My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

It's a Conspiracy!

I'm beginning to get the feeling that someone out there doesn't want my family to eat out.

Take your WABAC machine to 2005, to the Cheesecake Factory restaurant in White Flint Mall.  That's where AJ let me and Cousin E in on the little secret of her filing adoption papers.  I remember thinking it would be pretty darn cool to take the Pipsqueak there for dinner once she was old enough to "get it," sort of closing the circle that began with the first notice that she would be joining the family.

Well... it ain't gonna happen. As I mentioned in an earlier post, that Cheesecake Factory location is now closed. In fact, not only did the restaurant close, but the entire mall closed and (except for one standalone department store) has since been totally erased from the face of the planet.

"But wait, there's more!"

Back before we began The Wait, going back to a time when AJ really wasn't even thinking about adopting, one of the nicer places we would go for good seafood was on Greenbelt Road, somewhere between the cities of College Park and Greenbelt. I (obviously) don't remember the name, but I still fondly remember their flounder fillet stuffed with crabmeat.  We hadn't gone for a while because they were a bit on the expensive side, but the last time we decided it would be a good place for dinner... they'd gone out of business.

Going back at least the same number of years, if we wanted really good prime rib or steaks, we'd head up into the Gaithersburg area to the Golden Bull.  Good food, decent prices, nice salad bar, plenty of seating... and around mid-2017 they suddenly and permanently closed their doors.

Also going back a few years before The Wait began, we "discovered" the Old Country Buffet just a stone's throw up the road from the Golden Bull.  It wasn't the greatest food in the world, but it was better than some we'd paid a lot more for in other restaurants -- with the added benefits of there being something for everyone (have I mentioned the Miri is an incredibly picky eater?), and as much of it as we could shovel into our faces before we burst like overfilled balloons. Even better, because there was always a selection of dishes, no one had to decide what they were (or were not) in the mood to eat; whatever you wanted was likely to be somewhere on the hot tables regardless of what anyone else in the family wanted to eat.  It was a favorite place for us all, and Dad informally renamed it the Slop Chute (a name that Miri loved using). I even made a deal with the Pipsqueak: once she was old enough to sit at a restaurant table by herself for a couple of minutes, she and I would have a dinner date there, and she spent almost a year reminding me of that promise.

Ain't never gonna happen; the place closed down last year.  (Turns out there's a long, sordid, and unhappy story behind the chain's demise; look it up online for a good cautionary tale about how to NOT buy or run a business.)

Another family staple, one of the first places we ever ate out after bringing Miri home, was the Cheeburger Cheeburger location about five minutes from AJ's house.  As I wrote waaaay back in the earliest days of this blog, it was where we heard, "Is she adopted?" for the first time, followed by a high-speed data dump from our young waitress who was thrilled to have a chance to talk about her own adoption (from Madagascar) with someone who'd understand. This was a location where we took friends and family visiting from out of town, a place where parties were held, a place where we knew we would always find food the Pipsqueak was happy to eat.

You guessed it... Back around August/September last year,  the five of us arranged to meet there for dinner. I was the first to arrive, and found a big ol' "this location is now CLOSED" sign in the window directing us to other locations -- not one of which is more than vaguely convenient for us.

Two or three weeks later, I was on a shopping run with our folks and despite not being able to agree on which store to go to first, we all agreed that a meal was necessary ASAP.   Mom directed me to a pancake place that she & Dad had enjoyed several times in the past few months. We had a little trouble finding it because none of us could see the sign. Finally figuring out where to go, the mystery of the invisible sign was solved as I turned into the parking lot and noticed a big "FOR LEASE" banner hiding it from view.

Yep, another one gone.

That really left us with a short list of places to go for dinner (remember, Miri is a very picky eater), with another buffet at the top of the list: the Teppanyaki Grill & Buffet, offering mainly hot Chinese food and a good selection of Japanese sushi.  It had originally opened as the Tyson's Chinese Buffet, but that closed down after the quality & selection of foods began to drop; we were thrilled when it re-opened (with new fixtures, etc.) as part of the Teppanyaki chain and were regulars there for years.

Yep, that last statement is in past tense.  Late last year we were trying to figure out if they would have regular prices or holiday prices one evening, and when I checked Yelp there was a "now closed" note by their name. I checked a bunch of other online sources and sure enough, it was gone, with the next closest location in the chain being more than twice the distance.

Oh, and did I mention the local Five Guys burger joint, or the Japanese restaurant in the shopping center next to the Cheeburger location...?  Gone with the wind, both of 'em.

We've also noticed that one of the local sit-down restaurants we go to a few times a year has raised their prices & shortened their menu, another has basically become the meeting place for a large local community of singles & swingers (and raised their prices),  the Chinese place closest to my house has noticeably raised their prices and lowered their quality, and the local Italian place has begun leaving us all feeling queasy and/or suffering from heartburn after every meal (and we stopped eating there mid-2017 as a result, with reports from friends letting us know the situation hasn't improved).

There's just one Chinese buffet left within a 20-minute drive now, and it's one that we stopped going to sometime in 2008; the nearest non-"ethnic" buffet is a good 45 minute drive.  I'm just hoping that McDonald's, CalTort, and Panera don't change anything anytime soon.

So please... don't ask me to recommend a good local restaurant. We're running out of places to eat!