All you can eat so you don’t have to
Our writer explores delicious sin, one buffet line at a time
Sacramento, CA 95818
Sacramento, CA 95825
Gluttony is the best sin. Wrath is too hard. Sloth is boring. Greed, envy and pride make you look like a dick. Lust is cool, but it usually leads to a strange house where NBC’s Chris Hansen is waiting with a decoy and a camera crew. But, gluttony, sweet gluttony: It’s Latin for shoveling a bunch of food into one’s face, and it’s the one sin we can all feast upon.
And there’s no better place to practice such a delicious sin than at a buffet. Sure, Las Vegas—a city that’s made an art of exploiting many of the deadly sins—has the best buffets. But we’re in Sacramento, and as it happens we’re not doing too bad ourselves. Of course, I only visited four of these dens of gluttony (two of them in one day, which, gastrointestinally speaking, is a very bad idea), but these are four of our best. Or, at least, the most interesting.
The Golden Corral started out in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1973. If you do a Google image search, you’re treated to several pictures of old and happy overweight people. The same search also offers a picture of a python eating a wallaby in the Australian bush, but I’m not sure what that’s about.
When my wife and I arrived in the Elk Grove location off Highway 99, we were surprised at how many cars were in the lot on a Tuesday at noon. The place was packed.
The building reeks of anti-personality with its big, goofy sign and boxy brick facade. But oddly enough, inside the Golden Corral, there’s nothing but personality—not because of fancy décor or a revolutionary take on the classic buffet, but because of the people. We were seated next to a lone homeless man with wiry, gray hair sticking out in all directions. He ate slow, and looked at each piece of food seriously before he bit into it. When I sat down, he was contemplating his cheesy muffin.
The setup at Golden Corral is grand. There are three large stations, one for salad and soup, another for meats, and another for dessert. There’s so much food that it’s impossible not to enjoy at least a few items. The chicken was dry, but the pot roast (they claim simmers for 12 hours) melts in your mouth. The salad is a bit wilted, but the baked potatoes are hot as hell and are situated next to every topping you could ever want (fresh bacon bits, shredded cheese, sour cream). And they have these little sliders, just meat, bun, cheese and pickle. I would have been content to pay $8.79 to eat an unlimited number of those.
The dessert table was packed full of cupcakes, regular cakes, pastries, pudding and ice cream. After I finished one of each, I couldn’t eat any more. So I watched a man in a wheelchair trying to navigate his hands up to his mouth, his ridiculously large stomach acting as a barrier, and shoveling a half of a rotisserie chicken into his greasy mouth, while a pack of construction workers made eyes at my wife.
I counted: There might have been a hundred customers that day, nearly half of them morbidly obese. On the way out, I spotted three SUVs adorned with “God Bless America” magnets.
South Asian feast
Kaveri Madras Cuisine, opened in 1994, is a buffet unlike the typical buffet. They serve North and South Indian cuisine, and their counter—stocked with palak mutter paneer (creamed spinach, green peas and cheese cubes in cream sauce), chicken tikka masala (chicken breast cooked in cream sauce)—is always full of surprisingly fresh food. The potatoes in the curry keep their firmness, the lamb is not dry and the chicken has a light char with tender insides. The owners swear their food isn’t very spicy, but I always leave the restaurant with a runny nose and a small fire in my belly.
In terms of buffets, it’s fairly quiet. There’s not a huge selection, but there’s enough. Nobody rushes. The waitress—a beautiful girl with a sweet, patient smile—doesn’t seem to mind slow eaters, overeaters, or anything, for that matter. When it came time for me to write down the items I ate, she stood by the buffet, helping me circle things on the menu. The vibe at this Indian buffet is less hectic, less urgent than at Golden Corral (where a woman actually shoved my arm out of the way and reached over my plate so she could grab the last baked sweet potato). I’ve never seen a nasty, competitive eater at Kaveri.
And here’s another thing: If you go on a weekend, there is always at least one couple in love, gazing into each other’s eyes. It never fails. Not sure if it’s the food or if it’s the dim lighting, or both. But gluttony, at its very best, can be a beautiful thing.
East Asian style
You know you’re entering Natomas when you’re simultaneously being slowed down and tailgated by an SUV. My poor little Honda was hugged so close by a shiny, white Escalade that I was afraid it got pregnant. I couldn’t wait to exit the Natomas roadway and park in the modern strip mall where Mizu resides, which, incidentally, is within shooting distance from the establishment formerly known as Chris Webber’s Center Court. Or the Stab-o-techa, as I used to lovingly call it.
The restaurant occupies a huge space. A large chandelier lends a classy aura to the otherwise flavorless building. The night we went, Mizu was packed with families and groups of friends, and we were ushered to our table and left to fend for ourselves in the huge buffet. The food (split between Chinese and Japanese) was subpar. I filled a plate with general’s chicken, fried rice, fried quail and oyster. The chicken was dry, the fried rice greasy, the quail burnt, and who knows why oyster is such a popular buffet dish. Seafood is a dangerous dish to leave out in a questionably refrigerated space.
This brings me to the sushi. Mizu, for being a Japanese restaurant, makes some horrid sushi. It’s loosely rolled, the fish is mealy, the avocados brown, and it’s almost like the rolls were made by a blind person. Yeah, I’d feel bad if a blind guy actually made them. But I know that’s not the case, because the sushi chef stood there for a while making angry faces at me.
Supposedly, the Mizu in Roseville is a lot better, so I should have gone there. But hindsight is ridiculously stupid. Or however that saying goes.
China Buffet, located on the gently eroding stretch of Broadway in between Target and the Tower Theatre, is lit by bright neon signs that advertise barbecue, sushi, Chinese and Italian food. If that’s not enough to draw you in, I’m not sure what is. My wife tells me that we went there when we first met, but I don’t believe her. I mean, what kind of man takes his new girlfriend to a Chinese/Italian buffet?
Anyway, the restaurant, modestly decorated (apart from the fish pond in the front entrance), seems to have found a niche by applying cheese to seafood, as evidenced by their cheese mussels and cheese crab (which, if you’re wondering, is ground-up crab in a half-shell, mixed with a few spices, a layer of mayonnaise and melted cheese on top). If that doesn’t sound good, that’s because it’s not. The best part of the meal was the fried rice, which was made gently, without too much oil or salt. Also, the custard dessert bun was a little airy pillow of bliss.
They’re all winners!
No, they’re not. If this were my contest, Kaveri would win. But it’s not a contest at all, so who cares, really? Some people don’t enjoy Indian food, so Golden Corral is the best bet. I know a lot of people who don’t leave downtown and don’t care what they put in their mouths as long as it’s covered in cheese. So, in that case, China Buffet would be perfect.
However, Golden Corral possesses a certain magic: As we left Elk Grove, my wife—curled up in the passenger seat like a fetus—looked, for a second, like she was going to die.