Night at the Braemar

Let me begin by stating outright that I find buffets creepy. The idea of everyone ladling heaping servings of mass-produced food out of the same stuffy, sneeze-protected steamtable, while kids run amok with their mashed potato-smeared faces makes me shudder.

(Did I ever mention that I once worked for Uncle Willy’s Buffet?)

Last night, Renée and I had quite the surreal experience. A buffet was involved. Isn’t that always the way?

We began the night innocently enough. Renée had planted the seed of suggestion earlier in the day by stating unequivocally that she wanted to try making Ethiopian food. After a fruitless attempt to buy teff flour (one of the main ingredients of Injera) from the local frou-frou food store, I put my foot down: we were eatin’ out.

There’s a great Ethiopian place (the only Ethiopian place in the city) called Massawa in our neighbourhood. The food is amazing - the catch is, you have to usually wait almost an hour (or more!) for it to come. The problem lies in the fact that there are only two women who wash the dishes, bus the tables, serve the cranky patrons, and cook the food there. This lack of extra hands inadvertedly means you order, and then sit there stewing in a desperate patience waiting for the food to come.

By the time it actually gets to your table you’re overcome with ravenous hunger. This must truly be what it’s like to eat in Ethiopia. (bad taste alert.)

We got to the restaurant and it was packed. I noticed with some trepidation that out of twelve tables, only one had anything resembling food on it. The room was filled with people all but emanating that desperate patience, each turning to wild gesticulation, extreme water drinking, and tantric napkin rending to try and keep the mind off of the fact that they’re fucking hungry.

Seeing as how Renée hadn’t snacked up in preparation for what seemed to be a two hour wait (really, the food is worth it!), we headed off in search of more convenient grub.

grubAfter aimlessly wandering around (“Won’t anyone serve us?”) for a spell, we ended up at this Carribean restaurant called “The Braemar Bakery”. Horrors: it was Roast Beef buffet night. We don’t eat red meat. Luckily, they actually have Carribean food.

An excruciatingly strange counter woman (“It’s my first night!”) led us to the back of the restaurant, which was festooned with Christmas lights, wildly rotating lighted pinwheels, wood panelling, and a gigantic wall-sized mural of what I assumed to be an area in the Carribean. Renée pointed out an overemphasized area simply entitled “Booby Cay”. A nearby baby threw potatoes onto the floor with a happy gurgle.

Our waitress looked remarkably like Chyna from the WWF, and I noticed that mixed into the morass of chintzy decorations hanging from the ceiling were countless AA batteries dangling at the end of silver gaff tape. A plump teenager ran by with “SEXY” literally springing off of her black tee-shirt in huge, glittery silver letters. I cursed the fact that I didn’t own a digital camera.

What sent me over the edge was the unmistakable sounds of someone (Sam Cooke?) quietly singing “Love Is (The Tender Trap)” through the soundsystem.

It was Jimmy Mills, black crooner and master of the golden oldie. As old ladies with blue hair sang along and danced by the carved roast beef, and multicoloured lights flashed off and on in hypnotic patterns, Jimmy Mills ran through his Karaoke routine, which included such crowdpleasers as Nat King Cole’s “Too Young”, and possibly the most disturbing song ever, Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet”.

David Foster Wallace once defined the term Lynchian as “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the night was macabre (though if you saw the white puff pastries - purportedly “dessert” - you might disagree), but the entire experience, if not truly Lynchian, was definitely straight out of the good book Twin Peaks.

For an hour, Renée and I felt like we had been transported somewhere undeniably strange and bizarre. Plus, we got to stuff our faces with really bad food and listen to weird music. What more can you ask for from a buffet?

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