The Feast that left me hungry

There are two all-you-can-eat buffets in the Seattle area — Golden Spoon in Federal Way, where the family eats Thanksgiving every year, and Feast Buffet Renton, where I'd never been, but…

"Young-sook and I ate lunch at Feast, and it was really good."

My brother Dick sent that text message, and instantly I decided that Feast would be lunch the next day. Who doesn't enjoy a big meal with good food?

So there I was — old, fat, hungry, and ready to feast at Feast. The place is big like all outdoors, only indoors.

I bought one ticket to lunch, but the woman at the counter had to be talked into it. "Only one?" She looked over my shoulder, like maybe someone was crouched behind me. Yes, only one. I'm having lunch with my best friend, and he's me.

She escorted me to a table, like I couldn't have found a table myself. About 140 tables were empty, ten had people at them.

She didn't tell me where the sodas faucets were, but I don't want any soda. Having anything to drink before a long bus ride home is a bad idea.

She also didn't tell me where the silverware was, an annoyance universal to all buffets. I'll save you some wandering: the silverware is behind the dessert island, between the noodle island and the seafood island.

Now, food is what's for lunch, so let's eat.

At a buffet, the smart strategy is to take very small helpings of whatever looks good. That's what I did. When you find something you like, you go back for more of it, but I didn't.

I'd sampled ten entrées on my first plate, and none were inedible, tasted of botulism, or otherwise frightened me. The fish was OK, as was the sweet & sour pork. But neither were good enough that I wanted more, and nothing was particularly tasty.

No worries. Going to a buffet, you know the food's not all going to be terrific. It can't be, when they're prepping fifty entrées and holding them under heat lamps.

So my hopes were still high as I went for a second plate, filled with more tiny helpings from a dozen trays.

But again, it was a whole lot of so what. The baked salmon was near flavorless. The roast beef was fatty and under-seasoned. The mac and cheese was watery. The teriyaki was greasy. The baked potato was rubbery. A spoonful of some pork dish was spicy-hot enough to melt your tongue, and no warning had been posted.

I crossed my fingers and went for a third plate, but again, the blandness of the food was impressive. Nothing was awful, but nothing was good enough to merit going back and loading up.

That's never happened before, in any of the dozens of buffets where I've eaten hundreds of meals, so it's fair to say that this was the worst meal I've ever had in a buffet.

Every time I'd walked past the fried chicken, someone was grabbing some, and other people were waiting, so let's give Feast the benefit of the doubt: Maybe their fried chicken is fantastic. I couldn't get to it, though, and one doesn't wait at a buffet; you see the food, you take the food, you eat the food.

And you have to eat everything you take. That's not the buffet's rule, but it''s my dad's rule for eating at a buffet. He's gone, but I still ate everything I took.

Pushing my fork across the plate, making sure I'd eaten every scrap, brings me to my next complaint: the plates are not smooth, but have ridges baked into the ceramic. Chase a pea across the plate, and the plate sorta fights back. Who wants plates that have texture?

Savory had been a disappointment, so it was time for dessert, but at Feast the cake is pre-sliced to the size of your thumbnail. It would take three of these 'cakes' to add up to one bite. I was tempted to put a dozen 'slices of cake' on my plate, but somebody would yell at me, right?

To be fair, there was an island of sliced fruit, which looked fine. To me, though, fruit is dessert after a hearty meal. The meal I'd had was the opposite of hearty, so my mouth wanted something sugary sweet. I settled for a few cookies, which were (thankfully) the size of cookies. 

After three plates of so-so food and three cookies, I was not quite hungry but also not quite full, so I sat and pondered whether to get another plate of lunch. Scanning the premises, there was still a crowd around the chicken, and I'd tried most everything else. 

At least, I'd tried everything that interested me. Hadn't tried anything from the soup island, as I wasn't in a soupy mood. Hadn't had anything from the noodle island, because I'm not a noodle guy. Hadn't tried anything from the cold seafood island, because I came for a hot lunch, and anyway, I'd seen a kid with his hands all over the cold shrimp. Hadn't had any of the very red whole-body seafood, dozens of dead red things with their tentacles or tails or whatever still attached, because to me they looked like bright red mice.

Still weighing whether to have a fourth plate of lunch, I glanced at my receipt on the table, and noticed I'd been overcharged. With sales tax, I'd paid more than $26. Ah, crap — the price for weekday lunch is $23.99, but there's a senior discount, and I'd forgotten to ask for it.

Well, too late now; I'm not gonna be the grumpy old guy who asks for $2 back after eating lunch. 

Since I'd overpaid, I decided I would go for that fourth plate of lunch roulette, see if maybe something's finally good. But at that very moment, I felt and heard a gurgling, and knew I needed the men's room.

"Are you finished here?" a staffer asked as I stood and picked up my backpack. Well, I never have much appetite after pooping, so I sighed and shrugged and said yeah, I'm done. 

In the men's room, there are four sit-down stalls, and the first two both had very, very loose seats. The thing that flips down for sitting was barely connected, and swiveled like an office chair.

The third stall seemed more stable, and after I'd wiped some yesterday-splatter off the seat, I sat and lost five pounds in five minutes.

While working on that, looking around, it was obvious that the john hadn't been thoroughly cleaned in years. It's not repulsive, but look closely at the legs of the stalls, the corners, the walls — everything has a layer of grime.

When I wiped and turned around to flush, pushing the flush handle did nothing. I tilted the handle left and right and diagonal, but nope. Finally I lifted the handle straight up, and that flushed the toilet.

Next I wanted to wash up, but both soap dispensers were empty, and the sinks offer no hot water. It took a long while and lots of scrubbing to get my hands reasonably clean with cold water and without soap.

Both motion-sensing paper-tower dispensers were empty. Luckily, there are blow-dryers too, the kind where you stick your hand down into a hole, so I inserted my hand, but nothing happened. The blower is broken, or its fuse has blown.

The second blow-dryer worked, and with that, I was happy to leave Feast, not quite full despite spending twenty-six bucks and change. When I got home, a bowl of ramen filled me up.

But I'd eat at Feast again. It's a buffet, not fine dining, and luck is a factor. Odds are, there'll be something that tastes good, next time. There'll be soap in the men's room. And next time, I'll remember to ask for the senior discount.



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