Everybody in Midtown has a goto lunch, and although I try to eat at new places every week, my wife and I usually fall back on Cafe Duke. Last week, we hit up Cafe Duke for a quick lunch, and I decided to forgo my usual Bi Bim Bap in favor of a few things from the buffet by the lb. I don’t normally do the whole by the lb. thing, because although I love the variety, I can’t stand feeling the need to hold back. Scooping tiny portions, all the time worrying that my lunch is going to end up costing $17. While loading up with my normal items, something amazing stood out to me. They had these amazing looking Jumbo Shrimp that had me wondering “How they hell can they afford to serve Jumbo Shrimp for $7 a lb.????”
I got two, and discovered one of the greatest scams I had ever fallen prey to. They’re not real shrimp!!! I couldn’t believe it. Actually, I could believe it. It reminded me of this thing I once learned about Professional Gamblers. There are teams of gamblers who when a new table game opens up anywhere in the world, they find out about it, and run the numbers, trying to find a single wager that will beat the game. While most are games are tirelessly tested before being put into a casino, every once in awhile a game’s creator will make a mathematical error that leaves the game open to being “broken”. The team will fly to his location, bet the one wager for hours and hours, until the casino realizes their mistake and shuts the game down.
I guess that’s why I wasn’t surprised about the shrimp. Can you imagine if the Jumbo shrimp were real? For $6.99 a lb? Hoards of fat guys (like me) would be crowded around the buffet, loading up on jumbo shrimp… trying to “beat the game”. Thankfully, the fake shrimp were delicious so I wasn’t too upset about being duped. I’m not sure exactly what they are made of, but I’m guessing it is a rice cake type of mixture (or imitation crab meat… although it didn’t have that fake fishy flavor that imitation crab has). The best part about the scam… the “shrimp” are not only colored and shaped to look like shrimp, they even have the indentation where the tail was pulled off. Such detail. It’s like art.
The Midtown Lunch guide to eating at a Buffet by the lb… after the jump.
Although I don’t eat at deli by the lb. buffets too often, I’ve decided to give the five tips I use when taking the very dangerous plunge of eating a lunch where the price is determined by how much it weighs. Here goes…
- Beware the fruit!!!! Aside from the fact that I usually avoid things that are healthy, fruit can be very tricky at one of these places. If you must have fruit, try to avoid the melons (especially watermelon). They are cut in gigantic chunks for a reason, and heavy with water. If you have to get fruit, try to find a buffet with more expensive fruits, like raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. And under no circumstances should you top that fruit with yogurt or cottage cheese!
- Load up on meats (and seafood and cheeses). While the Asian choices are usually bogged down with heavy breading, it’s still always better to eat the meats then not eat the meats. Chicken and pork are ok, but beef is usually your best choice, and if you find a buffet with seafood, you’ve hit the jackpot. Most shrimp dishes are loaded with other items, so try to pick out the shrimp- and salmon or calamari is always a good choice. In the case of fried chicken, boneless strips are always better. With the wings, don’t forget you’re paying for that bone. Fresh mozzarella is also a decent item… just make sure to pick around any cheaper items they mix it with.
- Atkins diet anyone? Beware the carbs. It’s tough, but try to avoid the carbs at buffets. Rice, lo mein, potatoes and noodle salads are all very cheap to make. If you are going to go for one of these items, it better be really tasty… and don’t load up. Or, pick a carb that is mixed with a bigger money item, like “Shrimp Pasta”.
- Beware the dumplings. One of my favorite things about these buffets is the Asian items (big surprise)- but you have to be very careful, especially with the dumplings. Beware of the super doughy ones. They are very very heavy. If you do have to get them (personally, I’m addicted) make sure they are filled with meat- not vegetables. A veggie filled, super doughy dumpling, can seriously impact your bottom line.
- Find a good balance between price and quality of choices. In the end, the most important decision you can make is which buffet to go to. Find a middle ground between price and quality. Some buffets may be $5 per pound, but don’t have any quality items, making it very difficult to beat. But the nicer buffets, with various fishes and big money items, may charge you upwards of $10 a lb, making the cheaper, filler items a gigantic rip off.
I don’t eat at these places too often, but there are two that I’ve eaten at and would recommend. On the West side, I’m still a fan of Cafe Duke (51st btw. 6+7th). It turns out a lot of these buffets use the fake shrimp… so I’m not too mad (and at least their version tastes delicious). On the East side, Azure (picture to the left) is better than most (3rd ave. & 51st). Both have a nice balance between quantity, quality and price. And of course, I have to mention Ho Yip the chinese buffet by the lb that is $3.75 if you go after 2:15pm!
I don’t intend to eat at too many of the these buffets, so if you know of a good one (or have better tips than mine), feel free to post your recommendations as a comment below.