It was Saturday evening. I had neglected to eat lunch that day, and the specter of hunger was haunting my stomach. I also lacked shelter from the quickly escalating rain, so according to Maslow’s hierarchy my entire being was focused on hustling over to NEW Buffet, which offers the prospect of infinite food for just $8.99, and also a roof.
It was a great comfort to me to see the fluorescent sign advertising the location of ‘NEW BUFT’ (the lighting on the other F and E were closed for business that day). That generic naming exudes a certain Old World charm: I am reminded of Harada Sake, which is a store run by my relatives (obviously named Harada) in southern Japan, and also of 24 Groceries, which probably is the probably legally mandated name of every single grocery store in Russia (the number conveniently refers to both the hours of operation and the available product selection).
Surely you have heard the legends about NEW Buffet: the possibility of feeling like Croesus if Croesus’ wealth had consisted entirely of Chinese food. And as for the quality of this food, the general consensus seems to be that it is also far from gold... This the reason why I was so shocked last term when an international student from China described NEW Buffet to me as being “pretty good.” From that point on, I seemed to hear nothing but good things about NEW Buffet. Could it be that this longtime Northfield establishment had turned over a NEW leaf? I decided to find out for myself, leaving rumor and hearsay behind.
The interior of this restaurant was its best trait. It was spotlessly clean, and tastefully decorated with chandeliers and standard Chinese restaurant decor, trimmed by a strange faux brick pattern on the walls. The infinite food was matched by a seemingly infinite supply of seating, despite the fact that I went there on a weekend night. It is a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of the dining halls or the more frequented restaurants in Northfield. It is a calm place where you could sit and chat for hours without bothering anybody.
As for the actual buffet, there were definitely more than a few duds. The best word to describe the egg rolls would be “bad.” I would avoid the dumplings for the same reason. And yet there were a few real gems! The meat was in general of high quality. Everything with chicken was as good as anything I’ve had elsewhere, and the shrimp items were all tasty as well. Kudos deducted for a shrimp dish with shells intact that I couldn’t figure out how to eat and which I later gave up on. Most worrisome were the five lonely sushi rolls of varying degrees of freshness that were for some reason placed in the dessert section. I summoned all my courage and tried one of the more vivacious looking rolls and it was actually pretty good. Speaking of dessert, the selection and quality were pleasantly surprising. The highlights were infinite ice cream and very good homemade macaroons.
A few facts about the establishment were learned as I was paying my bill, with a seven year old working the cash register as her mother looked over her shoulder: the owner doesn’t speak any English and was therefore not willing to chat with me. The food reflects the owner’s Fujianese roots as well as “what Americans eat.” The number of Chinese expats patronizing NEW Buffet was estimated at “about three.” The name NEW Buffet was created when the buffet at this location changed ownership some years ago (the previous establishment was presumably just named “Buffet,” in compliance with Russian regulations). I was enthusiastically told that “new means better!” I definitely felt the possibility of finding out a much more intricate story if I only possessed good Hokkien skills.
I think one’s experience at NEW Buffet would improve with repeated visits. Follow Steve Jobs’ wise words and “stay hungry and foolish, so you can eat at NEW Buffet.” If I were to go there again I would probably pile my plate with only meat and fried rice. Then I would take a seat in one of the infinitely available booths, and settle into marathon chit-chat, the eyes across the table dissolving me in the infinite impossibility of knowing another being...
And what’s left in the end? You are $8.99 poorer, and hunger seems like the most absurd concept in the world, something that will never touch you again as long as you live. There are worse ways to spend an evening, but it’s more than likely that there are better ways as well.
Our new in-resident food correspondent, Kyohei Yazawa, will be venturing into the field on a weekly basis to investigate Northfield’s eating establishments. Pick up next week’s paper for the second installment!