November 25, 2011
Thanksgiving with all the trimmings -- and none of the fuss

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Last week, I wrote a story about the ongoing trend of eating out for dinner on Thanksgiving, how more and more restaurants are getting booked up for a holiday meal that was once a rock-solid, home-cooked tradition. Now, more than ever, folks are leaving the cooking and the serving to the pros.

We wanted to test this trend for ourselves -- and it went off without a hitch. We ate at the Pilothouse Restaurant on board the historic Delta King riverboat in Old Sacramento. It was a buffet-style dinner with a nice selection food and good cooking. What's more, the restaurant staff was excellent -- very friendly, attentive, and professional. I certainly appreciated that they were working on the holiday. I hope the many other patrons did, too -- and tipped accordingly.

We chose the Delta King because we were looking for something more intimate than the large hotel buffets we have experienced during previous Thanksgivings. Those hotels -- the Sheraton Grand and the Hyatt Regency downtown -- both have very good buffets. But they have become so popular that, even with reservations, there was plenty of waiting around before we actually got to our table. Last year, the Sheraton actually asked for our credit card before we were even shown to our table. There's something about paying and then standing around in a lobby for 35 minutes that rubbed us the wrong way.

At the Delta King, we experienced nothing but first-rate customer service from the moment we stepped onto this historic and charming 285-foot boat with the huge red paddle wheel. There was no wait for our table.


Our window table gave us an expansive view as the sun set on the Sacramento River. A server promptly took our drink order and, faster than you can say "tryptophan-induced sleep coma," we were standing in front of the sprawling buffet. Everything went smoothly and there were no large lines at any of the spots along the buffet.

Several slices of turkey, a heaping scoop of dressing, green beans, two servings of poached salmon, creamy mashed potatoes -- I was just getting warmed up. I also had a plate of salad, with an assortment of cheeses, crackers and bread, as well as tasty shrimp and cocktail sauce.


Did I mention that I worked out earlier in the day and didn't eat anything but vegetable juice prior to the meal? I knew what was coming. On Thanksgiving, you either do that or wear slacks with an elastic waist!


I had room for one more plate -- two slabs of prime rib from the carving station, more green beans and a small serving of candied yams. Throughout the meal, our server checked on us several times and I watched several other employees running a tight ship -- clearing tables, setting tables, greeting guests, bringing drinks, all with plenty of smiles. It was impressive.

Then came the dessert -- pumpkin pie with whipped cream, pecan pie and bread pudding. OK, now I was stuffed. But we had anticipated that, too.

The Delta King is a 30-minute walk from our house, so Lynn and I decided to walk there and back. That's an hour of strolling, and it's especially nice to walk off such a large meal. On the way home, we took a slight detour up K Street, past the ice rink (there were only two skaters) and up a street that only recently opened to cars for the first time in 42 years (we didn't spot a single car moving, though one was parked in a loading zone).

Going out for Thanksgiving probably works best for childless couples or parents with one or two kids. Large holiday gatherings are still done best at home. At the Delta King, we spotted few children at the tables. Most of the customers were couples or groups of adults. For these folks, going to all of the trouble and expense of making turkey with all the trimmings probably wasn't worth it. Turkey, as simple as it seems, is notoriously difficult to get right. Executive Chef Julian Vasquez and his kitchen staff clearly know what they're doing.

This superb meal helped remind us of everything for which we have to be thankful. But most of all, we're thankful to all of the thoughtful and hard-working employees at the Pilothouse who teamed up to make the meal such a treat.

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