IKEA Restaurant & Cafe

Scoping out loads of back-to-the-future furniture, you work up a serious appetite. The cafeteria at IKEA in Renton is smack in the middle of the massive showroom; it reminds me of the department-store restaurants I loved as a child in Germany. There was a certain chipperness about their hot-foods buffet, prewrapped cold dishes, and tantalizing dessert cooler that made college and camp cafeterias seem morbid by comparison. Swedish meatballs ($5.99 for the combo with potatoes) are the thing to order here; luckily, my friend did the honors (I don't eat red meat—or gray, for that matter). According to him, they were tasty in their savory brown gravy, not too full of filler, and nicely contrasted by the lingonberry jam that accompanied them, per tradition. My shrimp-and-egg sandwich ($3.49) was pitifully drowning in mayonnaise, but once I scraped the white goo off, I found the tiny bay shrimp fresh and the egg perfectly hardboiled. What IKEA bills as a "pesto pasta salad" ($3.99) was barely touched by basil, if at all. Instead, it had a genuinely strange lime-dill sauce whose flavors were hard to disentangle; topped with a half-dozen juicy, salty crawfish tails, it was one of the oddest salads I've ever eaten. Dessert-wise, IKEA offers a number of good-looking pastries, several of which involve marzipan. Just in case you're dying to bring a small tub of pickled herring or a jar of lingonberry jam back to the skeptics at home (you ate where?), there's a cool little food store that'll sell you what you need. 600 S.W. 43rd St., 425-656-2980. RENTON

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