Treats and Tragedies on the Road: Salt Lake City Day 1, Part 1

I've been taking a lot of two-to-three day vacations the last few months.  In June, the Roommate and I decided to take her kids to Lagoon because, frankly, the last few times we've hit the Western Idaho Fair, it's been too hot and far too smoky.  Plus, I like amusement parks and feel less self-conscious about being at one if I have children with me.  Don't judge me.  So, off we went.  Another early morning Starbucks run, another ugly drive (but at least a different ugly drive than the one I usually take), and since we were in town way too early to check in to our hotel we kept on driving right past Bountiful, through Salt Lake City, and into Draper, where I visited an IKEA for the first time.

I know IKEA is kind of a love it or hate it proposition for most people.  Well, I love it.  I'd avoided it for years on trips, finding something else to do when my mother and sister went, but there was no getting out of it this time.  The Roommate has a lot of Swedish in her and considered it something of a pilgrimage, and I was interested in their mini-grocery store anyway.  I fell in love with the utilitarian furniture, the wacky accent items, the way the whole thing is laid out like a maze that forces you to see almost everything on offer before you're allowed to escape.  I know, I think there's probably something wrong with me too.  But before all of that, we had lunch at the upstairs cafe.  The eatery has it's own kind of utilitarian, cafeteria kind of vibe.

Dig the Automat style dessert dispenser!

Of course the item we ended up with the most of was the Swedish Meatballs, because what else?

Yup, those are Swedish Meatballs alright.

The food does have kind of a cafeteria feel as well, but that doesn't bother me as much as you might think.  I mean when I'm in the Seattle or Portland areas, I almost always hit up Uwajimaya's deli for a bite.  It's grocery store deli food, same as getting chicken strips and potato wedges at Fred Meyer, except at Uwajimaya it's roasted duck and deep-fried dim sum.  What can I say, it tickles me.  I'm not so much of a food snob that I can't find merit in that kind of thing.  Do I sound defensive?  Moviing on, the meatballs were the hit at the table, of course.  I mean IKEA's meatballs were yanked in Europe when a batch was found to contain horse meat, and eventually people started saying they didn't care as long as they got the meatballs back.  It's all been straightened out now and this isn't Europe anyway, I'm just saying that it's kind of a beloved item, and certainly became one at our table.  So yeah, you have meatballs, creamy gravy, mashed potatoes because what goes better with meat and gravy, and lingonberries.  I was a little wary of that last item in the mix, but it works.

As does the lingonberry soda, available at the soda fountain.

We did end up with a few other items as well...

...lemon chicken rice soup...

...crepes with even more lingonberries (natch)...

...decadent chocolate cake...

... and some kind of tart the roommate wanted.  Yeah, I forgot because it's taken me so long to write it up.  Shut up.  Where was I?  The portions are decent, as in the meatball plate comes with fifteen of the suckers for $5.99, and if that's not enough you can add even more meatballs (or add some to any other meal) for another dollar.  It's hard to go wrong with comfort food, and for the most part we loved everything.  Especially the meatballs.  Pretty sure there's something addictive in there.  Anyway, reasonable prices and daily specials too.  Definitely worth checking out, and very nice if you keep your expectations in check.  I mean most everything sold in the restaurant is available boxed and frozen downstairs in the grocery section.  We're not talking about fresh, haute cuisine here.

After lunch we walked through the store, where I ended up buying a superior replacement for my ratty old backpack for fifteen bucks (the zipper pulls say "IKEA Family"), and then we went and checked in to the hotel.  The girls decided to hit the pool and showers and enjoy not being in the car for a while.  As for me, I knew my exploration time was short and I had an errand to run (foreshadowing, that), so I headed back the way I had come and into downtown SLC proper.  After I'd completed my errand (more on that in my next blog), I went wandering.  I found a very nice Japanese market that does some really promising lunches that I sadly didn't try, a gourmet market with an awesome-looking deli and an amazing cheese selection, even a full-on Asian strip mall that's going to have a huge market when it finally opens (if it hasn't by now).  Currently there are gift shops and a few eateries, including a Chinese BBQ joint that I will have to investigate further on a future visit.  At the moment, I was alone and just looking for something to tide me over until dinner, and I found it just up the street.

Insert George Takei joke here.

I love banh mi sandwiches, but the extent of my experience has been at a handful of restaurants in the Boise area.  You learn a lot about a dish by trying different takes on it, so when doing research for places to eat in the SLC area, Oh Mai jumped out at me.

Gotta love clean, bright, open kitches...

I was going back and forth between two menu items, the Ca Moi (sardine, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, black pepper onion vinaigrette, and Maggi sauce), or the less expensive Trung Op-La (sunny side-up eggs, carmelized onions, cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrot & daikon radish, jalapeño, and Maggi sauce again).  I was feeling adventurous and wanted to try the sardine, but I asked the woman at the counter for her recommendation and she pushed me toward the egg without a second's hesitation.  I figure when an employee tries to talk you into the cheapest thing on the menu, you should probably listen.

And I did.

Those of you who have been to Baguette Deli will be on somewhat familiar ground here.  The bread is a little more substantial and toasted a bit darker, but it's still recognizably baguette.  The cucumber, jalapeño, pickled veg and cilantro are all accounted for.  The changes come in the addition of carmelized onion, and Maggi rather than mayo.  The final package?  Everything was impeccable, I'd say some things were done better than I've had them locally (the bread and the balance of ingredients), but the Maggi sauce and that egg yolk suffusing everything  It's a damn good thing they haven't opened one of these here.  I would eat this sandwich a few times a week if it were available locally, and with it costing less than three bucks, I could definitely afford to.  I would eat them for breakfast.  Lunch.  Maybe even a late night snack (can you imagine having one of these after the bars close?).  My only complaint was the picture of Guy Fieri hanging behind the cash register.  Unlike most of the places that walking culinary disaster has popped up at, Oh Mai hasn't taken the opportunity to put up a wall mural or a banner, or a giant picture on their website, so I didn't know he had made it there first.  Not saying we're in competition or anything, just saying that looking at his face doesn't help my appetite.

After running around town a bit more, it was back to the hotel to pick up the girls, who were feeling a little peckish by themselves at this point.  Brace yourselves, dinner is coming...

Yes, I made a lame Game of Thrones joke.  I just finished watching season four!

Food:  Cafeteria/store deli food, but exotic enough to pretend it's higher-end than it really is.
Value:  Surprisingly good.  They have a 99 cent breakfast plate, even!
Service:  It's all counter service, but it's efficient and friendly.
Atmosphere:  Cafeteria as well.
Final Grade:  A- (remember, I grade things for what they are!)

Oh Mai
Food:  Fresh, filling and delicious.
Value:  Typical to excellent, depending on the item.
Service:  Friendly and helpful.
Atmosphere:  It's a place I could be very comfortable sitting down to eat at, but I was in a hurry.
Final Grade:  A+

IKEA Restaurant on UrbanspoonOh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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