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San Francisco Bay Area Thanksgiving Buffet

Cliff House Thanksgiving Buffet OR Turkey with Strawberry Jam

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Cliff House Thanksgiving Buffet OR Turkey with Strawberry Jam

Krys Stanley | Nov 27, 2004 01:33 AM

AND there were NO mashed potatoes … on Thanksgiving. Even Swanson gives you mashed potatoes with the frozen turkey dinner.

I am so through with the Cliff House. Not that the buffet was bad, it just wasn’t very good. I am convinced that whoever put this together has never even eaten at a buffet, let alone managed one. I’m not even sure if they have ever celebrated Thanksgiving.

But I should start with the positive.

1. The wait staff was very nice. Not well trained or managed, but pleasant.
2. The popovers are still great. In fact, I have to say they are better than I remembered. A thin crispy buttery crust with a light airy eggy middle.

About the strawberry jam. I circled the buffet table a number of times, searching for the cranberry sauce. There was only one tiny red bowl of sauce on the table. I looked at it and put a tiny bit on the turkey. It turned out to be strawberry jam.

At that point, suffering with scalloped rather than mashed potatoes and strawberry jam on my turkey, I flagged down one of the servers.

“Cranberry sauce? she asked as if she never heard of the stuff. After much discussion, they located the cranberry sauce and brought me a little on a dish. Later they moved a crock of the sauce next to the turkey.

It was memorably bad cranberry sauce. There was this weird chewy texture, like raisins. Maybe they used dried cranberries. It was so sweet; I had a sugar headache after taking a bite.

There WERE mashed SWEET potatoes which were equally bad with a thick, almost pumpkin pie texture and odd spice. Who knows, maybe it was mashed pumpkin rather than sweet potatoes.

The buffet was in the banquet room, a room with the charm of any hotel banquet room

I have to say Home Town Buffet does things better. The traffic pattern was off. They had one crowded buffet table in the center. People tripped over each other trying while trying to get in or out of the room blocked by the buffet participants.

There were no cold plates for the salad or hot plates for the turkey. Even Home Town Buffet chills and heats the plates. Come to think of it, there was no green salad. Home Town Buffet will give you a little lettuce.

Silver wasn’t replaced. When my plate was removed, the dirty fork and knife were placed back on the table. So for a dessert fork, I was left with the fork I used to eat my turkey. The knife, still covered with gravy, graced the table.

I didn’t see anything heating the chafing dishes and they were not covered. So if you didn’t get a hot item as it was carried out to the table, then you got lukewarm food.

If you wanted breakfast items, there was a dish of scrambled eggs and some bacon and sausage piled in another dish. Holiday Inn does better with their free breakfast buffet.
At least the eggs are warm at Holiday Inn. Needless to say, there was no omelet station.

It seems that whoever put this together lacked the knowledge of basics. There were some lox (Safeway grade), with a bowl of cream cheese and a bowl of chopped onions. The man in front of me asked if there were bagels for the lox.

“Bagels?” said the server who sounded like it was the first time he heard the word. There were no bagels … or mashed potatoes … have I mentioned there were NO MASHED POTATOES.

When a woman asked what the popovers were, the served didn’t know. .

I thought perhaps that I was getting a cold because the food didn’t have much flavor (except the bad type with the cranberries and sweet potatoes).

There must have been a good buy on shrimp since about five dishes had it.

In addition to lox, the cold fish selection included boiled shrimp and poached salmon. There were crocks of red cocktail sauce and tarter sauce. Tarter sauce? Maybe you could put a dab of tarter sauce on the lox, roll it up and stuff it in a popover. Really, I didn’t see anything on the table that called for tarter sauce, especially a huge crock of it.

Cold salads included bay shrimp salad with dill, glass noodles with shrimp, pesto pasta, mildly marinated mushrooms, yellow rice (maybe an attempt at curry), wild rice, al dente roasted eggplant and pepper salad and a beef salad with red peppers. This last dish was deception. It looked like porcini mushrooms. There were thin asparagus spears dressed in soy sauce.

There was fruit in two presentations …. Cubed in a salad or sliced on a tray. The out of season fruit looked it … pale strawberries, cantelope and honeydew. The slices of pineapple sported brown spots. I did snag a nice slice of ruby grapefruit.

Warm dishes included stuffing with celery and chestnuts, an oddly peppery cheese tortellini, and, perhaps the best dish there, strips of beef.

The carving table had a dryish turkey and salty ham.

The man at the table next to me asked his companion if she wanted seconds. She paused and said she would just wait for dessert. I thought to myself “Right on sister”. I was having trouble with the firsts myself, I shuddered at the thought of seconds.

The pastry and bread chefs seemed to be the most accomplished. Prior to locating the popover, I had an excellent Parker House type roll.

The pumpkin pie was excellent although it was served in a aluminum pie tin … Sarah Lee with whipped cream to dress it up? There was a nice pumpkin cheese cake with a delicious topping of sour cream. The pecan tart was just ok. I also tried a decent enough mini oatmeal cookie and a slightly soggy mini chocolate cream éclair.

There was also chocolate mouse, other mini cookies, other mini cakes slices and cream puffs, chocolate (white and milk) dipped strawberries and strawberries with some sort of sauce.

Whycliffe sparkling wine was served in the old fashioned champagne glasses (less of a pour). If you are going to serve inexpensive wine, then at least cover the bottle with a white napkin.

The whole management of the buffet could have been better. Had they placed the buffet table against the wall, it would have opened up more space for people to walk by.

The warm dishes needed to he grouped in one place and kept warm. Half of the warm dishes were on one side, half on the other. The stuffing and mashed potatoes was as far away from the turkey as possible, causing an unnecessary lap around the table and more foot traffic.

At one point it reminded me of the tea party in Alice in Wonderland with people madly cirling the buffet. A very happy un Thanksgiving to us.

CLEAN UTENSILS after clearing dirty plates.

I am so tired of being given incorrect info at the Cliff House. When I made a reservation, I was told the buffet was $36. My bill was for $45 before tax

Even with the outdated menu, the Old Cliff House was a warmer and better run establishment. It will snow on Ocean Beach before I return to the Cliff House for dinner. The food isn’t good enough to deal with the difficulty to find parking. If I ever do return, it will be for the view or the popovers. I could see a breakfast of coffee and popovers while gazing out to sea.

I also enjoy that corner table in the cocktail lounge which has a sweeping view of ocean beach and the Marin headland.

Oh yeah ... one last complaint ... to my fellow diners ... it's Thanksgiving ... DRESS. If you can pony up $45 a plate, you don't need to wear your grungy tee and faded jeans. That means you missy with the belly shirt and jeans.

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