Saturday, January 26, 2008

Oh, Ikea Meal

Last weekend I was at the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville so I decided to stroll over to Ikea next door. I was looking for some cheap chili bowls (didn’t find any). While I was there, I noticed a long line at the second-floor restaurant.

Now, I’m not one to shy away from a line. In fact, it always piques my interest. What is worth all the wait? I’ve never eaten at the restaurant (it’s actually more like a cafeteria), but I once went to a party where the host served Swedish meatballs from Ikea, and they were quite delish.

So I decided to check it out. Here’s a blow-by-blow of my experience standing in line for Ikea food:

12:19 p.m.—So here I am at the very end. As you can see, the line meanders a bit and it doesn’t seem to be moving that fast. Oh well, at least you can check out the sparkling drinks on special or other Ikea food like moose pasta. (I initially thought it was pasta made from moose meat but it’s pasta shaped like little moose. My bad.)

12:23 p.m.—I finally get to the part where you enter the queue. There are a lot of rules eating at the Ikea restaurant. For one, when you read the sign, it says there’s no “pre-seating” allowed. Meaning, no saving tables while your partner’s suffering through the line and you’re just sitting pretty taking up space. I like that rule.

12:30 p.m.—This line is sooo slow. I’m so bored. Oh, what interesting lighting. I bet you can buy it for a dollar in the store. They kind of look like paper ornaments I use to make in elementary school for the Christmas festival, you know? Then you put glitter designs on each panel. Ah, good times.

12:35 p.m.—I finally get near the front where I can clearly see the signs and start deciding what I want. The overall design is very Euro; I feel like I’m at a Swedish airport.

12:39 p.m.—I finally pick up my tray and start going through the food counters. First up are the drinks, your typical mix of soda, juice and water (a few Swedish brands). Actually, once I got to this point, the line started moving fast. And taking pictures while trying to figure out what everything is was a bit of a challenge. So everything seemed like a blur (and all occurred within the next minute) …

… like these desserts that I passed on. That’s a Swedish almond torte that really looked like airport food. …

… the salad counter also offered up lox plates. I love lox and they were probably good ones from Sweden, but I wanted some meat!

… Some wraps that were a bit Greek-inspired. Looks interesting, but I’m still jonesing for the meatballs …

… Woah, now that’s a lot of meatballs. This sign shows that the manager’s special is Meatballs and Macaroni for $5.99. But do you see those words on the bottom right? That’s right, it says you get 15 pieces. I’m pretty sure that’s 15 meatball pieces and not 15 pieces of macaroni pasta.

12:40 p.m.—I reach the hot counter and finally order my lunch. I decided to get the pasta special, which included a more portion-controlled offering of meatballs. Gosh, the meatballs are really steaming up the counter. You can barely see what you’re getting.

12:41 p.m.—Here’s the salad bar. My pasta special came with a small side salad. So I assumed I had to create it myself here at the salad bar since the servers didn’t give me a salad with my pasta plate. Normally, if you just want to eat a salad it’s $1.79 for a salad bowl (which is also the same price for the daily soup). Hey, where’s the dressing?

12:45 p.m.—I wasted a few minutes looking for the salad dressing, which is why it took me a total of four minutes before I got up to register. Sorry to the nice lady who was patiently waiting behind me! Anywho, I pay for my pasta special, which was only $4.99. BTW, that’s a total of 21 minutes from the start of the line to reaching the registers. That’s just as long as the line at Tartine Bakery!

Ah ha! Here’s the salad dressing! They’ve got it in these squirt containers near the soda dispensers. What’s odd is that they had regular Ranch, fat-free Italian and fat-free French. Why not make them all fat-free? Whatevs.

Here’s my pasta special. It was penne pasta in a simple tomato sauce (they called it marinara) with five meatballs and a piece of garlic bread. And of course the aforementioned side salad. Doesn’t this look kind of like a kid’s meal? You know what? It tasted like it too. The marinara sauce was so bland; it tasted like it was straight from the jar. The meatballs were all right. It was tasty but not any better than what I can make at home.

Overall, the Ikea food offerings are very much in line with its products: cheap and simple and doesn’t last very long. I think the line is from the fact that there are no other food options inside the giant Ikea store and when you’re exhausted from looking all around for a $2 chili bowl, then maybe a Swedish meatball doesn’t sound that bad?

Ikea restaurant, 4400 Shellmound St., Emeryville. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.


agent713 said...

I can't believe you skipped the dessert! It's the best part! Now I have a craving for it...

Anonymous said...

maybe u can try Crate & Barrel or even Crate & Barrel Outlet in Berkeley.

Online the bowl isn't too bad, I want to get some myself. Please post if u ever find any u like or if u go w/ Crate & Barrel:

Chef Ben said...

Agent713, really? The dessert? Which one do you like? I have to take your word for it because I don't think I'll be going back anytime soon. Unless I'm shopping again for something.

Anonymous, I'm one step ahead of you! I did think of Crate & Barrel outlet and actually got something for my chili bowl. It was actually a soup bowl but it reminded me of a chili bowl so I got it. It was about $4 each. You'll see it later this week in my post about my Super Bowl Chili! :)

Anonymous said...

Ben, if u see Princess Cake at Ikea I've heard it's good there, haven't tried it myself though. I just love Princess Cake.

Glad u found a bowl for your chili. can't wait for the post! I love Chili!

Chubbypanda said...

Good lord. The food looks/sounds the same as what they serve at my local IKEA, but a 21 minute wait? I'd rather go to Tartine.

agent713 said...

The dessert you took a picture of. I can't remember the name of it. I believe it's actually hazelnut. It's not somethind I'd necessarily go out of my way to get but I wouldn't pass it up if I had the chance!

Mrs. L said...

Chef Ben, I had to laugh at your Ikea lunch experience, the long lines are why we never eat there (but I have been known to pick up the meatballs in the frozen pack).
I have four of the white Ikea them...must make your chili to serve in them!

NotSoccer Mom said...

the dessert i always get at the east palo alto ikea is an apple cake/pie thing that comes with vanilla dipping sauce. EVERY TIME i shop at ikea, i eat at ikea. the prices are great for what you get and it sure beats fast food. and i too shop in the frozen section of ikea as well! (i must say, i prefer the meatballs with the regular sauce, also comes with lingonberry jam and red potatoes.)

Anonymous said...

next time if there is one get the regular meatballs in the normal dressing with the lingon-berries and red potatoes. it is quite literally the best 5 dollar meal I have ever eaten.