Not exactly the miraculous life-changing experience these places keep promising, but I maintain high expectations upon which I am unwilling to compromise. Sorry Chicken Ball People.
Meal Assembly Place #2: Deeelish
I got talked into trying Deeelish after talking incredibly loud smack at work about Super Suppers within earshot of a Deeelish devotee. Such a fan, in fact, that she walked over to my desk with her 8-month pregnant tummy to tell me all about it and how much I would love it and how we should all go there and assemble dinners together after work one night because it will be so fun and good.
Oh, I have heard this story before.
But, I was convinced of the potential deliciousness by this discerning foodie (pregnant women know food) and since I see her as a fellow picky consumer, I was willing to trust. If only once more. She was also convincing enough to rope in my brainchild friend (who I love) from the first round to join us in further debunking the Meal Assembly Myth.
Myth being: This activity will make your life good and you won't have to eat popcorn, gin, Taco Bell, nothing and delivery pizza for dinner during the week.
Again, my personal interpretation.
Let me begin by complimenting Deeelish on their decor. Not that Super Suppers wasn't nice inside, but it felt a little like I was making my meals at the grocery store rather than in a fancy kitchen or something. And because I am shallow, appearances mean a lot to me. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos at either place because I was busy not falling behind on my assembly responsibilities (MUST NOT BE THE LAST ONE) so I can't show you what I mean, but the lighting was more like what you'd find in a nice restaurant at dinner time, they had a bar (can it be real? Are those cases of wine I see?) up front and just a more sophisticated atmosphere.
That was Bonus #1: Pretty. And the appearance of booze.
Plus, the dude who gave us the "This is how you do this" schpeal talked at a more relaxed and normal pace (read: was not hyperventilating and starting to sweat) while wearing his yellow (cuter) apron and making repeated gestures in the direction of the snacks we were about to enjoy.
The pre-throwdown "snacks" weren't much more plentiful or fabulous than before, but they did have a nice beverage set up at the bar where you could serve up fresh coffee, tea, water, soda, etc. I looked my eyes to the bone for a way to put wine from the aforementioned cases into any drinking container, but alas, it was stored away under the counter in such a manner that I'd have to cross that invisible "Employees Only" line that exists behind a bar and I wasn't ready to be *that guy* just yet.
I did learn from my previous experience and wear comfy shoes this time (Real comfy, not "Cute" comfy) so when Mr. Intro stepped aside, I was ready to dash to the first station with my list.
Oh, the list, this was Strike #1, or so I thought: No clipboard. Just a half sheet of paper with your meals on them.
This actually turned out to be more efficient than the clipboard method since I could slide the sheet into a perfectly sized pocket on my (not yellow - boo) apron instead of having to find a place for the clipboard while I assembled, but it did remove my one weapon in the case of encountering an Advancing Stranger while moving toward my next station.
Either way - I made it work. Phew.
Weird Bonus #2: They had good soap.
I have no idea if this is something that's consistent chain-wide, but at this location (Menlo Park, CA) they had this fabulous foaming and moisturizing soap that left your hands really soft rather than tight and scratchy like normal soap. This might be a dumb thing to call out, but I wash my hands a lot (hello, meat touching) while I chef, so not having to deal with alligator skin is a nice change.
And now I will reveal The Big Disappointment: Disorganization.
Remember the glory of Super Suppers' "dash" measurement spoon? And how the meal ingredients were all lined up in order of how the recipe instructed you add them to your containers? And how there was never a moment of hesitation as to what IN THE WORLD turmeric looked like in dried form and how to discern it from the one hundred other spices lining your station shelf because everything had a nice clear glorious label right on the container that didn't leak?
Yeah, no more.
A full buffet of confusion awaited me at my first assembly station where I attempted to futilely assemble Asian Chicken Salad from unrecognizable ingredients (so sorry I've never seen a stalk of lemon grass before, gah!) in unlabeled containers lined up randomly and utterly devoid of proper measurement tools.
That was actually the worst part - trying to fulfill a recipe which had the audacity to call for measurements like 1/8 of a teaspoon, 1/3 of a cup and a *gasp* dash, while only having at my disposal a 1 teaspoon and 1 cup measure.
And, ew, am I expected to REUSE the same teaspoon with fish sauce as I did with sesame oil? They clearly didn't know who they were dealing with. I was accustomed to individual EXACT measures that were immediately gathered and replaced with CLEAN measures so as not to disturb my zen-like assembly experience.
Oh, and excuse me, but where are my luxurious plastic gloves?
WHAT? There aren't any? HOLD ME BACK! Oh, you have latex ones? Ok, phew. Sorry. Yes, I'll put the cleaver down. My apologies.
Anyway, back to the horror that is a roomful of snake-eyed assembly monsters suddenly aware of the lack of proper measurement tools.
I think we all managed to make due, but it did take a bit of the shine off the rosiness of the experience. Specifically, I'd forgotten how much cuter the yellow aprons were and that they'd secretly stowed wine behind the bar. I was too blind with rage after having to fake 1/8 tsp of cumin from my unwashed teaspoon. Gag.
If this is starting to sound a bit prissy, I was still at the point of finding value in the fact that I was not messing up my own kitchen to make food of questionable deliciousness when suddenly faced with a pile of sticky measures, gooey workspace and no helpers with dishtowels in sight. So, the bright side of my own clean kitchen was starting to dim with every inaccurate measure I made.
So as not to rip Deeelish a total new one, since I do consider them the better of the two places so far, I will now unveil BIG BONUS #3: The Vacuum Sealing.
At Super Suppers I was vaguely impressed by the organized food stowage system: foil containers, matching lids, Ziploc bags. Let me say now officially: Lame.
Not only were all the meals vacuum sucked down to a fraction of their original size - I didn't have to do any of it. Just slammed the meals together, put them on my tray at the vacuum station (see, I was a celebrity here, too. Fancy.) and they vacuum them into wee packages and put them into my own basket in the fridge.
It is all very posh and easy. Plus, I managed to fit all 12 (6 full meals halved) meals onto one shelf in my freezer (I have a side-by-side fridge with the annoying narrow freezer) and barely had to throw out any of our prized frostbitten leftovers to do so. Squweet.
So I felt good about the final execution of my meals, seeing as they all fit easily into my Super Suppers insulated bag (I was the big traitor prancing around with my branded bag) and I wasn't worried about tomato sauce getting everywhere from my overfull lasagna.
But this is where I must address the waste issue. I do not like the fact that I have to compromise either convenience or sustainability to have a normal meal that doesn't try to kill me in the process. And these assembly places are rife with unsustainable practices.
You end up with either a bunch of foil containers/lids or a collection of useless plastic vacuum bags to throw away/attempt to recycle. Not great. The only benefit of Super Suppers is that a lot of their meals are contained within the reusable sphere of a Ziploc bag, but when I have to throw the inedible food inside the bag away, the fact I'm saving the bag itself ceases to be relevant.
And now that I've gone totally away from the topic of Food That Is Good, let me retrace my steps and summarize by saying that I've had 3 of the 6 meals I "built" at Deeelish, and while I haven't spit out any mouthfuls, I also haven't gone back for seconds. But Bubba has. And that's saying something. We have three more to go, so I can keep you posted on my food-spitting if that helps anyone make the decision.
I'll also provide a little happy ending flair by telling you that wine was made available during the post-meal building moments. However, my pinching migraine from Super Suppers made a reappearance so I was loathe to enjoy any of it. I did choke down a chocolate chip cookie, but they were warm and gooey and I knew I'd regret it if I didn't have one. And I would have because they were good.
If I am to keep to the same system as before (and I will because that is what anal retentive people do), here is my summation in Star Format:
Out of 5 stars
Quality of Ingredients: 4 (I know what canned tomatoes look like, guys.) Yes, here, too.
Environmental Sensitivity: 1 (Reminder: This is important.)
Price: 3 (Double the price of Super Suppers)
This extra-wicked long post will be followed by a third review in the event that I venture out to another Make-it and Take-it (another cutesy franchise term) place.
If anyone's out there hatching spin-off plans, I could be coaxed with the following:
- Environmental friendliness
- 100% locally grown ingredients
- Free-flowing booze
- Cute aprons