Friday, March 30, 2012


This past February I wrote an article on this site telling all of you about a special one night holiday smorgasbord that would be served at the IKEA stores in their restaurant. That article was met with a barrage of comments from readers who I don't really believe understand what this site is all about, but those comments focused upon the quality of food at buffets in general. I am not going to go into that here - and such comments made to this article in that regard will not be published. This article is about my meal at the Easter Smorgasbord at IKEA on the one night it was served in 2012 - March 23, 2012.

We purchased our tickets four weeks in advance of the meal. Tickets must be purchased in advance, though I will tell you later about how you might be able to pay on the night of the dinner and maybe get in. We purchased tickets for the 7 to 9 seating. There was an earlier seating from 4 to 6. The tickets cost just $9.99 and the meal is all you care to eat and all inclusive. We went to the dinner at the IKEA store in Hicksville, New York.

We were not really certain what to expect. We were not sure how they would transform a cafeteria style restaurant with a not very large dining room into an all you can eat experience. I was also not sure how they could sell a limited number of tickets that would correspond to seating this many and that many at each table. In other words, if you have a table for four and three sit down, it is unlikely that the fourth seat at that table is going to be used - so if you have a potential of, say, 200 seats, you cannot really sell 200 tickets. That was not my concern, and as they have done this many times before, I was sure that they would know what to do - and they did. When we bought our tickets there was a serial number on each ticket. The cashier selling them to us recorded those numbers and took my name and phone number. We purchased them at the restaurant cashier.

The dinner was to start at 7. I figured that we should be there early - still not knowing what to expect. The regular restaurant had been closed all afternoon and only opened for the first smorgasbord seating at 4 pm. We left home to arrive at about 6:30. We actually got up to the second floor of the store to the area outside of the restaurant at 6:30 pm and found a line that stretched from the entrance to the restaurant back to almost the entrance stairs coming up from the first floor. We got on the back of the line with the rest of the people who got there early for the 7:00 seating. The line continued to grow behind us. My curiosity was getting the better of me and I walked up to the front in the children's furniture department to sneak a peak at the inside of the restaurant. There I saw all of the dining tables set with silverware, a glass and a brightly colored paper napkin in the glass. In the middle of the restaurant where other tables would be when the restaurant is open for regular meals, was two long tables set up with serving platters and hot chafing dishes of food. There were four sides to server from - but I was too far at that point to see any detail. There was a buzz of employees carrying out platters of food and preparing the serving tables for the waiting guests. On the line were couples, families, groups, parents with children and babies.

At just before 7:00 pm the line started to move forward at a good pace. There were two employees standing at the entrance taking tickets. No one said anything about where to sit and everyone was finding a table of their choice. We found a table near where we usually sit when we have dinner at this store's restaurant. It was a table set for four. We sat at the outer two seats and expected that at some point another couple would come to sit in the other two seats. The actual tables have a separation between them though they share the same legs and frame. It would be fine with us if others came to join us.

There was a gentlemen from the restaurant directing people into the winding, railed area that is used for the cafeteria line. The cafeteria counters were closed. They used the railed area to organize the line that went into the area with the buffet serving tables. From here we could see that each side of the tables had the same food on it as the other side. Desserts were off to the side in a cold server where soups and salads are usually served on regular nights and the usual drink area was where you got your beverage. The line moved steadily up to the serving tables and there was a very pleasant employee holding the front of the line until there was an opening at the rear of one of the sides of the serving table and then let your party up to take your food. It was extremely well organized. We reached this gentleman who greeted us and in a few moments he saw and opening and told us to step right in and enjoy the dinner. We went up to the serving table and started selecting what we wanted to try.

The menu for the dinner that was on the IKEA website is as follows:

Assorted Herring
Hardboiled eggs with mayo and shrimp
Hardboiled eggs with herring roe or tångkorn
Shrimp with cocktail sauce
Marinated Salmon with Mustard Sauce
Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce
Poached Salmon
Assorted Cheeses
Tossed green salad
Cucumber salad
Red Beet Salad
Breads: Crispbread, Crisprolls, Dinner rolls
Swedish Meatballs
Mashed Potatoes
Boiled potatoes w/dill
Swedish Ham with Mustard
Gratäng Jansson
Assorted Swedish desserts and cookies
Fountain Beverages, Hot beverages

What was served varied from this only slightly. I will tell you here that there were no shrimp with cocktail sauce, no mashed potatoes, and from what I have been able to find out what Gratang Jansson is (if I am not mistaken) there was no Gratang Jansson. There were other dishes that are not listed here.

I had been a bit concerned before we went that my picky eater wife would not find things to eat. I know that she does like the meatballs, she does eat ham, she does eat boiled potatoes, and she does eat salad, so I knew that she should be OK - as long as things are not covered in unknown, to her, sauces. They were not.

Looking at the crowd, and the line, and that it appeared that waiting on line again to go back - and not sure how long the crowds would be coming in - they still were at this point, I decided that it would be best to do what I never do and fill my plate with a mixture of things that I would ordinarily take in courses and go back up for. So on my first plate I took a small piece of each of the three types of herring - one in a cream sauce, one in a dark thin sauce, and one in a clear thin sauce. I also took some of each type of the smoked salmon - the marinated salmon and the smoked salmon. All sauces were in serving dishes at the sides of the main dishes. There was only one type of cheese - a white, mild cheese and I took one chunk of that to try. I took a spoon of the red beat salad (or perhaps it was a hot red cabbage salad - I am not really certain), and I also took a dinner roll. There was a large platter of sliced ham. I took a slice of that. I looked at a long hot serving dish and there were small sausages cut in half and baked. I took a couple of those and finished my plate with a spoon of their Swedish meatballs that were served in their cream gravy. As I say, I was not certain at this point what to expect coming back up and this was not a usual buffet set up where taking a little and coming back for another plate of different things. I later found that while there really was no problem going back up for more, it was really not conducive to my usual buffet dining strategy. Not a problem.

We went back to our table and set our plates down. For those concerned about saving your table while you go up to the buffet, we carried Spring jackets with us (which came in handy when we left for home in the cooler night air) and put them on the back of our chairs. We had also taken our napkins out of our glasses and the silverware set on the napkins before we went up to the serving tables. We then went up to get our beverages and there were all of the usual sodas plus ligonberry juice, coffee and tea - and there was a table set up serving a traditional Swedish holiday spiced beverage and sparkling apple and ligonberry drinks - all non-alcoholic, of course. There were still people first coming into the restaurant from the line outside the restaurant and there was still the line going into the serving tables.

The food was all very good. We later saw that much of what is served is the same as what is sold in the store's small Swedish food mart at very high prices. There was no question that the food was of quality.

I started on my plate following what I would usually eat in the order that I would have taken it if I went up at different times for several plates to make up this one. (Some people were taking several plates at a time and putting different items on them and taking them back to their tables. Since it is not in my nature at buffets to do this, this had not occurred to me, but I might do it that way next time.)

The three cold herring dishes were very good. I liked the one in cream sauce best - though it was a different cream sauce than what is usually found at NY deli counters which is more of a sour cream base mixed with raw onions. This was a yellow cream sauce and very good. I took a little more of that one on a later trip back. The marinated and smoked salmon were excellent. I liked the marinated a bit more than the smoked salmon. I had taken some type of sauce that was next to the salmon platters that was a yellow cream sauce with perhaps capers. I do not know if this was the mustard sauce or the horseradish sauce but it was a nice addition to the taste of both of the salmon that I took. One thing that they could have done better is label everything. I really had no idea what the items were that I had never seen before - or what was what beyond the obvious. The only label that I actually saw was a sign in front of the meatballs and there was no confusion at all about what those were without a sign. The cheese that I took for just a taste was pleasant and mild. I have no idea what type of cheese it was. I finished the cold fish dishes and moved on to the entree items. The little sausages were wonderful. I have no idea what they were. They looked like small hotdogs and had that consistency of meat in the casing but they did not taste like hotdogs. The Swedish meatballs were good as they always are here. The ham was mild in taste and served cold. It had more of a quantity of fat around the meat than hams usually found in the US and the outside was a thin rind which, unlike some hams served at buffets, could be eaten and enjoyed. There did not seem to be any sauce cooked on it or into it -and there was a rich, brown, spiced mustard in a serving dish next to the ham. The red beet salad was much like hot red cabbage that I have had before at other restaurants. I enjoyed it. The boiled potato was, what should I say - a boiled potato and nice. Again, everything was very good. My wife took what I expected that she would take. She is not an adventurous eater but she was very happy with her selections.

While we were eating we were joined at the table by another couple who asked if we minded them sitting at the second section of our table and we told them, of course not. They were very pleasant and we had a small exchange of dinner conversation with them without feeling intruded upon in talking between ourselves - as they seemed comfortable with as well.

When we went up for a second plate, there was still a line at the buffet tables - and still people coming in from outside with tickets. The line for the buffet tables was not as long. We were greeted again by the same pleasant gentleman who directed us to an open space in one of the serving lines. All of the four serving lines had exactly the same food to take. This time in addition to taking a few of the things that I had enjoyed the most, I took some of the poached salmon and some of the cucumber salad. We also took a disk of the crisp bread to share. They also had a flat bread that looked like a square wheat flour tortilla. We thought that we might go back to share a piece of that later. There was a serving bowl of something that looked like pink cream in the middle of the salads. I had no idea what this was, so I took a spoonful to find out.

I do not generally like cooked salmon of any type. I enjoy raw salmon sushi, salmon belly lox, smoked salmon, and gravlax. Cook salmon and I don't like the taste or consistency of it. The serving platter of the poached salmon was a long wooden board with a silver salmon fish head at one end and a silver fish tail at the other end. The poached salmon was laid out in between this decorative head and tail. It was covered in a sauce of sliced cucumbers. I could see from one platter that was nearly done and being taken away as it was replaced with another whole salmon that there were a large number of bones in this fish. As I scooped the spoon into the fish to take some, I could see long, thin fish bones come away from the salmon meat as I took the spoon up and out. The spoonful of fish that I put on my plate was very creamy in appearance, as if mixed with a sauce, but it was not - it was poached. Back at the table, I took a forkful of this salmon expecting to not like it as I don't like other cooked salmon. I was pleasantly surprised at the creamy texture and very mild cooked salmon taste. I finally found a cooked salmon that I would eat again.

The cucumber salad was exactly like cucumber salad that I have had in the Pennsylvania Dutch area. It is thinly sliced cucumber in a sweet sugared and dill vinegar. The vinegar taste is very mild and the taste is mostly but not overly sweet. Nice. Were I not concerned that I was already putting my blood sugar into a steady increase with the various things that I was trying - and intended still to try, I would have had more.

The crisp bread we later found out was a rye crisp bread. It is a baked disk of a cracker like bread with holes in it and this one was dark brown in color. It was nice. It was not something that I would go out of my way to have - though we found out later looking in the food mart that one disk is only 15 grams of carbohydrate including additional fiber which in the world of crackers and bread products is not bad.

The pink cream at first taste seemed to be a very creamy egg salad. The taste was definitely egg, but the pink color seemed to come from ligonberries and there was also very tiny potatoes in the mixture. It was an egg/potato salad and very good.

By 7:35 pm there was no longer a line coming into the restaurant. By 8:00 there was no longer any line to get up to the serving tables. You could now walk right up. This is just one hour into the two hour meal seating. Also just after 8:00 pm a few people came in to the restaurant and were taken to the cashier where they paid and came in to eat - without advanced tickets. By this time people had left and there were empty tables so it was no problem finding a table and employees were all around the dining room showing people where to sit if they were unsure throughout the night.

A third plate was looming in the back of my head and we both went back up for one. This time I took a small amount and just things that I especially enjoyed. I wanted more of those little sausages. The serving trays of sausages on both tables were empty. Platters and food were continually being brought out - everything was replaced as soon as it appeared like it soon would be empty - the best way to do it. I waited expecting more sausages to come out. Apparently they had been popular and there were no more. There was plenty of the rest and it all kept coming out. I did also notice that the beet/cabbage (?) hot salad was also gone, but in its place was a vegetable mixture that had not been out before that included zucchini, carrots, and broccoli. My wife was delighted at this and took some. Later those vegetables also took the place of where the sausages had been. There was also no more of the flat bread that we waited to try. SO - those that came in past 8 did not get the sausages, flat bread, or the beet/cabbage dish - they did get mixed vegetables. There was plenty of ham, meatballs, salmon, cold salmon, herring, rolls, crisp bread, and the rest. It occurred to me also that had we been at the first seating at 4:00 pm then nothing would have run out. But even those few things that did run out, did not detract from the overall dinner. As I say, there was plenty of what everyone came for.

I walked past the desserts several times during the meal. If I could eat them, I would have had one of each - as the lady at the table next to us had. There were large cream puffs full of whipped cream with the top of the cake that was sliced off to fill it with cream sitting on top of the cream, apple cake, and two chocolate cakes - one with caramel and such on top, and the other looked like a brownie but wasn't. There was also a tray of assorted cookies - all very thin cookies that looked real good. Again, I cannot eat dessert but I have heard a lot of about their apple cake and I had to try that. I took a small piece. All of the cakes are cut into small squares - except the cream puffs which were as big as a large fist. All were there to take and if you wanted a large piece, all you had to do was take several pieces. It is nicer to be able to take an assortment.

I took the apple cake. The cakes are the same as those sold in the store's Swedish Food Mart in the freezer case. The piece of apple cake that I took must have been just put out, because while the outside was soft and moist, the center of the apple section was still very cold from being frozen. It was not frozen hard, but very cold. The cake was nice. The cake part was a bread-like cake and the apple was seasoned with cinnamon. It was not too sweet and the apple was not tart. I finished the whole little piece. I may regret that later when I test my blood sugar, but that is OK for me on an occasional basis and I do not regularly eat desserts, though I would love to.

At this meal, just like anytime eating at an IKEA restaurant, you clear your own dirty dishes. There are racks put in sectioned off areas around the dining room to place dirty dishes. After each plate, we put the dirty dishes there. Not a problem. It is easy to do and the area to put the plates in is clean to walk into and place the plates down (on trays laid out for the purpose on carts).

The employees throughout the night were exceptional. Everyone was pleasant and very welcoming. Three times during the meal someone came to our table - and all of the tables, to ask if everything was fine, if there was anything that we needed, and once we were given coupons to use in the Swedish Food Mart in the store - in case you wanted to take home some of the things that you ate or serve them yourself at your own Easter dinner. It appeared that some of the employees around the dining room were management. There was a certain air about them and they were very attentive to everything going on. The line staff were just as attentive. As I said, no platter went empty before it was replaced.

The whole meal and experience was delightful. The people that sat at our table with us said they have been to these dinners before and came from a distance to come here. They told us that they come to these dinners four times a year. We did not know there were any others than Christmas and Easter. We were told by one of the gentlemen who came around to the tables that there will be another special smorgasbord dinner served in June. I do not know what occaision that is for, but I certainly will keep an eye out for it and tell you all about it in advance so that you will be sure to be able to purchase tickets. There is no mention yet that I can see on their website.

For the nay-sayers - Is this "authentic" Swedish cooking? I have no idea. I am not Swedish and I have never had a Swedish meal cooked for me by someone who is. I can tell you this - no international restaurant - no matter what class, what cuisine, or what price range - is going to match the food prepared at home by a native cook of that country. I am 100% Italian American. One set of my grandparents' parents were born in Italy and one set of my grandparents themselves were born in Italy. I grew up with the best of authentic Italian home cooking and no Italian restaurant that I have ever been to is as good as the food prepared by either grandmother or my mother. I have been to what are considered great Italian restaurants - some world famous. Some have come close. Many have been excellent in taste. I have enjoyed most and would recommend many, because I know that they will appeal to the American taste. So, I say this. If it tastes good, I eat it - and not worry about how authentic it is. There is no room for food snobs here.

I have now shared with you the experience of eating at one of IKEA's special smorgasbord dinners. You now know what to expect. I can only assume that it is the same set up at all of the IKEA restaurants. Just about everything else is consistent at their stores so I would see no reason why this would not be the same all over. I enjoyed it and I had a good time. It was fun. That is a lot to get for $10. If there is another in June, I will be going back. I know there will definitely be one in December and again next Easter. I recommend this meal for a different experience in buffet cuisine.


Anonymous said...

We went for the late seating at the Brooklyn store. Thought the selection and food better than at the Christmas meal. They had run out completely of several items at Christmas but no such problem this time. Our menu varied slightly with yours. Second seating was a complete sell-out. Guard told us early seating was sparsely attended. The next Smorgasbord is their Midsummer event on 6/15/12.

ekb said...

There will be another on June 15-Swedish Midsummer Smorgasbord