Friday, December 27, 2013

A Waste of $90

Anyone who reads this site regularly knows that I would not pay for a buffet that costs $90 for two, but we were invited to one and we went with relatives. I have written of this annual Christmas Eve excursion before but this year the price is higher and the meal was just not good. The restaurant is not a buffet normally. It is a menu restaurant with a catering hall on the side that has been around for many, many years. As a boy I came here with my family to the menu restaurant. My parents when I got older but still at home would come here for special occasions and Christmas Eve. They liked it for Christmas Eve because it had a very festive holiday atmosphere, though even then they would be disappointed in the food. Were I not invited - and understand this is more a command appearance than anything else (though I do enjoy seeing the children) - I would not go there. The restaurant is the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, New York and the buffet is served on several holidays during the year. The buffet is served in the catering building (seen a year ago on an episode of the television show, "Royal Pains", (which films locally) as where the brother's wedding took place.

The restaurant and the buffet was crowded. It surprised me given the cost of the dinner, but around here income (to many - not me) seems irrelevant when it comes to spending money. By accident, we stumbled across the price of this dinner as we were waiting for the people who invited us to arrive, as they were arriving late. Their arriving late had caused a problem for the restaurant. This was the last seating. They called me and asked me to inform the restaurant that they would be there a half hour late. I was told by the hostess that the restaurant closed at 9 and those who were coming late should be told that. OK. About ten minutes later, she came over to me and said she was about to give away all reservations who had not arrived - I looked around and saw no one waiting and empty tables inside now not being filled - and that in a few minutes there would be no reservation for our group unless we sat now - pretty much in their attitude therefore guaranteeing them payment for at least two. We had preferred not to go in without our hosts but if we did not go in then without them, there would be no table for anyone when they arrived. We reluctantly went in and were seated. We did not eat anything or touch anything on the table until they arrived - as it was my intention to walk out the door if the party had not arrived by 8:00 pm and not pay for anything. Anyway, the price - while we  were standing in the lobby next to one of the reception desks and there printed on a paper, not visible to the public, it said $45.00 per adult. Later I learned that children are charged at $19.99 per child, seemingly regardless of age as a three year old at our table who consumed a few spoonfuls of fruit salad and not much else was charged $19.99 as was a 12 year old. On top of this tax and gratuity are added by the restaurant to the bill along with any beverages - soft or hard - that are ordered with the exception of hot coffee or hot tea. So here are four adults and two children with a dinner bill coming to over $220 plus soft drinks charged at bar prices, tax, and tip (tip amount added by the restaurant) - no alcohol ordered. As I overheard, the total was near $300!

For that kind of money I wish the meal had been good. Everything was tasteless. Items were mislabeled. The choices to select from were extremely limited - and most entrees were sweetened in some form or other.

There was an appetizer section of prepared salads - Italian cold cuts, julianned and mixed with Italian dressing, small mozzarella balls with grape tomatoes, pasta salad with seafood - scattered bits of shrimp and tiny scallops, one or two other pasta salads, and shrimp out of the shell on ice with cocktail sauce. Sounds good, but tasteless - every dish out in this section was tasteless. There was a salad of mixed greens with one dressing served on the side of the salad serving bowl.

There was a "kids'" section consisting of cut up hot dogs wrapped in dough, chicken fingers, french fries, and macaroni and cheese. I tried the mac and cheese - tasteless.

The entrees went around two sides, repeated. Salmon in teriyaki sauce, Veal scallopini (which on one side was the label on a second server of the next dish which was) chicken in barbecue sauce with pineapple, beef and broccoli, penne with vodka sauce, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and clam sauce, and steamed vegetables that were swimming deep in butter sauce. There were three carvings - turkey breast, ham, and a roast beef that was presented as if it were something better. It all sounds nice, right? But everything that I took was tasteless - even that which was overly sweet. I guess it had a generic sweet taste. The turkey gravy was thin and seemed to be from a mix. And with each unsatisfying bite, I was thinking what a waste of money. When I went up and asked for roast beef the chef who was carving after putting the meat on my plate, grunted and pointed at me with his carving knife and then pointed the knife at the beef gravy sitting in serving dish next to him and grunted again. How pleasant!

By the time our group was ready for dessert several servers rushed to the table with coffee pots and one had a clear glass water pitcher full of boiling water for tea. As there was only one teabag in the sugar dish, had anymore than one wanted tea, as things were going they would have been out of luck. While we were dining I had heard a number of desserts being offered by servers to tables around us. One dessert to a person - no dessert buffet. When we asked what they had for dessert the selection was down to chocolate mouse cake which the 12 year old told me was overly sweet, coconut cake, and cheesecake.

I have had more enjoyable meals at Old Country Buffet. I have had more enjoyable meals at buffets that are just fair at less than one-fourth the price. For the money spent for an hour and a half dinner for six, the two of us could eat at buffets for about three months two or so times a week. It was such an incredible waste of money. I am not often effected after a buffet meal but as I write this I have been burping some odd tastes for more than an hour and a half now. This is not going to be a very good night.

Well, if you are ever considering this restaurant - menu or holiday buffet - skip it! It is not good, has no value, and is not worth it. And with that, I wish you a Merry Christmas to all - and for those who did not eat here, to all a good night. as we who did dine here are going to be awake most of the night.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It is Christmas time and that means its time for IKEA's Julbord Smorgasbord!

I have written about these dinners for the past few years. The IKEA stores celebrate the holidays and the summer with a special Swedish buffet dinner in there store restaurants for one night each. There is a Christmas dinner, an Easter dinner, a Midsummer dinner, and a special Crayfish feast dinner in August. I just returned from the  Christmas smorgasbord and it was great as always.

I have often said that a restaurant that does not normally do buffets rarely can pull off a buffet dinner well. The IKEA restaurants (or at least the IKEA restaurant in Hicksville, NY) does an excellent job at converting what is an everyday cafeteria to a buffet, rearranging the dining floor to accommodate two large buffet tables with a dessert and cheese bar to the side and an additional smaller buffet table for breads and meat, plus being able to seat hundreds in two seatings. This IKEA has also added a band and small dance floor and has made the dinner into a real holiday party with song and dance - and for Christmas a presentation of St. Lucia (from who the holiday custom of candles worn in a circle on the head) and a visit from Santa Claus! This non-buffet restaurant does this smorgasbord dinner as if they do it every day. They don't, but you would think that they do - and they do it far more professionally and better than other non-buffet restaurants do when try to have a buffet - and IKEA does it better than some every day buffet restaurants.

The first seating is held from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and the second seating is held from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Tickets for these dinners must be purchased in advance and they sell out early - months before the day of the dinner. The price is incredible - the regular price is $12.99 all included per adult and $4.99 per child, BUT if you have an IKEA Family Card which is free at kiosks all over the store, the price becomes $9.99 per adult and $2.49 per adult. And the food is good!

We had a great time. The food choices from one season's smorgasbord to the next vary only slightly. Many of the same items will be found at each of the dinners. Some items are substituted with foods for that specific season or holiday and all are traditional Swedish foods. At this Christmas dinner there were a few things that we had not seen for some of the dinners but had had at others, and there were a few new ones added. Here is what was on tonight's buffet -

Three different types of herring - herring in wine, pickled herring, and herring in a cream mustard sauce
Hard boiled eggs with shrimp
Gravad Lax with mustard sauce
Smoked salmon with horseradish sauce
Whole poached salmon
Cucumber salad
Assorted Swedish cheeses
Liverwurst pate
Red Beet salad
Red Cabbage
Mashed potatoes
GRATANG Jansson - shredded potatoes with cheese and herring
Meatballs with lingonberries
Swedish ham served warm with mustard
Prinskov sausages (sauteed) - these ran out early
Crisp bread
Swedish spiced bread (an "S" shaped roll with a cake like taste - tradional to Christmas in Sweden
Swedish Rice pudding
Elderflower cupcakes
Pound cake with lingonberries
Beverages including a bottle of a hops/barley, non-alcoholic Christmas drink on every day per two people and cups of non-alcoholic apple and pear wine and apple and lingonberry wine being poured plus sodas, lingonberry juice, coffee, and tea.

I started with an all fish plate with my second plate consisting of meats and side dishes. Perhaps I should have reversed the order of that as the Prinskov sausages, one of my favorites at these meals, were gone when I went up for the meats. (This has happened only once before.) These sausages must be very popular and perhaps they appeal to the kids because they are close in appearance to small hot dogs with a slightly different flavor. Smoked salmon is expensive. It is rarely found on a buffet and it is even rarer to find it on an inexpensive buffet. Here are unending platters of it in two different types. If you like herring here it is. The poached salmon is especially good - and I usually do not eat cooked salmon (much preferring smoked or raw salmon), but I like this one! The ham was very good. The meatballs are the usual IKEA Swedish meatballs - good. The side dishes are a chance to try some things that unless you are Swedish or Scandinavian you don't often get a chance to have other than in an Scandinavian restaurant. I don't eat liver but have had liverwurst in the long past. I tried the liverwurst pate here and it did not have what I consider the usual overwhelming liver taste that liver dishes have, but was mild and very pleasant. The food was good. The meal was satisfying. I ate too much. My picky eater wife who does not eat fish found enough in the meats, etc. to have a good meal. We both went for desserts and those were good as well.

This meal attracts all types of people from a various cultures. Those who stand out are the Swedes and there are many at these dinners. You can tell because they talk about the foods as being as good as home in Sweden and they with the singing and entertainment, they know the Swedish songs and join in. One thing I judge a culture-based restaurant (and buffet) by are the people of that culture who are dining there, commenting positively on how the food is, and who talk about frequently coming back. I find this at these IKEA buffet dinners with people who are from a family of people from Sweden or who have lived in Sweden. 

These dinners must not be judged by the usual IKEA cafeteria restaurant. With the exception of the meatballs and mashed potatoes, the foods served here are very different from those served in Ikea's day to day restaurant.

The best part aside from the food is that this is a party, especially now with the music added which started at this location at the buffet last summer. The same band was here on this night and they put on a good show. They got the whole room involved in singing, got people up to dance, got a line dance going around the room, and kept the party going right up to 9 o'clock. And the party atmosphere spreads from table to table with people enjoying themselves. There are couples, families. large groups, and singles. There are kids and when Santa came out, were brought up on the dance floor to meet Santa.

The employees who run this dinner and work at it are wonderful too! Everyone has a smile and warmly greets every guest. The people who come from the kitchen to bring out more platters if food do so quickly and seem happy to be there. The people who come and take plates off your table are friendly as well. The manager walks around the dining room stopping more than once at every table to be sure that everyone is happy and getting everything that they like.

During the dinner the tickets for the next dinner go on sale - the next dinner is for Easter on April  11, 2014. We bought our tickets for that dinner - as did many who were there. This is one reason why these tickets sell out so quickly. We bought our tickets for this Christmas dinner last August.

Every IKEA in the US - and perhaps the world - has these dinners and they are held on the same evening/night at each. As I just said, the next dinner is in April for Easter and the tickets can be purchased for that dinner right now at the cash register at the IKEA restaurant. If you would like to have a good smorgasbord for very little money that is also a party, try this. It has only been a few hours since we were there and I am already looking forward to the next IKEA smorgasbord in April!

I will make one last comment with this article. In the past when I have written about IKEA some readers have tried to leave negative comments because of some personal grudge with the store. I will not post those comments. If you have something valid to say that is negative about actually going to one of these dinners as long as it is written fairly, factually, and intelligently, I will post it. Often, though, the comments about IKEA from our readers are very positive. All comments are always moderated on this site.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Golden Corral Adds More Fountains

I have written before about Golden Corral's Chocolate Wonderfall - a chocolate fountain at the center of their dessert bar. Apparently, despite the, perhaps unrealized, drawbacks of melted chocolate fountains, they must feel that this is very popular - they have just added two more similar fountains to their restaurants.

Golden Corral buffets now have THREE "wonderfalls" - fountains - the original chocolate, and now, white chocolate, and sweet caramel. These are grouped together at the dessert bar next to the dip ins that go into the "falls" - fresh strawberries, fresh apple slices, marshmallows, and rice crispy treats squares.

The idea sounds great. It is the application that becomes the problem. A chocolate fountain (as I have written before) needs supervision to make sure that only food which has not been touched goes into the hot liquid which will be consumed back at the dining table. Not been touched means a wood skewer is used to pick up the dip item and that skewer is used to dip the food into the liquid. This usually does not happen. Lots of fingers go into the dip in containers and pick up the food. Lots of fingers that have been in mouths and who knows where else. Then there are the children - and adults - that just put their fingers in for a lick - and then back in for another. And, and for those allergic to anything beware that something you should not eat - even something on the buffet that is not part of the dip ins - most likely has gone into the chocolate, caramel, or white chocolate and has left remnants of itself behind (not including that which falls in and never is recovered until the fountain is cleaned that night. Well, I have said this all before and won't repeat the rant again. I am not sure why this is not a Board of Health violation in just about every state.

I am not sure where they are fitting these two other fountains into some of the Golden Corrals I have been to. There was barely room for the chocolate fountain, much less adding two more into the same space - and fitting in the first took dessert items away that had been in that space. It will be interesting to see on my next trip to Golden Corral what desserts have been removed to accommodate three "wonderfalls".

I like Golden Corral. I consider them currently the top buffet chain. They just don't always make the right decisions on what they bring in as a "feature". This includes the make it to order seafood stir fry which caused long lines that blocked other areas of the buffet - and at some small Golden Corrals, made parts of the buffet inaccessible, and it includes the "chocolate wonderful" which is now three "wonderfalls".