Arriving slightly before 11:30, mouth set to wrap around cashew chicken and egg drop soup prepared by the best commercial grade Chinese cook in southern Iowa, I was dismayed to discover a "closed September 15- Oct. 6" sign on the door. No wonder there was an open parking place directly in front of the building! And here, I'd actually thought I was lucky when I first spotted it...
I went to the second string Chinese buffet, whose food is decidedly odd and generally cold, to boot. But the thought of a sub, Big Mac or KFC instead of Chinese just didn't cut it. The wait staff are uniformly polite, and struggling to learn English.
More dishes than usual were labeled, and I was delighted to see a new offering that I fell in love with back when I transported Raven to Steve's every August -- Triple Delight -- at a Chinese restaurant in Scottsbluff, Nebraska*. Also joining the line up for the first time that I've seen were crab stuffed mushrooms, olives, and breaded shrimp. The buffet is made up of three long tables with the heating/cooling elements normal for them.
The dishes were warm from the washer, the egg drop soup was steaming, and things were in general fresh this time around. (Sure, I generally come an hour to an hour and a half later, as I thing about it.)
One side had shrimp in the middle, an unrecognizable dish next, a double wide tub of lettuce barely torn off the head at all, in hand sized instead of bite sized chunks, followed by a row of four smaller trays crossing the entire width of the table. The closest one was white, so I assumed it was some form of Ranch dressing. Next deep was a pan of black olives. The other two were quite blurry, and I did not walk around and look closer. I ASSUMED they were more toppings for a tossed salad. (Why I'd assume that in a Chinese restaurant run by immigrant Chinese, I'm not quite sure...) the last slot was a double long tray with a thick deep red-orange sauce in it. Ah, an undiluted French, I thought, spooning it into red "snow" caps on the mountains and valleys of my lettuce field. Very Christmasy, and quite artistic.
I discovered an unpleasant fact about myself. Even to be polite, I can't choke some things down. Where else would one encounter shrimp sauce masquerading as French dressing? It was evidently not my day for shrimp dishes. The plumply puffy batter fried shrimp made my stomach sit up and bellow, "No! Too greasy!" so loudly I glanced around in embarrassment to see if anyone heard. Unobtrusively, I pulled the batter off the others and removed the shrimpettes residing inside, dipping them in "French dressing" as each passed over the lettuce.
I patiently tried to explain to my conscientious waitress what was wrong with my lettuce. I turned my clip board around and wrote "French dressing" on it, then "hot sauce". She said she'd need to see it to be sure she understood the trouble, so I walked over there and showed her the ranch dressing and "French" She knew the word shrimp sauce, (not hot sauce), so I wrote that out for her. Before I'd finished my meal, I could see a white square that had appeared at the spot I'd pointed to on the cowling. When I passed close by, it clearly said, "Shrimp Sauce".
I tried to get her to go to a local grocery store and look at the salad dressings on the shelf, but that was too much for her to follow. As I was shopping in Fareway, I spotted a dark, thick bottle of a new brand of dressing I'd never seen before. It was $1.29, so I grabbed it and drove back to the Chinese restaurant before I left town, giving it to the young girl as her mother? aunt? hovered nearby, trying to follow the exchange. She was smiling when I left. Polite? Going to try it? Who knows.
*(The one my Irish Setter dog conned some kindly folk into allowing her to enter the foyer. The waiter came up before I'd gotten quite half way through and inquired if I owned a dog. Wondering how he knew who to come to, I was surprised to realize I was sporting an "Irish Setter" t-shirt with black paw prints up the shirt sleeve on the right side. She'd gotten hot and come across a field full of sand burrs to get to the restaurant. It took me hours to tease the horrid things out of her long feathered tail and legs and between her toes. Dumb but loyal sort of says it all, I guess. I loved her to distraction and was disconsolate when she passed.)