You can get anything you want ? not at Alice's Restaurant, at the Chinese buffet.
You know the place. In every suburb of every city in America ? north, south or otherwise ? there exists the quintessential Chinese buffet, and chances are you've been there at least once. Might not be back there anytime soon, but you've darkened their doorstep.
Shortly after entering the place you reason that although you've never been to Asia, you're pretty sure restaurants over there don't work like this.
Lotion soft music flows around you and narrates a story you'll never understand as an over-costumed young woman leads your party to their booth. You make a drink order before you can even sit down. Then there's nowhere to go but up n to the buffet.
Picking up a plate that's still warm from the dryer, you scan the acreage of food bins that lie in wait under their glass overhangs. Some steam with hot freshness, others sit in a state of quiet motionlessness.
Hungry patrons scuttle from island to island with their half-filled plates, searching for that perfect side dish to fill the remaining section of real estate next to the General Tso chicken. Acrobatic balancing acts take place in slow motion all around you, as egg drop soup cups teeter and delicate dances around the most popular items create right-of-way traffic jams.
As you begin to schedule your first course you notice the chicken tacos, then the macaroni and cheese. The game of "Which food doesn't belong?" becomes more complicated once you've seen the garlic cheese bread and the frosted birthday cake.
Were those fried mozzarella sticks and pudding cups popular during the Shang Dynasty?
After you've piled the selection of timeless and international culinary classics high, you head back to the booth, your drink already waiting patiently for you.
The first plate is a flurry. Faster than you can say "Tibet Autonomous Region" it's time to reload. This time, you'll be a bit choosier.
Selecting one tested favorite and two new recruits, you take a look at the desert section on your way back. Bread pudding, piles of Jell-O and some assorted fruit cocktails beg you to ignore the Crab Rangoon and rescue them from their mostly ignored area. Not gonna happen. A single fortune cookie is the only sweet your tooth will need this afternoon.
Relaxing under the animated waterfall artwork (which emits the sound of a chirping digital bird) you drink your experience in. Did you eat too much? Probably. Do you feel guilty about that? Probably not.
One of the great draws of the Chinese buffet is the ability to overeat freely. It's like Thanksgiving whenever you want it. Questioning someone's portion size or number of trips during a buffet lunch should be included as an offense in Emily Post's Etiquette manual, if it doesn't already have its place.
As long as you know what you're in for, Chinese buffets offer a guilt-free pig out whenever you want one, and the fare isn't limited to Asian cuisine. Just do yourself a favor and go easy on the seafood.
Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or firstname.lastname@example.org .