Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hometown Buffet - The Perfect Un-Valentine's Day Dinner

Sunday morning, I woke up and started flipping through the freshly printed newspaper. I wasn't reading any of the articles, but rather thinking of where I was going to take J for Valentine's Day. For many, Valentine's is short for gift and snazzy dinner. I'm really not into holidays, or rather, non-holidays such as Valentine's day, but it was going to be our first. Was Valentine's Day a cruel day created by marketers at Hallmark or by women who want to gauge their man's affection and commitment? Whatever the case - I didn't have anything planned. I could spend $200 on sushi. I could go to a posh restaurant and select their prix fixe menu. But all of those just sounded so... booked and overdone. Besides, almost every decent restaurant in LA was probably booked with lovebirds. Last year's V-Day was fun because I went with a friend to Beacon and gawked at all the couples gazing into one another's eyes over pork belly and seared albacore. They were all in a trance. I gave J a call.

Me: "Hey, what do you wanna do for Valentine's?"
J: "I don't know. Surprise me. I like surprises."
Me: "Ok. How about something... different?"
J: "Different is good. Prix fixe sounds good."
Me: "Ok, careful what you wish for."

I jumped back into flipping through the newspaper. Where was I going to find an inexpensive place with a prix fixe menu. Nothing left in the newspaper, but a stack of coupons and direct mail. I went ahead and perused it and eureka... here was what I was looking for!

Oh... yes. A coupon for two to Hometown Buffet. Different? Check. Surprising? Double-check! Prix fixe? Oh-yes, triple check... a $10.69 + tax prix fixe menu. For those that don't know what Hometown Buffet is - think of it as an all-you-can-eat Sizzler, minus all that popcorn shrimp and shrimp scampi. I called J right away.

Me: "Ok, I've got a place."
J: "Yeah? Where?"
Me: "Mmm, they've got a reasonably priced, prix fixe and it's definitely different."
J: "Oh nice. Where?"
Me: "Hometown Buffet."
J: "...... what?"
Me: "I'm serious. They've got coupons too haha."
J: "Haha! Let's do it."

Wednesday night, after work, I drove off to J's place to pick her up. I had also forgotten to buy a gift. Any well-respected gentleman presents his lady with a gift on Valentine's Day. I didn't have anything in mind to buy. I was stuck. But as I was driving on Venice Blvd., something caught the corner of my eye. I saw a man and a woman standing behind a pack of stuffed bears. Furry white teddy bears holding red heart pillows, wrapped in cellophane. Oh nice... and only $8!! Wait? Is this cheesy? Who cares, I ended up buying one. Now, I had some company in my car.

I got to J's place and walked into her place with the bear covering my face. She freaked out and realized what I got her and started busting up.

J & Venice Blvd. Bear
You can't see it, but J is actually staring me down with evil contempt. She asked that I censor her face. The bear requested anonymity as well. Nice picture frame huh? It's furry too. This bear is going to be extinct very soon. RIP.

We got to Hometown Buffet at around 7:15 and the line was out the door - about 40 people waiting to get their $10.69-grubbing on.

The Buffet Line
I was baffled - I didn't know if we were at the DMV or Hometown Buffet. The line was painfully slow. People were pacing back and forth. Everyone eyeing each other to see if anyone would attempt to inch past their place in line. Hometown Buffet should just offer motor-vehicle services. That'd be nice to get the license mugshot and a $10.69 meal all in one stop. There would be less angry (and less hungry) people in the world.

Pure Class... and Glass
To make this evening even more special, I took a lunch break at Target and picked up tea candles, two plastic wine-glasses (re-usable of course - i'm not rich) and a snazzy wine-in-a-box package. (Hometown Buffet doesn't serve alcohol.) The wine box included 4 Hi-C like packages with a foil-sealed spout. I chose the 50% Cabernet and 50% Shiraz.

The Tablesetting
*Gasp* Breathtaking I know. A wrong pairing of reds to fried chicken, sliced ham, garlic mushrooms and canned, Sysco corn. What the hell is that thing in the back??? Whatever, this was supposed to be our special meal and Hometown Buffet lets you be your own chef. After shooting the photo, I took a sip of the 50/50 Cab/Shiraz varietal made by the Target Vineyards. My thoughts on this wine? It really wasn't 50% Cab and 50% Shiraz... it was more like 100% undrinkable. 100% refund too, please.

Deep Sea Creature
Do not be frightened. J's first dish resembled an angler fish. If you threw this in front of Jacques Costeau, he'd have a genus species name for this dish within a few minutes and have it mapped in a fish family tree. This 2,000-calorie creature inhabits the sheet pans and chaffing dishes of Hometown Buffet. This still looked better than a lot of the dishes presented at the first annual Iron Chef Souplantation.

Fried Chicken
Oh yes. This wasn't bad at all. I prefer it over KFC, but definitely not over Popeye's and Mrs. Knott's. The skin was nice and crispy and the meat was very moist - it just wasn't that flavorful. Needed some more salt and cayenne/paprika. I still ended up eating 5 drum sticks and am paying the price with a 'yeet hay' sore.

Mound O' Mac
To make the night even cheesier, I indulged in HTB's mac n' cheese pit. Honestly, I don't mind Souplantation's mac n' cheese. It's bland but they leave it to you to flavor it with their table salt/pepper. Hometown Buffet's is way better because it's similar to TV dinner M&C. Yes, microwave M&C is one of my guilty pleasures - as well as Jeno's pizza. I wouldn't be surprised if I caught the cooks back there emptying hundreds of boxes of Swanson's mac n' cheese into a chaffing dish. I had 2 rounds of this, mmm.

The USDA rates all of the beef before being sold. Prime being the best, then Choice and Select. This quality of meat was unidentifiable. It was the lonely stepchild of all meats, placed in the dark, unmarked on a dusty rack, crying in naked/fetal position. The marking on the label probably looks something like "USDA??? Beef??? Sell by ??????" Maybe it's a zebra? Anyway, I constructed my own Steak Frites dish for under $10.69. Don't bother asking Hometown Buffet for Steak Frites because you'll get a blank stare. just go make it yourself. I ate 3 pieces of the beef and stopped before dislocating my jaw from overchewing.

Pinkberry! 911!
In addition to the fries, J feasted on two bowls of these. Like the beef, it's also the lonely, neglected stepchild of all meats, crying in naked/fetal position. I wonder how soon it'll be before Pinkberry starts selling their machines within convenience stores or selling boxed frozen yogurt in supermarkets.

A Moment of Affection and Indigestion
After the many plates of food, we couldn't move and ended talking for a little while. We then went over to a 'Valentine's Day' booth that Hometown Buffet set up and took a few goofy photos. Although this wasn't a typical Valentine's Day venue, we had a total blast eating here. J was so happy that we followed through haha. We both didn't really care for V-Day, but if we were going to go out, we should try doing something different. We looked at the many other couples and family who were here tonight enjoying their evening. And although not everyone eating here is wealthy enough to enjoy the finer places in LA (including us of course), they still knew how to enjoy themselves. Because at the end of the day (and bill), whether it be a nice meal or a hole-in-the-wall meal, it's about having good company.

On the drive back, J passed out because of food coma and I was slowly feeling the effects of the Sysco corn and Target Vineyard wine, hitting me. I looked over at the sleepy one and smiled and thought to myself... "what a cool girl I have."

P.S. The coupon is fake, so don't bother printing it out. haha. Happy Un-V Day to J and thanks for reading.


Passionate Eater said...

Hilarious! I couldn't stop laughing!

Yes, J is TRULY a cool girl for not going crazy on yo' @$$ with a machete for bringing her to Hometown Buffet!

JK, I try to say I don't care that much about Valentine's Day and romance, and I actually don't. However, there is an element of me that got jealous today when one of the girls at the office got a 50 rose bouquet / table centerpiece. Just remember, every girl likes a little sumpin' sumpin', romantic and cheesy, that is.

At least the mac and cheese was "cheesy," but it might have been an anti-aphrodisiac.

s'kat said...

LOL! That's just priceless. A Valentine's date that I'm sure you will both always remember!

Homesick Texan said...

I love it! What a way to send up the silliness that is Valentine's Day! (And you've actually made me crave Hometown Buffet even though I've never been.) TV-dinner Mac and Cheese? Bring it on!

BoLA said...

OK...That's all I've got to say!

Glad you two had fun!!! You're right - at the end of the day, it's all about having good company!

Daily Gluttony said...

aww, twew wuv! this was so sweet that it gave me a cavity! LOL!

soooo fricken awesome that you too went to HB, i love it. also, i as i was was driving thru boyle heights last night i saw one of those teddy bear/valentines gift basket stands on practically every corner. i thought to myself, "who buys these???" now i know. hahaha

happy belated valentines day to you & j!!!

Christine D. said...

This is probably the best Valentine's day story that i've heard so far. *applauds*

Erin S. said...

Love it! The cellophane wrapped bears/flowers/etc are one of my favorite LA sights around the holidays--where do they all come from??

Yuzu said...

Because at the end of the day (and bill), whether it be a nice meal or a hole-in-the-wall meal, it's about having good company.

Amen to that. And thank you for hyphenating "hole-in-the-wall" when using it before a noun. ;)

Love the cheesy picture at the end, by the way.

Food Marathon said...

I always say true love is gorging on 34,000 calories under flourescent lighting. Sona and Providence should take note...

One Food Guy said...

Wow, you're J truly is something special. My J would have kicked my ass and not talked to me for two days if I ever tried to take her to a Hometown Buffet on any day of the year, let alone Valentine's Day!

Nice work, very nice work.

Nice job making the Hometown Buffet chow look decent in the pics too!

Chubbypanda said...

Oh ouch. I think I laughed so hard that I hurt myself.

Hometown Buffet rocks!

No hurt the bear. Mail it to Cat or something. She rescues unwanted stuffed animals.

furry_feline said...

Did you steal some food to go when you were leaving? You would've had food for days. Nice work on the steak frite and vin de Target!

GT said...

Haven't been in years, but when I did go all I ate was the banana squash and rotisserie chicken. mmmm...

KirkK said...

You two are a hilarious way! We have a Hometown Buffet 3 blocks from our house, I drove by last night and couldn't believe the line....out the door and down the street. J is very cool....the Missus would have me sleeping on the porch!

H. C. said...

Maybe they milked the lonely, emo stepchild of a cow for its yogurt before putting it out of its misery... ~_~

but yes, Hilarious -- and relieved you guys didn't try to Sandra Lee the food. ("Now, let's make a tablescape . . .")

Wandering Chopsticks said...

J is such a good sport. And this was the most hilarious post ever.

Unwanted on the side of the road, thought it found a home...don't hurt the bear.

Jeni said... got points for this one. I loooooooved your tacky cheesiness to make our V-day uncheesy. I was surprised at the stellar service at crazy HB. I had a great night D. But don't ever buy wine in sippy boxes anymore. It's over if you do.

Everyone...the teddy bear is safe and sound. Poor thing is so ugly though.

The Guilty Carnivore said...

If it hadn't been for the actual gift, I would have assume that you guys were an old married couple (the gifts stopoed for us the third year in).

Was there as corkage—er—"boxage" fee for the wine? That was pretty high class of them to let you drink there.

Also, why are you blurring your face still? We all saw what you look like on Bourdain's show! Good job, BTW.

That fried chicken actually looks pretty good.

asiangarden said...

I love it!! I want to go to hometown buffet now!

Deb said...

I am rolling!!! What a great post! I LOVE the pic of the buffet line. This is America...gotta love it! ;)

elmomonster said...

Brilliant. This is one for the history books. Thanks for the wonderful read and laugh.

By the way, I think this is one of those things you can get away with once. You've got a high-water mark to reach for next year in terms of humor.

christianne said...

We were in Ireland on Valentine's Day -- and they have the same cellophane-wrapped bears! It was like being at home...

annie said...

omg! i haven't laughed this hard in a long time! the way you photographed the chicken it almost looked gourmet!

Gary said...

where's the color in the food? i was looking forward to Iron Chef: HomeTown Buffet Edition!h

fruityoaty said...

Ahahahaha! Man, this entry was hilarious. I was laughing throughout the entire read.

Geez, teddy bear?! Just another teddy to add to the teddy bear graveyard, hehe.

I haven't eaten Popeye's fried chicken in a loooog time, but yes... I do recall them being very good... much better than KFC.

Eddie Lin said...

You had me at "all-u-can-eat".

Me and the missus had Valentine's Day at Norm's in Santa Monica. Both of the kiddies joined us which is something you can't get away with at Melisse in Santa Monica.

christianne said...

phenomenal! my arteries hurt just looking at that mac n cheese!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Thanks for everyone reading this. J and I had a really fun night. It's funny how many of the responses I got ended with.... "i think i should go there and try it." Seriously, the service was awesome and better than some of the nicest restaurants I've been to. The manager knew this was our 'special night' and made sure that we got a table w/ nice 'lighting' haha. Something about comfort food, you just have to have it sometime.

Anonymous said...

Hey!!!! I know which Hometown that was. It's in Temple City on Rosemead Blvd. and Broadway next to Office Depot.

Anonymous said...

For those of you folks not from Southern California, Temple city is in the heart of San Gabriel Valley about 20 min. drive east of downtown Los Angeles. I've been going to that Hometown Buffet for years. Food is ok, not the greatest, but what do you expect for a $10 dinner? The food is comparable to those cheap Vegas style buffet like in Circus Circus, if you get the idea. On weekend, this place is packed and lines are long. The place is roomy with booth seatings lining the perimeter and tables occupying the center, and adorning the walls are replicas of Norman Rockwell paintings. Personally, I wouldn't bring anyone here for a romantic evening, because there is nothing romantic about this place. I don't care if the manager would stash both of you somewhere in the corner booth. This place is meant for quick and dirty eating. How could it be romantic if you had to go get your own food and rub elbows in the buffet line? I would probably go to Olive Gardens for a romantic evening at the very least, and it's not that all expensive. You want to be served and pampered for a Valentine's Day dinner, not fight your way to the buffet line. I know everyone has to be budget conscious, but Valentine's Day isn't the time. But that's my opinion. If any of you are still interested in this Hometown Buffet the address is 5535 North Rosemead Boulevard
Temple City, California 91780 (626)285-6229. Maybe I'll see you guys there!!!!

Happy said...

I love the origin of Valentine's Day history, but I love the modern stories more... What can be better than the real romantic story - every story shows one more time that love exists:) That's why I love Valentine's Day!

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Kathy said...

This story really made me laugh because my boyfriend and I frequent hometown buffet. I don't eat the steak but he eats it until he can't eat any more. I like the roast beef with red potatoes and carrots. It is actually pretty good. We live in California. We didn't go for Valentine's Day but went for Father's Day and it was crowded. We are both large people (wonder why with all the visits to Hometown...and we don't know when to quit)....Other people don't know when to quit either. I finish after 1 1/2 plates and a dessert then I watch my boyfriend eat at least 2 more plates. I also watch people getting their food and see how high they can stack it...don't they know they can go back up for more food? Eventually, I start to feel ill watching all these overweight people stacking their food. I am then really ready to go but my honey is still shoving it in...He asks what is the matter???? I mutter nothing...but you know by this time I am feeling REALLY sick...Finally, he is done and we have to dodge around people to get out the's actually like a maze...I finally find the door, bust through it and breathe in fresh air...Thank God...!!! Now I can go home and take a

Anonymous said...

omg too funny, i love this old posting!!! Suzanne

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