Brunch is my favorite meal of the day. That is, until 6 p.m., when dinner becomes my favorite meal of the day. But for the first half of any day on the weekend, when brunch is actually a viable option (because who the f—k eats brunch on, say, a Tuesday?), brunch is my favorite meal of the day.
Champagne is my favorite beverage during brunch. That is, unless the restaurant has a full bar and is willing to serve Citron+soda to a lush-ious lush before noon. But since Citron doesn’t really pair well with, say, French toast (stuffed or otherwise) and/or eggs Benedict, Champagne is my favorite brunch beverage. Coffee doesn’t count because coffee is, like, vitamins.
Buffet is not my favorite method of eating. That is, if gluttonous gorging on starch-sprayed, germ-infested-despite-sneezeguards to the point of wasteful ughblivion can be considered eating in the first place. Buffet has never been, and never will be, my favorite anything. In fact, the words “buffet” and “favorite” should never appear in the same sentence together from me except this very moment when I have already written them together three times (three times, dammit) in an effort to drill it into your blog-reading eyeballs that buffeting is wholly unacceptable behavior.
But, methinks the lady doth protest too much. Methinks buffets are *sigh* growing on me. Clearly, methinks I am the g*dd**ned Shakespeare of food blogging.
Yes, buffets are growing on me – growing – like the tiny colonies of bacteria collecting on the handles of metal tongs that double as forklifts for over-salted, over-fried, over MSG-ed, foods on the steam table that are cheap enough not to rip the restaurant’s P&L a new one when the staff has to throw it away, half-eaten because charging extra for uneaten food is just plain tacky.
As our Delicious little family expands, I am beginning to understand the appeal of buffets, and appreciate how they seem to “work” in some certain circumstances. In a “date” situation, a buffet does not work. (Girl, if he takes you to a buffet, excuse yourself to go to the ladies’ room, then slip out the back door.) However, buffets work when the requirements are volume and variety.
On the one hand, which is adorned with an ID bracelet engraved with “volume,” a restaurant that serves a buffet is likely a large, voluminous space, which means it could physically accommodate a large group of people known as “extended family.”
In my family, we were five, but with partnerships, which is what Dad calls “marriage,” since he sees marriage as a corporate merger, it is not merely incremental growth by one to six or seven. It truly is a merger of sorts. Okay, so let’s just call it what it really is, since we’re talking about my Dad who calls himself “The Captain.” It’s a hostile takeover by the Delicious family that doubles our size because you can’t really “lay-off” family members from the other family, though wouldn’t that be fun if we could? We are talking some serious volume when it comes to my family.
On the other hand – actually, on the same hand, but on a different finger – a buffet, with its variety of offerings, accommodates a broad range of tastes. Since we’re talking about a full family merger here, and not just the simple task of integrating my sisters’ husbands into our Delicious family’s idiosyncrasies at the dinner table, there is now a whole new set of tastes in the mix. As much as Dad would love for a hostile takeover to result in his influencing the other family to his own particular taste for chocolate, brothy soups, and stinky fish, we know that Dad will be traipsing out to some backdoor in Monterey Park with a tiny, empty ice chest to fill up with black market xiao long bao, too. (Don’t ask me about this. I have been sworn to secrecy.)
The point is, when your family increases in volume and variety of taste, you simply have no other option than a buffet for dining out to celebrate.
We went to the Champagne Brunch Buffet at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey because even though the Volume and Variety works perfectly well for, say, a mall food court, we would look pretty stupid toasting our decked-out-in-St.-John moms with Cherry Lemonade from Hot Dog on a Stick. Now I know it is “The Ritz,” but even within the luxury echelons of hotels, there are mini strata, where say, the Ritz-Calrton in Laguna Niguel is closer to the top (let’s just ignore the fact that Laguna Niguel is technically part of The OC), and the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey is somewhere in the middle. This is, of course, my own perception. The Marina Ritz has all the niceties of being a Ritz, but its proximity to my own house cheapens it somewhat for me. *shrugs*
The brunch buffet was all very tastefully presented. There were none of the typical trappings that scream Vegas buffet like long “bars” wrapped around the perimeter of the room, stainless steel bins full of food that just sits there so i
t has to be on a steam table to keep it warm for four hours, sneezeguards (which I know are useful, but the mere presence reminds you how germ-a-licious a buffet really is), or a faux French chef in a faux French chef hat reluctantly carving slices from a side of beef tanning under a heat lamp. Instead, the Ritz served food the way someone would do it for a fancy party at home with interesting trays and containers displayed on tables around the dining room.
There was something for everyone, and when I say “something for everyone,” what I really mean is that the Ritz does a complete caviar service and oysters on the half-shell for the likes of my Mom, and sausage, biscuits and gravy for the likes of the Boy (make no mistake, the Boy ate his fair share of oysters, too).
A fairly fabulous selection of cheese that took up an entire tabletop was placed near our corner of the dining room. To be quite honest, I could have gone the whole brunch just reaching over from my seat to the cheese table and eating blue cheese. We also lucked out with most of the fish and seafoods near us as well: steamed cracked crab claws tumbling all over each other on trays sculpted from ice, ruffles of salmon on marble slabs, pieces of poached salmon crowned with a trio of colored caviar jewels, a tangle of seaweed salad surrounded by slices of seared Ahi sashimi, and salmon baked into a flaky crust.
The rest of the buffet was spread out on different tables in various dining spaces around the restaurant, subliminal encouragement to get a little exercise while piling pounds on fat and calories onto your plate. Even the regular bar powers through whatever hateful haze might be hanging overhead on a weekend morning, with three makeshift bars that (unfortunately) have nothing to do with alcohol.
At the far end, there is a sushi bar complete with shoyu, wasabi, and pickled ginger. I stayed away from this, as I wondered why I would eat sushi at a place that had everything else. The near end does double duty as a California Club Tropical smoothie bar, serving a rainbow of sherbet flavors in Ritz-Carlton lion logo branded wine glasses (if it doesn’t have rum, it won’t make me c- uh, um (!) never mind); and a full caviar service with all the traditional trimmings. I admired the martini glass presentation, but wasn’t moved to take any.
At some point during my wanderings about the grounds, I passed what looked to be the greenhouse. Fresh greens and other salad type dishes had been placed on a table facing a window. The whol
e thing look like a live plant display, particularly since frisee and other leaves stood upright in a long wooden box, as if they were growing out of a planter. I couldn’t bring myself to disrupt the ecosystem, but did manage to navigate a few slices of mozzarella out of what looked like a tossed version of a Caprese. No point in filling up on greens when we paid for the Ritz.
The desserts were plentiful, and again, tastefully presented on glass-topped tables. There were standard-issue teeny tiny tartlets and individual sized versions of many things, but I appreciated that the Ritz-Carlton trusts its patrons enough to serve themselves neatly from entire cakes, pies, and tarts. I think I got a sugar high from just looking at all of them. Of course, the best dessert of the afternoon was my brother-in-law’s Belgian waffle, which he insisted was an acceptable brunch entrée, not a dessert. It was covered with fresh berries and whipped cream.
We were full when we left, but not grossly so. There is something to be said about buffet behavior. When the buffet is Vegas or Sizzler up the street, there is a sense of bargain basement frenzy, cheap gluttony, a need to game the system, load up, and get the most bang for your buck. When the setting, however, has the luxury ambience of the Ritz-Carlton, the elegance of the oceanside, the tasteful and thoughtful presentation of a Bel-Air dinner party for 200 people you don’t know plus 10 people from your own crazy family…baby, it’s a whole ‘nother experience.
Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel
4375 Admiralty Way
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
** a year ago today, said the delicious, say no mori **