Snow Crab legs were taken away from the food shrine and consumed at a near by table. Tiny couples from east Asia would build quite adventurous little combinations on their plates and talk about them as if they could run away. Then there were people who just went for the deserts. Praline cake after praline cake was followed by some cup cakes with some sweets. I would not have wanted to spend the rest of the evening with any of these crazy sugar bombs.
At a table not far from me there was a party of really heavy people eating incredible amounts of healthy food. The intentions were good for sure and I am sure that they were only drinking diet soda, but boy how could they not see that something in their strategy was horribly flawed. There was a girl there who was maybe 16, but she already looked like a botero sculpture, as did her mom and the uncles and aunts of hers consuming piles of food. It might have been a medical condition, something in the family that they had, I just felt sorry that they had to fuel their bodies with such amounts of food and soda.
I ended up having some vanilla ice cream. I always wanted to operate one of these machines. It was good fun. I barely ate what was on my little plate. The coffee in the end helped me a bit to regain some of the consciousness in my hands and feet but overall my body was just ready to retire.
There was no time to rest. A line of angry, hungry families was forming all the way from the now piled parking lot. People were ready for their deal. Not sure it was one. Less is sometimes more.
It will take a little while until I would even consider returning to Harvest Buffet. My stomach feels heavy, there are big bags under my eyes and I can not get rid of this thirst which tells me that I must have consumed a large amounts of salt last night. I will try to rest a bit today and take it easy, drink a lot of water, maybe sleep some more. And maybe just have a dinner today. There is only so much food a man can eat.


my goodness. that just sounds like a ridiculous amount of food :) i love you described it all, particularly the girl, "she already looked like a botero sculpture". hehe.

isn't it fun to use the icecream machine? as a kid I was fascinated by them, then I got a job in highschool where there was one, and I would always ask the customer, "Are you sure you don't want some ice cream? Pleeease?". Oh it was so fun. I used to make the cones really high, just to see how high they could go before toppling over.

Posted by: shauny on November 10, 2002 03:21 PM

Well done! Just the kind of place we've all been to, apparently the same people go to all these places.

Posted by: David on November 10, 2002 07:12 PM
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