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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.
If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know I’m not a huge fan of the “Midtown Deli”. You know the place I’m talking about- salad bar, pre-made sandwiches, there’s one on every block. So when my friend Joanne emailed a link to a New Yorker article about one of these very places, I was pretty surprised. The New Yorker was writing about a Midtown Lunch deli??? I expected more from you, oh high-brow’d New Yorker…
In their defense Dishes is a little more “high brow’d” then your typical Midtown Deli, but still a deli nonetheless. The article is more about some sort of staff issue then about the food- but they did slip this intuitive observation into the opening:
“A decent midtown lunch spot—not the expense-account sort but a good, clean sandwich shop, with a fresh salad bar, and maybe some seafood tom yum, if that’s your thing—can be hard to come by. Once you find one, you tend to stick with it. You learn the hourly cycles, in terms of both customer flow (twelve-forty-five equals chaos) and servers’ shifts, and you begin to time your visits accordingly.”
True enough. Well, against my better judgement, I decided to head over to Dishes at 12:45pm yesterday and check out the chaos. I’ve walked by this place a million times (usually on my way to Oms/b) and thought it looked like an above average deli. It’s been recommended to me by a few readers- but it wasn’t until the New Yorker described it as a “a sleek, vaguely Asian-themed cafeteria”, I decided it was time for a visit… after all, I love the Asian food. Of course, I saw only “Asian”, and missed the “vaguely” part. Very important distinction.
Pictures, what I ate, and the +/- after the jump…
I am not a big fan of Buffets by the pound- for obvious reasons. Or maybe it’s not so obvious if you are skinny and have any amount of self control. Me, not so much. I love the “buffet” part, but adding those other three words, destroys what is otherwise a wonderful, magical thing. First, I don’t want to know how many pounds of food I’m about to eat (Is it true if you eat 2 lbs of chinese food, you automatically gain two pounds?). Second, I feel hindered. I’m thinking, “Gee what does this weigh?” and “Am I really getting a good weight to price ratio”. Always trying to find that big money item and staying away from super heavy cheapo items like rice, and dumplings (my personal favorite).
Well, I’m happy to say I have finally found a price by the pound buffet that is not only a decent value- but is stocked with my favorite kind of food! Ho Yip, a cheap chinese food place on 45th between btw. 5th & 6th that during lunch has an all chinese buffet by the pound (and the choices are tremendous!). It’s $4.95 per pound- but here’s the real deal. If you go after 2:15pm, the price drops to $3.75 a pound (the late lunch special).
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Late lunch” and “Price drop” at a buffet by the pound does not exactly instill confidence in the freshness of the food you’re getting. But I was very surprised to learn that they restock the buffet just before 2:15 in preparation for the big crowds that come late looking for the deal. Apparently they keep putting food out until they run out. It really is a wonderful thing… if you like cheap and greasy Chinese food (and don’t mind waiting with a horde of other bargain hunters).
My plate, the rest of the menu, something for free(!) and the +/- after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »
If you read this blog every day, I’m sure you get the general idea of my taste. I’m not really into those delis that litter midtown with their “choice”. Choice to me is
“Do I get my combo with the pork fried rice, or lo mein?”. I consider most sandwiches kind of boring, and I never imagined I could eat a salad for lunch. That is, until I met the Variety Cafe… and I let my guard down. I allowed myself to fall in love with this Variety Cafe place, and their wonderful salad bar for fat people… only to have my heart ripped in half by their disregard for serving said salad without rodent droppings.
“I’ll never eat at a deli/salad bar place again” I said to myself (I use slashes when I talk- that’s pronounced “deli slash salad bar”), that is, until I found Cafe Duke. From the outside it looks like your typical Manhattan lunch place. The name, the decor, the salad bar, buffet by the pound, rotisserie bar, sandwiches and paninis, wraps and of course the sushi bar. But, hidden in the back left hand corner is the real gem of the place… The Korean Food station!
That’s right, Bi Bim Bap, Bulgogi and Korean soup, being served in the back of a Midtown deli. Bastards! I can feel myself falling in love all over again…
The food porn, and +/- after the jump… Continue to the rest of the post…
Riding down the elevator yesterday on my way to lunch, I heard a very funny and ironic (considering where I was headed) conversation. One guy asked another guy where he was going to lunch… and when he responded “Downstairs for a salad”, the question asker was like “Nice, another one of those $11.00 salads”.
I asked the guy where he was talking about. “Metro”, he responded. “You start adding all the good stuff, and by the time you’re done- it ends up being 11 bucks.” Well, my friend- your days of spending $11 on a salad are over. Solved by 1 trip to the Variety Cafe.
Now, let me first say I’m not a big fan of all the one-stop-shop delis/salad bars (i.e. Metro, Europa Cafe) that litter Midtown. Usually, pre-made sandwiches are a bad idea, and I’m definetely not a big salad eater. And while I like the idea of a buffet, one that charges by the pound is never a good thing for a fat guy like me.
Which is why the salad bar at Variety Cafe is so great. For $6.45 ($6.99 with tax) you get a bowl of lettuce, and get to add any 6 items you want from their gigantic selection of toppings. Sounds like other places you’ve been to, maybe? Well here’s the best part… they have good, fat guy toppings… what I like to call “big money items”. The things you always want to get more of, but are afraid it will lead to a 17 pound salad that costs $436. 10 different kinds of chicken (including my personal favorites Thai Grilled Chicken, Cajun Chicken and Fried Chicken Cutlet), salmon, cubes of ham, avocado, mini fresh mozarella balls, blue cheese… everything. And of course all the fruits, vegetables and beans you find at every other salad bar in the city. And to top it off, your choice of 20 different kinds of salad dressings.
And the best part for a fat guy like me is, you get *whatever* you want. Want letuce with 4 kinds of chicken and two kinds of cheese, they’ll do it. They look at you like you weigh 700 pounds, but they’ll do it.
My perfect salad, and the +/- after the break…