Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Big Night Out

In the spirit of "start as you mean to go on", we began the new year in cracking good order. After celebrating at midnight (at least the other 3 did, I fell asleep) we all slept in to an obscene hour, lounged around in our pajamas for the day and then picked up my parents to go out to dinner. I can only hope the rest of the year continues in such a manner.

My parent took us out to dinner to one of our favorite places, The Mandarin. (It's one of those enormous Chinese buffets, with exotic-but-not-disturbingly-so choices.) If you have never been there, you should, because not only is there enough food to meet your nutritional needs for a week, the people-watching is mesmerizing; plenty of food and entertainment at one low price. Can't beat that.

The kids love the Mandarin because the rules of nutrition are suspended for the duration and they are allowed to eat anything in any order they like. (Once I took a bunch of kids for one birthday or another, and one kid alternated sushi and ice cream for the entire meal.) Thing 2 starts out with noodles, moves on to the lime sherbet and then careens around the buffet picking up random items and happily scarfing down whatever she's put on her plate. Deep fried shrimp nestle up to chocolate covered strawberries, and she's one very happy kid. Thing 1, who is a little more discriminating when it comes to food, gets bread, jello and waffles, in that order. There's plenty of food to sneer at: "deep-fried imitation scallops" and very inauthentic "Peking-style pork", but I'm not from China, so who am I to cast aspersions? They do a very nice creme caramel (probably inauthentic also, as I am pretty sure it did not originate in China) and their hot and sour soup is the best I've had anywhere.

When we got there, we were greeted by a couple of very smiley hostesses who were clearly delighted to see us, but sick with worry that we might not have made a reservation, as they were all booked up. The palpable relief on their faces when we assured them that we had made a reservation was a mite disturbing; the investment they had in our enjoyment of our meal was more than a little out of proportion, if you ask me. (Although, this did make a refreshing change from the usual displays of "customer service" one gets, such as when the women at Tim Hortons make the words "can I help you" sound more like a threat than an actual offer of assistance.) The hostess, who either was beyond thrilled with our presence or slightly brain-damaged, slo-o-o-o-owly walked us to our seats, all the better to give us the opportunity to gander at the buffet, which was completely unnecessary as we are three generations of professional buffet users in this family.

After we were seated and drink orders taken, we headed out to the buffet like soldiers on a reconnaissance mission. Everyone dispersed in a very efficient manner, regrouped back at the table and immediately assessed the contents of each other's plates, the identity of the more interesting bits and the relative location thereof. This procedure continued happily until we were fit to bursting and waddled out the door.

In the meantime, there was the entertainment to be had. The first table as we came in consisted of a family (we think) who looked like they had just rolled out of their shack adjacent to the coal mine in Appalachia and were eating the first food they had had in days in a very cranky fashion.The seemed to be very put out with one another, and no amount of Peking-style pork was going to improve the situation. The Mister and I were fascinated, not only by their demenor, but by the fact they the four of them didn't seem to possess an entire set of teeth between them.
Behind them was a table of six elderly women that were either celebrating a birthday or someone's recent widowhood, because they were ordering all sorts of fruity, colourful drinks with umbrellas in them, like Singapore Slings and Blue Hawaiians and Mai Tais and knocking them back with impressive aclarity. And, they were no slouches in the buffet department, either; they made the most of that senior's discount. And at the end of it all, they each had a nice cup of tea.

Since it was a special day, the Mandarin had crab legs on the buffet, on both the cold and the hot side. I rather like crab legs, as much for the entertainment as the morsels inside. Not only can you poke your youngest child in the forehead from across the table with one alien looking crab-leg, but with all the cracking and wrestling and coaxing the meat out, you can easily work off the calories consumed.

By the time we had finished the last macaroon, we managed to fold ourselves into the van and get home and put on our recently vacated pajamas and loll about all evening in a sated state of stupor. It was a fine way to start off the new year.

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