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THE HIGH-PRICED SPREAD

We were starting to feel something: full. But that didn't stop us from moving on to the "cold selections," a buffet with little tablecloth visible between the multitude of trays. One held about twenty kinds of cheese (a tad wasteful, since only about half the offerings had been taken and the rest were starting to get that hardened, dried-out look); others bore smoked salmon, smoked shad, smoked shrimp, smoked mussels, cold poached salmon, fish pate, steamed mussels, peel-and-eat shrimp, all the deli meats every nitrite lover could ask for, fresh fruit, and more cold salads than at a church picnic. But there was no spiral pasta with pimientos and Italian dressing here. The beauty of these salads was their ingenuity: grilled tuna with haricots vert and hard-boiled eggs; beets with oranges and blue cheese; artichokes with roasted potatoes and prosciutto; daikon with mandarin oranges and pork; linguine with snow peas and red onions.

"See, I know his patterns," the soap-opera diva droned as we returned to our table. Meanwhile, two women with matching Courteney Cox hairdos discussed--what else?--hairdressers, and four female executives argued loudly over what kind of tip to leave. They each had a calculator out, and after a lot of discussion, one woman whipped out her cell phone and called someone (her mother? the National Tip Hotline?), which finally put an end to the discussion.

"I don't know what to do now," came the word from the next table. "I mean, I can't have children after I'm thirty. Do you know how hard it is to have children after you're thirty?"

It had to be easier than listening to this drivel. Time for more food.
The next station was an extension of the hot-foods line, but with even more exotic offerings: blackened steelhead trout in a mango-almond cream over fettuccine; marinated beef tips in a Szechuan sauce; pan-seared quail in hunter sauce; garlic-roasted potatoes; and some kind of "winter vegetable medley" with a lot of broccoli. Everything--broccoli included--was top-notch and tasted like it had just been prepared to order.

Back by our table, the drama continued. "I don't want to eat too much dessert," she said. "I'm out on the market again, you know." So she and her poor companion, who should have won some kind of humanitarian award for putting up with this hell, picked at the Brown's trademark chocolate-covered, baseball-sized strawberries.

We, however, were ready to go a full round at the Like-You-Need-This-Dessert Extravaganza. On this buffet, we found an incredible nut pie--a half-inch-high wedge of unbelievable sweetness that put those four-inch-tall, gooey cornstarch things to shame--as well as wonderful, creamy rice pudding with golden raisins and peach-filled cheesecake with a toothsome cobbler crust.

After all that, I had no choice but to physically shut down, just shut down.
But then, isn't Sunday also the day of rest?

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