Lesson Learned: Crawfish Don't Belong on a Buffet

By the time you read this, I will be on a plane home to Houston from Las Vegas, where I will have hopefully won $1,000,000 off a nickel slot machine and eaten at the Wicked Spoon -- which, from what I can tell in the April edition of Saveur, looks like the coolest damn buffet in the world.

I say hopefully, because I need something -- anything -- to act as a mind-eraser for the memories I'm still carrying around after dining at Jumbo Buffet on Airline last week. Jumbo Buffet used to be Empire Seafood, and that's where I intended to head with Eater Houston's departing editor Amber Ambrose before I realized it was closed.

Instead, I pulled up to find a garish sign announcing this new tenant. It was as promising a welcome as the broken bottle of Miller Lite near the entrance, yet I forged ahead.

Why? Because the marquee listed crawfish on the buffet. Yes, I am fully aware that making this choice probably qualifies me as mentally unfit, but I wanted to see those buffet crawfish with my own eyes.

As you might imagine, buffet crawfish are just about the poorest form of crawfish available outside of the ones you dig up out of Buffalo Bayou. (Probably don't eat those; I'm just saying.) They are puny runts, looking like the larval stage of the big, beefy crawfish found at places like The Hideaway on Dunvale. They no doubt come from China, and the few I tried at Jumbo Buffet had no doubt never been purged.

Despairing, I hit the buffet again looking for something -- anything -- to eat for lunch.

I tried the baked oysters. There were no oysters to be found inside, only imitation crab under mushy bread crumbs. I tried the mussels. They tasted like Dr. Scholl's inserts dipped in chlorine. I tried the salmon nigiri sushi. The rice stuck to my molars and the fish could've been mistaken for a plastic prop. Even the iced tea tasted like plastic.

I went back again and tried the Chinese side of the buffet. Everything tasted pre-frozen and was overheated, the sweet and sour sauce failing to save even a bite of it. In a last-ditch effort, I tried to scoop some ice cream from the unlabeled buckets of chocolate and vanilla. The scoops were stuck fast into each one.

Not interested in playing a Sword in the Stone-style battle with the desserts, Ambrose and I made a quick exit. She suggested getting a raspa to cleanse our war-torn palates, but we ended up next door at Canino's instead. In the stalls behind the market, we found salvation: fresh-cut fruit with chili powder and salt sprinkled on top, $1 a bag.

I want to say that I've learned my lesson with buffets, but I haven't. I still plan on attacking the Wicked Spoon with a full-court press, and perhaps hitting up a Golden Corral in the future (only to watch little kids stick gross shit into the Chocolate Wonderfountain, though). The only lessons I learned here: Stay away from Jumbo Buffet, and don't be lured in by the siren song of all-you-can-eat buffet crawfish.

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Katharine Shilcutt