Lunch at the Golden Spoon

For most of my life I've been fat, but in the 2010s I finally went on a seven-year diet and slimmed down. Then came the pandemic and being at home 24/7, and I got fat again.

Soon I'll need to start eating sensibly and drop a hundred pounds, but not yet, and on Monday I had a hankering for all I could eat.

All-you-can-eat buffets were once so common that there were chains — Royal Fork, King's Table, Golden Corral — but almost all of them are gone. Part of that's probably my fault, because I've always taken "all you can eat" as a challenge. 

The last non-Asian buffet in the metroplex is something called Golden Spoon, in Federal Way, 20+ miles south of Seattle. It's a long ride on two buses, so I was sure hoping it would be worth the time, trouble, and price.

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My first bus, the #128, came right on time, and had empty seats and a quiet crowd. All buses should be such. By my arrival at the Tukwila transit center, though, there was a problem. I had to pee.

Unlike Muni and BART stations in San Francisco, there are no restrooms, even at the biggest, busiest stations. Seattle's transit czars believe passengers never need to pee or poop.

The situation wasn't dire, but my next ride would be 40 minutes, bumpity bumpity all the way. Tukwila's station is open-air, with some shrubbery, so I thought about peeing in the bushes, but a readerboard said my bus was only two minutes away, so I chanced it. Waited, and then got onto the A bus for a long ride south.

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A laughing little black woman sat diagonally across the aisle from me. Every half minute or so she'd giggle or laugh out loud, and she giggled all the way to Federal Way. She wasn't looking at a cell phone, nor were any wires plugged into her ears. She was just a woman who thought something was funny, but it was something in her head.

I might've enjoyed the laughing lady more, even laughed myself, but soon my thoughts were preoccupied with peeing. It still wasn't an emergency, but when you gotta go, or at least, when I gotta go, it's a thought that takes over your mind. No brain-space for amusing observations, or anything else.

The street signs and stop announcements were all I noticed. The bus shook, rattled, and rolled, and I counted off the blocks until I could jump from the bus and trot fast as I could to the restaurant and ask, "Where's the restroom?" 

160 blocks to go. 156 blocks, 152 blocks….

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When we reached my stop, I really and truly needed to pee, and soon. I walked four blocks without spurting anything into my pants, but then came a dilemma I should've foreseen:

I didn't actually know where the restaurant was. I had the address, that's all. I worked in Federal Way 40 years ago, so I'd stupidly assumed I'd know my way, and hadn't checked Google Maps or Street View or anything. And I don't carry any infernal devices.

Well, of course, everything about Federal Way is different now. It's a suburb of nothing but malls for miles, so big buildings block any view down every street.

At 320th, I did not know whether to walk left or right, but I really had to pee so I gambled on right, because thataway was a gas station. There's be a restroom, and then there'd be no rush about finding Golden Spoon.

So I crossed Pacific Highway South, almost dribbling with every step, and walked into a gas station's big, bright convenience store. I was ready to buy a candy bar or something if the johns were for customers only, but I wasn't prepared for a big red sign inside that announced, "No Public Restrooms."

Seattle is famously cruel to the homeless and stingy with public facilities, but when did gas stations stop letting customers pee?  If that's even legal, it ought to not be.

Turned around and hurried behind the building, and let everything spill out on the gate to the dumpster. I'm old so it took about a minute and a half, but it was good to the last drop.

My compliments to the ARCO at Pacific Highway @ 320th Street. Hope y'all step in it.

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Feeling much better, I walked a few blocks in the wrong direction, turned back, and eventually, eureka, there was the Golden Spoon. It's deep in one of many malls laid mall-to-mall, between Trader Joe's and TJ Maxx. There's no sidewalk access, because Federal Way is for cars, not for people, so I walked across a parking lot two blocks long, opened the door, waddled up to the cash register.

Lunch is $21.99, but the old folks' price is $17.99. That seems like a lot, but times are crazy and last week I paid $4.99 for a sack of Fritos.

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Walking into any buffet, you know that the food probably isn't going to be great. There'll be lots of it, though. The trick is to take a little of everything but never much, and when you find something that tastes good, you go back for a plate full of it.

There was nothing to go back for, though.

Almost all the food was cold — not fresh from the fridge, but room temperature. No simmering water under the trays, and no heat lamps above.

Maybe that's a strategy to avoid waste, because food that's heated for hours becomes dry and unappetizing and has to be tossed. Most of the food items actually tasted OKish, and would've been passable at above 68°, or if there'd been a microwave to zap stuff, but nope.

Another major problem: On the sneeze guards at every island there's supposed to be a label telling you what each particular item is. Most of the labels were blank, and about half the few that weren't blank were lying, or telling you what had been there yesterday.

I took a pre-portioned bowl that claimed to be macaroni and cheese, but it was room temperature lasagna. I approached an un-labeled tray hoping it was nachos covered with cheese, but upon closer inspection it was ravioli, and bad ravioli at that. Another mystery tray offered what looked like breaded fish, but turned out to be long, flat crab cakes. Pretty good crab cakes, though, and one of very few items offered not quite hot but at least above room temp.

From the salad bar, the thousand island dressing tasted funky, and it made my tongue feel fizzy, but I ate it. You eat everything you take. That's a rule from when my dad took the family to buffets, when I was a kid, so I ate all my salad with the funky, tongue-stinging dressing.

At the Asian island, I took shrimp fried rice, which tasted burned, and the shrimp had no flavor at all. Tried two of what a sign promised were egg rolls, but they were cold dough tubes stuffed with Mexican-style spicy meat and cheese. Also ate some unidentified breaded meat chunks, and they were among the best of the many un-heated offerings.

Had some spicy wings, and they were great — hot, messy, juicy, and almost too spicy but not quite. I definitely wanted more of the wings, but when I went back, that tray was empty, and it stayed empty as long as I was there.

Also always empty: the tray with those pretty good crab cakes.

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A big white guy was working at the grill, wearing street clothes and a ski-cap instead of a uniform like the other employees. He wasn't cooking; he was cleaning, behind a sign that said he'd make a hamburger for you.

He refused to make hamburgers, though. A few customers asked, and he politely declined. All he did was scrape, scrub, and scour the grill, repeatedly. This was well past noon, and the place was kinda busy. They don't clean the grill overnight? They wait until lunch the next day to clean the grill?

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The music was to kill for, just to turn it off. It was too loud, and it was current or recent pop music, though most of the customers were old folks like me. Some of the songs I'd heard shreds of before, on the bus or at the grocery store or in bad cartoon movies — boys singing mechanically, girls singing very high-voiced, ooo ooo ooo, usually with intricate but stupid shouted vocals in the background.

A big-screen TV was on, with the sound mercifully muted, playing highlights from every game in the NFL over the weekend. I don't think anyone was watching.

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I only had four plates of food, a record low for me at any buffet. If any of it had been better, or at least hotter, or if there'd been more of the wings or crab cakes, I would've gone back at least twice more.

Instead I went to the dessert island, and had two adequate cookies, and a tiny circle of something that looked like cheesecake but at first bite revealed itself to be so obviously imitation. It was more chemically than sweet or rich, and if not for Dad's rule, I wouldn't have finished it.

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No, I didn't complain about all the cold and mislabeled food. Really, what do I care? I'd come to the Golden Spoon to see if it was any good, and they'd answered the question.

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Midway through this crappy lunch, an old couple came in, and they reminded me of me and my late wife. The lady claimed a table and said, "Let's sit here. It's closest to the food." 

The man, though, had already walked to a booth by the window, maybe for the fabulous view of the parking lot. "Come on back here, honey," he shouted across the restaurant.

She didn't come on back there. She settled in at the table she'd chosen, and then went to get herself a plate of lukewarm food. He got a plate of his own, and took it all the way to his table.

And then later, when he came back with his second plate, he settled in at her table and said, "You're right, that's too long a walk," and she laughed.

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Before leaving, I stopped at the men's room for a preventative pee, and it simply reeked of industrial cleaner, but also of piss and shit. As I peed, speakers overhead played the same bad music from the dining room, only three times louder.

On my way to the exit, I took one last cookie, and said to myself, I am never coming back to this place

Then I remembered that I am coming back. At Saturday's breakfast, Mom announced that the family's Thanksgiving feast will be at the Golden Spoon. Maybe I'll eat a sandwich before coming.

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My ride home was uneventful, but if there were any pretty women or amusing moments, I wouldn't have known. My stomach was hurting when we reached the transit center, and it was very painful when I limped home.

A few hours later I pooped more by volume than I'd eaten at Golden Spoon, and after that I laid flat and miserable in the recliner until rescued by sleep. It was probably the thousand island that did me in, or the fake cheesecake.


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  1. Can you not tell your Mom that the Golden Spook has gone to hell and that the food is inedible and likely unsafe? And if it's crowded, it's Covid waiting to spread. Metropolitan Market offers an expensive but delicious take-out Thanksgiving dinner, and other groceries offer pale imitations that are adequate. Somebody must have a big enough table.

    OK, none of my business, but it sounds like a terrible adventure. Good luck.


    1. Hmm. Smart thoughts, sir. I will mention to Mom that it was awful, but I think the family has gone there before and liked it. Also I suspect and *hope* they'll be at their best on Thanksgiving Day, and maybe even turn on the heating elements.

    2. Make sure to be on record with the family BEFORE you go to Thanksgiving dinner, and don't say anything afterward. Let the food do the talking. I respect that you love your Mom (I still dearly miss mine after 27 years), but she reminds me a little of the North Korean brainwashers in "The Manchurian Candidate". So you need to fight fire with a good strong stream of piss. Let the family come to the conclusion that you warned them about the Kimchi, but Mom just wouldn't listen, and reason failed to prevail. What else are you supposed to do on a holiday that celebrates overeating and football? Honest Abe did his best, but how could he have foreseen the NFL and turducken?



    3. Good advice is always wanted and welcome, grazi.

      Never done turducken, but it seems like an affront to all that is wholesome and tasty.

      I am working behind the scenes to nudge the few of us somewhere else. I'm hoping that Mrs Rigby's makes a real nice Thanksgiving dinner.

      Golden Spoon isn't particularly my Mom's idea, though. I'm not sure who suggested it. It seems to be the default, because it's the only non-Asian all-you-can-eat place in the county that survived the pandemic.

  2. Food served at room temperature in a restaurant? A buffet a restaurant technically, and it looks like a big place, having the heat warmers off had to be an accident. You didn't complain, and nobody else complained?

  3. Nobody else complained, not that I saw. There were maybe 20, 25 customers seemingly happy to eat tepid chicken and chili.

    I might've said something if someone had been in charge, but the only visible employees were two 20-something ditzoids, one at the register and one clearing tables, plus the dude in a ski-cap cleaning the grill.


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