Thursday, July 3, 2008
In the end, it’s not always wise to hit up all-you-can-eat buffets for lunch. Stocking up on steaming Indian food or greasy slabs of pizza can be transcendent in the moment, but the trouble comes when you return to the office and have all of that food sitting in your gut like a cannonball. It gets awfully hard to stay awake while sifting through data on the Internet or even moving a paper clip collection from one side of the desk to the other side.
But all-you-can-eat salad bar buffets are another story. Grazing on vegetation makes you feel healthy and ready to tackle the tough tasks you have put off until the afternoon.
The Monterey Peninsula offers up two fine salad spreads. Located in the Portola Plaza Hotel, Jacks Restaurant always makes me feel more refined than I am. The outside deck looks out on historic Custom House Plaza; in the background, sailboat masts protrude from the Pacific like pins stuck in a giant blue pincushion. The interior is decorated with sleek wood paneling and impeccable models of old ships.
The salad bar is also masterfully presented. The containers are tidy and filled to the brim with items. The chunks of turkey, ham and chicken are cut in dice-sized cubes and the strips of red, green and yellow peppers provide a confetti-like festiveness.
The salad bar itself goes beyond the call of duty with ingredients like marinated artichokes, fresh avocado chunks and a rotating selection of three pasta and/or seafood salads. It also features New England clam chowder along with a soup du jour. It’s a great deal for $9.95 and even better if you prove your local status, which drops the price down to $7.95.
In a less spectacular location within Monterey’s Bay Park Hotel, the Crazy Horse Restaurant has sweeping views of Highway 1 exits. Inside, the often busy dining area is decorated with kitschy Southwestern décor: pottery, Kachina dolls and a model of a cliff dwelling. In short, the salad bar at Crazy Horse is not as artfully presented as Jacks’. But the Weekly readers’ pick for the county’s Best Salad Bar since 2003 delivers where it counts: Highlights include three lettuce mixes, silver dollar-sized beet slices and three cheeses along with a soup du jour, baked potatoes and a selection of cold cuts like salami, turkey and roast beef. The bar also has a potato salad, a tuna salad, a rice salad and a Waldorf salad daily, and a tasty sesame-oil marinated green bean salad on most days.
One element I enjoy at Crazy Horse is their selection of beyond-standard salad dressings (homemade ranch, Asian, Italian and fat-free Italian)– they stock premium bottled dressings, including Trader Joe’s Raspberry Vinaigrette and Newman’s Own’s Caesar. Another outstanding feature is their hot grilled chicken topper (only available for lunch on weekdays), which is more flavorful than Jacks’ meat cubes. These little items might be why the Crazy salad bar costs more, at $10.95 a person.
I lost many work hours trying to determine a winner in this Food Fight– about as many as I have seen swallowed by post-Indian buffet lunch comas. Crazy Horse is a community institution for a reason. Jacks’ picture-perfect setting is as stunning as its version of the long-lost art of the locals’ special. But on its use of dressings, better pre-made salads and more flavorful grilled chicken, Crazy Horse wins by a crouton.