Monday, January 29, 2007

Living Mildly, Eating Fearlessly.

I had brunch yesterday with two of my best friends, friends that I have known practically my entire life. I met J. literally on the very first day of kindergarten when the teacher asked her to help me at the coat closet and something about the way she slung my tiny plaid jacket onto that brass wall hook impressed me and made us friends for life. Two years later in the second grade I met G. while admiring her red patent leather purse with the big gold rings affixed to it, and her, J. and I became a trio, a force to be reckoned with on our inner-city-school playground. I liked to think of us as a miniature version of Charlie's Angels without the good hair, hot clothes or crime-fighting skills.

We eventually went to different schools, got married, had kids and moved to different cities. J. and G. now live within minutes of each other and around an hour's drive away from me, but we all still manage to get together without fail three times a year to celebrate each of our birthdays. The routine is always the same - we meet on a Sunday at the birthday person's house sans husband and kids and treat the honoree to brunch. Over the years, when our kids were small we've had to bend those rules a few times and bring one or both of our kids along (necessitated by breast feeding schedules or babysitting issues) but for the most part we've been able to make it a girls-only bonding affair. I imagine we'll be doing this into our old age, eventually all rolling our wheelchairs into a van, trading coupons for Depends and Metamucil and complaining when one of the other's oxygen tank hums too loudly.

The restaurants vary from year to year, but the one prerequisite is that the brunch must be of the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet variety, the kind where upon entering you are greeted with a vista promising absolute gluttony and excess. To see table upon table heaped with platters of crab legs and cocktail shrimp and huge chafing dishes piled with pounds of sausage is what gets our mouths watering and makes our reunion complete. We've actually got up and left restaurants when upon being seated we were handed a menu and informed that their Sunday brunch consisted of their standard breakfast selection served with a glass of champagne. No going back for seconds of eggs benedict or standing in front of a 'chef' while he carves up a slab of prime rib? We're outta here.

Another thing we look for in choosing a brunch is the co-mingling of ethnic cuisines. We've tried the brunches at Mexican restaurants where you can feast on unlimited servings of chicken enchiladas and finish off with a glass of horchata and even a brunch at a Japanese restaurant where they had fry-while-you-wait tempura stations alongside enormous vats of of miso soup. But the hallmark of a truly great brunch is one where your slice of lasagna happily shares a plate with your Chinese dumplings and on your second go-around that same plate is home to caprese salad, a spicy-tuna handroll and a mound of wasabi.

Please don't lecture me about the dubious reputation of the all-you-can-eat buffet. I've read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential where he cautions against ever eating at such brunches, especially at hotels, where it's common knowledge that they gather up all the leftover food from the week, lay it out attractively on an expensive platter and foist it upon a hungry, unsuspecting public. Ever wonder what they do with the leftover rolls they pick up from your dinner table? Look no further than the gargantuan banquet table at that restaurant's Sunday brunch, where piles of 'fresh' bread beckon to you from baskets the size of trash cans and that piece of leftover chicken from your kid's plate has now been cut up and incorporated into a lovely antipasto salad platter.

In fact, I like to freak myself out by imagining the scene preceding the brunch at a hotel restaurant we frequent. In a dark, basement corner of the kitchen, scores of hefty hotel workers in hair nets flank a long conveyer belt onto which platters of cast off room service trays are being dumped. The workers use their stubby fingers to pick out and discard cigarette butts smashed into scrambled eggs and condom wrappers stuffed between slices of french toast. What remains are sent down to a crew of chefs whose sole job is to immediately come up with appealing brunch dishes incorporating all the scraps being hurled at them via the conveyer belt. Six mounds of old hashed browns and a scattering of half eaten bacon? Pork au gratin! Three uneaten sides of steamed vegetables and some leftover shrimp cocktail? Seafood salad, bon appetit!

Is this visual I've created enough to make me turn my back on our beloved Sunday buffet? Are health reports that caution how vodka destroys brain cells enough to stop you from inhaling that fourth martini? I didn't think so.

I admit to being a bit picky when eating at restaurants. Here in L.A. all retail food establishments are given a grade by the health department indicating their cleanliness and food handling practices, with 'A' being sparkling and anything below a 'C' being the type of place where you'll find the cook using the poultry scissors to trim his toenails. I always try to eat at restaurants with an 'A' grade, although I've eaten at the occasional 'B' restaurant when desperate and only once at a' C' joint. This happened when the girls were small and Rigel and I found ourselves wandering the streets of Santa Monica late one night. We were starving and had gotten to the point where we had to choose between risking our health at the questionable offering in front of us or eating the children and lying to the police that they were attacked by wild dogs.

But I seem to be fearless in the face of all the health hazards the glorious all-you-can-eat buffet presents. At the sushi table, I barely bat an eye at the huge plates of raw fish sitting out for who-knows-how-long as I scoop up five pieces and place them on my plate, right next to the hunk of salmon whose age is unknown. Moving on to the cheese table, I hardly notice the absence of a sneeze shield and treat myself to a generous slice of brie and a handful of crackers from the obviously picked through basket. And look - it's a hearty pasta salad! I try not to think of the tomatoes that are probably leftover from the vegetable plate tossed out last night by room 1104.

We're already thinking of where to take J. for her birthday brunch which is coming up at the end of February. Both her and G. live in a city filled with first class restaurants, but the trick will be in finding the place that has a twelve-ingredient omelet station and a table in the back devoted entirely to potatoes. We'll walk in, survey the scene and try and decide which chafing dish to attack first, choosing to ignore the sauces that have congealed because of a extinguished sterno. Then we'll return to the tables with our heaping plates, determine who managed to snag the most slices of bacon and sit down to talk about our lives.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

tags: | | |

Pin It

23 comments:

  1. Augh, you sound like my kind of girls! If you ever need a fourth to round out your trio, let me know. I could be down asap. :) :) haha I'll even bring my elastic waist pants.````like I have any other kind````~~ahem~~~

    Old time friends are the BEST. so much fun.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've missed your posts.

    I'm a brunch girl, too. Who can resist the giant tables of cake? Health codes be damned!

    -annie

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just recently shared an evening with some old girlfriends- we had a "dinner" of fondue (cheese and chocolate) and many, many bottles of red wine. We laughed and "remember-whened" long into the night. There's nobody that knows you like those who knew you when. Um, does that sound like a country-western song? Sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hotel brunch ruined forever! Heh.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A woman after my own heart!! I live to eat and you are making me and my unborn baby's mouth water reading this post!

    It's so nice to have a group of friends like that, that would be my two sisters.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mmm, yes. Eating. Good.

    I must admit to being a little squeamish about buffets, especially after a stint working the lunch shift at an upscale pan-asian joint, where the buffet was what 9 out of 10 lunch customers ordered. (Oh, the images that haunt me of room temp sushi rolls and congealed pad thai!)

    Still, I will indulge in the occasional brunch buffet, particularly if there's an omelet station involved, and my favorite part is the dessert table. Being able to pick more than one, more than two, hell more than three deserts is heaven to me.

    Your tradition sounds grand, by the way. You're lucky as hell to have your best friends within driving distance.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mmm, yes. Eating. Good.

    I must admit to being a little squeamish about buffets, especially after a stint working the lunch shift at an upscale pan-asian joint, where the buffet was what 9 out of 10 lunch customers ordered. (Oh, the images that haunt me of room temp sushi rolls and congealed pad thai!)

    Still, I will indulge in the occasional brunch buffet, particularly if there's an omelet station involved, and my favorite part is the dessert table. Being able to pick more than one, more than two, hell more than three deserts is heaven to me.

    Your tradition sounds grand, by the way. You're lucky as hell to have your best friends within driving distance.

    ReplyDelete
  8. this is an amazing tradition. when my boyfriend and i drove cross country from l.a. we realized we would be in vegas around dinner and decided the only thing worth doing was an all you can eat buffet at a casino.

    a plate of pasta, sushi, and wiener schnitzel is really the only way to eat.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ah, old friends. With old food?

    I have to confess I'm a little squeamish at those brunch tables, but who can resist a custom omelet?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Brunch is so much more fun with girlie friends where you can actually speculate on food origins without putting the other off her grub. That kinda talk makes mon mari feel not so hungry. I just look at him and silently say, "you're a big fat baby. You gonna eat that sausage?"

    ReplyDelete
  11. Have you guys tried Todai? There's one on Beverly and in Studio City. Also, what about The Lighthouse in Santa Monica? Both go through enough food every day that I don't think they're fishing cigs out of the previous night's leftovers.

    But hey...you never know.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Those are the BEST get togethers. Hanging out with long time friends is good for the soul. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Sounds like a great tradition.

    I've always heard the horror stories - "Oh, if you knew what was in a hot dog, you'd never eat it!" or "I'd never eat there. I used to work there; I know what goes on." But I just don't care. What's the old saying? That which does not kill me...

    That, and I'm the kind of person who can really put a dent in an all-you-can-eat buffet. I really do blow the curve.

    I ate at a "D" once. No problems (yet)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm totally jealous. Like Shelly said, who could resist the combo of old friends and old food?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Dear Marsha,

    Thanks for ruining for me forever my beloved Sunday Brunch. I will no longer be able to enjoy the all you can eat waffle bar without looking for used condoms.

    Although, there is always the dessert table...

    Sincerely,
    Diane

    ReplyDelete
  16. Mmmmm...buffets...
    oh wait? Wasn't I going to say something???
    Crap, I lost my train of thought, now I'm thinking about this wonderfully delish Chinese buffet that seems to be calling my name now...screw it. It hasn't killed me yet...YET.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I read Kitchen Confidential, too and it totally scared me out of ever wanting to eat out again! I will never look at the innocent dinner bread basket in the same way.

    As for brunches, I admit I still go occasionally but I steer clear of the meat and fish dishes.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Damn! I just commented but blogger ate my comment. Basically I am all for long-standing friendships and meals in which the many food groups are in well-representation.

    I used to work in a hotel with brunches, so I know of what you speak.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sounds awesome. I love buffets with the more choice the better. And what a wonderful lifetime of memories you all have.

    ReplyDelete
  20. To share a meal with people who have known you since all of you learned how to read and write? Awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  21. That sounds terrific. Except for that bit about the buffet and well pretty much all of it except for the part where you get to see your friends. I just hate buffets. Yech.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Tee hee hee

    You GO, girl!

    One diner's trash...another chef's bread pudding.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Life is much more pleasant when we don't over-analyze the details. Do we really need to know about the hair in the ranch dressing or the sneeze on the cheese?

    Bon appetit, and happy birthday!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts with Thumbnails