Valentine’s day at IKEA

IKEA may not sound like the most romantic place to celebrate Valentine’s Day but we get plenty of opportunities to be romantic every other day of the year, so we decided that a $9.99 Swedish buffet dinner was a pretty good deal and worth a try.

We bought our tickets a few weeks ago because some of these IKEA events get sold out well ahead of time. As it turns out IKEA may not be as popular for a Valentine’s date night because there were still some tickets left for people to purchase at the entrance. However, the long line to get in and the length of the buffet line proved that this was definitely a pretty popular option. And the broad appeal wasn’t just with the over-60 set (used to going for those early bird specials). There were tables with young couples, parents with children, girls only groups of all ages, and every other demographic group you could imagine.

So what do you get for $9.99? Well, if you’re willing to wait in line for a few minutes for a few rounds over the course of two hours, quite a bit. However, I’m not that patient so if I can’t fit it on enough plates to carry in one pass that’s it. As it turns out, that was enough.

There were plenty of both hot and cold Swedish specialities. The advertised menu included roast beef, Swedish meatballs, glazed pork loin, Prinskorv (like a Vienna sausage), assorted herrings, green salad, shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs with shrimp, an assortment of cheeses, red beet salad and cucumber salad. But there was more including several kinds of potatoes (I picked the dill potatoes and they were delicious), and crab spread canapés and assorted breads. Desserts included a fairly dense chocolate truffle cake, Princess cake with strawberries, strawberries and whipped cream and an almond torte – all delicious.

The atmospherics are pretty bares bones – a red napkin at each seating area. You pick up your utensils with everything else on the buffet line. But, this is IKEA. Minimalism is an expectation. They did have someone busing tables so that was a slight upgrade from the typical dining experience at IKEA.

But added bonus was upon leaving we were given a large bar of chocolate and three different frequent purchaser cards that each had been stamped or punched to reflect purchases made. In one case that amounted to $50 of prepunched value. Not too bad a bonus for a person who loves to shop at IKEA.

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Victor’s Cafe: a New York City Classic

I had to take quick trip to New York City this week and had the opportunity to have dinner at Victor’s Cafe in the Theatre District of the city – not too far from Times Square. I got really lucky because this is Restaurant Week here in the Big Apple. During Restaurant Week participating restaurants offer specially priced prix fixe menus for lunch or dinner or both. Some restaurants have very restrictive policies with respect to how they will participate while others offer real choice and value. Victor’s Cafe falls within the latter category. In general, Restaurant Week is a weekday only affair.

Lunch and dinner menus for Restaurant Week are posted on the web and there was enough choice for each course to make the $35 per person investment for dinner worth taking the trip to the restaurant. If you are an Open Table member it’s worth 100 points to make a reservation and on some days this can be necessary. And, if you update your location on foursquare, to let your friends know where you are dining, there is a special promotion offered by American Express that takes $5.00 off your American Express bill if you spend at least $24 – not tough to do in this place.

I’ve been told by some people that some of the restaurants that offer Restaurant Week menus treat those that order off them somewhat shabbily – like interlopers who don’t deserve to eat at the restaurant. That was not the case at Victor’s Cafe. I was greeted warmly as a single diner and was seated promptly. There were other single diners there as well so this place felt comfortable immediately.

It was a very cold evening outside but the warmth of the decor and the traditional Cuban music made me comfortable both on the inside and the outside. The place was well heated as well which made me more willing to give up my coat to the coat check lady.

The wait staff pointed out the Restaurant Week menu in addition to the standard choices and I was served quickly and warmly, always being asked if I enjoyed my meal and making sure I was happy. And, boy was I – the dinner did not disappoint. The bread roll was warm and fresh and served right after I ordered.

I ordered the Shrimp Ceviche, the Ropa Vieja and Flan. The shrimp ceviche was served in a martini glass with a nice amount of shrimp. The flavor was spicy and piquant with fresh ingredients. Loved the cilantro, pieces of tomato and onions. Delicious!

The ropa vieja, which translated means ” old clothes” is a traditional dish of shredded meat in a spicy tomato-based sauce. This version was served in a plantain basket resting on mashed sweet plantains and white rice and black beans on the side. All were delicious, including the plantain basket.

The flan was served with a raspberry drizzle and this was a small but dense flan. Not too sweet yet very creamy and although I’ve never had flan with raspberry before, the flavor combination worked.

Even when finished I was not rushed off but when I requested the check it was quickly presented. This was definitely worth the trip and, although this place won’t qualify in the “cheap eats” department it definitely fit the bill for ambience, quality and service.