New York City diners, Columbia students included, take too much for granted. We can eat at the fanciest establishments in the city for only twenty dollars during Restaurant Week. We can get any food delivered at all hours of the night (rest in peace kozmo.com). We even have a choice of Northern or Southern Italian food. But for the rest of the country, these are merely frou-frou frivolities that are no substitute for the ultimate dining experience. I'm talking, of course, about the all-you-can-eat meal.
There is a common misconception that all-you-can-eat restaurants never surpass the culinary standards of Old Country Buffet. Visit the buffet at the Bellagio. It's like a Caligulan orgy of food, drink and merriment, but with more old people. The quality-to-value ratio of all-you-eat-dining tends to correlate positively with one's proximity to casinos, as they can cut their culinary losses with lucrative gambling revenues.
But alas, none of us are Gaming Studies majors at UNLV. New York does not have a cornucopia of all-you-can-eat options, but not to worry--there are temples of gastronomic excess nestled away among the slender, small-portioned streets of our fair city. You don't need to break the bank, either. These unrestrained assaults on your intestines represent both ends of the monetary spectrum.
The first option is dirt cheap and socioeconomically all-inclusive--White Trash Wednesday's at Brother Jimmy's BBQ. There are three locations in New York, but the most convenient location for Columbians is on the Upper West Side. For $9.95, you have two hours to order as much as you want from a menu consisting of fried chicken, hot wings, rib tips, corn dogs, meatloaf, hushpuppies, mac and cheese, potato salad and tuna casserole. If you're wondering where the arugula salad is, this is not the place for you.
The fried chicken is a tad greasy but flavorful. The hot wings and rib tips are both slathered in their respective tangy sauces. The corn dogs taste as good as anything you could find at a county fair.
The two-hour time limit is a limit in theory only. I haven't met anyone who wasn't fully satisfied after two hours. Your food is not brought out instantaneously, so plan wisely. You can chose three items per "round"; I recommend two meat items and one starch per plate. It's all about pacing.
As an added bonus, Wednesday is Southern Appreciation Night. If you have an ID south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you get 25 percent off the meal--even if your parents are blue-blooded beltway insiders living in Arlington, Virginia. Just keep it to yourself.
On the other end of the all-you-eat continuum is the holy grail of gluttony: Churrascaria Plataforma. And if you adhere to the practices of the obese and deceased Dr. Atkins, the protein-heavy cuisine at this Brazilian rodizio-style grill will have similar age-defying results.
The atmosphere is fancy in a no-atmosphere sort of way. Yes, the waiters wear uniforms. There is live piano music. There just isn't much personality. I've never been on a cruise ship, but I imagine this is what it would be like.
One starts at a gargantuan "salad" bar that has pretty much everything except salad. It features fresh seafood, casseroles, and some items to appease one's vegetarian friends. But, as always, pacing is key. The buffet is not the main attraction. Once the first course is finished, diners flip over a disc on the table from red to green.
Before one can say obrigado, a non-stop parade of waiters bring skewers laden with giant hunks of every imaginable kind of meat, which they shave directly onto your plate. Churrascaria's Web site describes their average server as "The Bruce Lee of skewering." If you want to get through this meal, you better be the Luciano Pavarotti of eating. While there are one or two duds, the meat and poultry served are genuinely moist, succulent and tasty. But beware: if you like your meat extremely rare, you will be out of luck.
The price is steep--$42.95 per person, which includes unlimited buffet visits and all-you can-eat meat. Save this place for special occasions and out-of-town visitors. Next time your cousin from Vegas visits, you can show him that New York is making strides. Someday, with any luck, the great all-you-can-eat chefs of Las Vegas and Atlantic City will look upon our little burg with approval.