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Tuesday
May212019

North Sea Cuisine

 

New Nordic Cuisine was introduced as a concept several years ago by Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer with the restaurant noma. Seasonal and locally foraged and sourced ingredients; traditional regional cooking methods (smoking, curing, open-wood fires) and innovative and creative combinations define the style. We’ve tried Baltic versions in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania; Scandinavian in Finland, and Norway; and on a recent trip, had some great dining experiences in Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden.

SeaCopenhagen

The restaurant in our hotel, 71Nyhavn in Copenhagen is called sea by Kiin Kiin—part of a restaurant group whose flagship Kiin Kiin has a Michelin star. It is Thaï influenced Nordic cuisine and very creative. The cocktail list features gin, and runs to 30 or so varieties. We try a Copenhagen London Dry gin and tonic, and a house Osaka martini with sake in lieu of vermouth, garnished with a bit of cured plum to kick off our visit.

We start the meal with watercress & cucumber salad topped with tiger prawns, flavored with an incredible Thai marinade, poured over the decorative bright green candyfloss that crowns the dish. The prawns are impeccably fresh, and the flavors complex. Pan fried foie gras with plum wine & ginger, topped with a ginger foam is unctuous. For the next course one of us chooses the coconut soup flavored with lemongrass & galangal which envelopes tiny pieces of grilled quail and one ground-quail wonton, all atop jasmine rice. This dish is intensely flavorful and quite spicy. The richest dish, with deep flavors, is marinated and slow cooked pork belly on a soy reduction with 5-spice cream and a big crackling of pork skin. Shards of the crisp chicharon serves as chips on which to fork bits of the pig and flavorings.  By-the-glass wines we choose to accompany the spicy cuisine are Grüner Veltliner Kremstal and a crisp rosé from Languedoc.

Service is friendly, attentive and efficient.....a seriously good restaurant. I walk over to look at the open kitchen, and peer around at the six-seat chef’s counter. Chef Ben Takashi tells me it’s a new experiment, really part of the mother restaurant, and is a 31-course omakase menu that moves around three parts of the restaurant and bar over the course of three hours. I see some delicious looking yakitori skewers, ahi nigiri, and uni bites.....but we just can’t do that kind of eating any longer. But at 1,075 kroner—around $150—it seems like a pretty good deal....of course the wine pairing will almost double the price.

 

 

 

IlukaCopenhagen

 

 One enters the cool gray facade of Iluka, a sought-after new seafood restaurant led by Australian-born and noma veteran Chef Beau Clugston, to minimalist interiors that look into an enclosed garden. The menu is equally minimalist: There is one daily cocktail, and several oft-changing wines by the glass, but no list. A five-course tasting menu is available, and fairly short lists of starters and main courses. We order a glass of Portuguese white made from Arinto grapes and orange wine from Provence, which we pair with a starter of Ortiz anchovies in oil with lemon, and Hart Bakery levain bread and cultured butter. Iluka’s motto is “whatever the sea brings us” and that includes oysters, mollusks, shellfish and various fin fish.

Oysters tonight are Gillardeau fin de claire from Brittany, with lemon and white pepper, and Kilpatrick, an old English recipe, broiled with tomato, Worcestershire and pancetta. The Gillardeau are so prized that the family company laser-engraves its logo on each shell to prevent counterfeits. We try both, and they are both delicious and a great contrast. Iluka is becoming known for it’s fresh Faroese sea urchins, flown in each morning from Torshavn at 7 am, and opened just before serving to expose the uncured uni. We order two, served with grilled garlic-rubbed bread, and this oursin is like nothing we’ve had—incredibly fresh, with the taste of the North Sea singing out.

We consider the whole lemon sole, pan-seared for two, topped with chard and herbs, but one of us is feeling extravagant, so the baerii caviar is ordered, which comes with the usual garnish, and in lieu of crepes, an eggy-doughed aebelskiver, but cooked and served in a small cast iron skillet, rather than as small balls. Delicious, but not in the same realm of uniqueness as the sea urchin. We’re unlucky to miss the queen scallop crudo I’d seen on the website, and raw langoustine tails also from the Faroe Islands, glazed with a aged elderflower vinegar, but our server just says “the sea didn’t bring any today”. Next time.


 

BarrCopenhagen

 

Restaurant Barr, across the Inderhavnsbroen footbridge is a hot new place that occupies the space in an old stone warehouse that was formerly the home of noma, Chef Rene Redzepi’s restaurant, which at one point held the title of world’s best. noma completely renovated the open kitchen, visible just  inside the entrance, a couple of years before moving to their custom-built digs in Christianshavn. It’s a stainless steel, glass-enclosed marvel, full of futuristic equipment that looks like it belongs on a spaceship.

The restaurant interior features old, rough wooden beams, gray walls, plank floors and simple Danish furniture—homey and comfortable. Barr’s stated aim is ”to uncover the cuisine that ties together the traditional eating and drinking habits found along the North and Baltic Seas — offering the most delicious version of Northern Sea Cuisine that we can”. Yet while this emphasizes traditional, it seems by the menu items that they, like their predecessor in the space, are being very creative with ingredient combination, more in the style of the New Nordic cuisine.

As much beer hall as anything, Barr offers over 30 brews on tap. The wine list runs exclusively to organic, biodynamic and natural wines, which leads unfortunately to some fairly strange things. A Grüner, Riesling, Mâcon, and Bourgogne we try are all quite funky. Odd, as we know from experience in Sonoma that biodynamic wine doesn’t have to have off flavors, and can be fantastic.

A plate of sour rye and dense olive oil bread comes shortly after our drinks, with butter and pork fat with cracklings, and perusing the menu over those, we decide to order two first courses, and share a main.

Brown crab, which comes nestled in a shell over yoghurt and green strawberries, is fantastic. Shreds of the accompanying crisp waffles are the perfect things on which to serve the crab. We’ve had brown crab in Ireland that was very strong, but this is delicate and incredibly fresh.

Hot smoked mackerel, the newest dish on the menu, brings a 5 inch crisp-skinned fish on a tomato cream with chopped marinated artichokes and rose hips—creative and interesting, but pretty intense.

We split the Schnitzel “Wiener Art”— free range pork pounded thin and crisply fried, over which the cook who prepared it spoons brown butter with anchovies, capers and thyme, at table. The schnitzel is accompanied by horseradish cream, fresh grated horseradish, and new peas and asparagus. The server taking our order had commented, “you’re not too hungry?” But by the size of the whole fried plaice and the chicken strudel we’d seen go by, we’re not surprised that one serving is more than enough for us. But since we are sharing, we add a Hasselback potato—a recipe I’ve always been intrigued by: a half-peeled potato is sliced vertically very thinly most of the way through, and drizzled with, in this case, garlic and thyme butter, baked until crisp, and served with sour cream.

The food is delicious—especially the crab. The mackerel perhaps a bit strong for our taste, and the Schnitzel perfectly cooked. The service in the other hand, while friendly, is slow and inattentive. We wait far too long for an opening cocktail, and have trouble getting a server to order additional glasses of wine. Perhaps it’s just an off night for service in our section.


BastardMalmö, Sweden

A block from our hotel in Malmö, the Duxiana, lies the restaurant called simply Bastard — according to the White Guide Nordic, the best in town. Lively place....big zinc bar in the center… lots of beer and cocktail action, and we’re lucky to find two bar seats, as, when we stopped by in the afternoon to ask about a reservation, the said they were fully booked. There is a short but interesting craft cocktail list, from which we choose La Prima Vera—tequila, mezcal, orange, rosemary and lemon—tart and tasty. The Smokin’ Isle—peaty Islay scotch, falernum, Amaro, limes and bitter...is quite spicy and smoky.

The menu is eclectic—a steel pig hangs from the restaurant sign, so that says something. There are olives, sardines (served right in the tin), charcuterie and oysters to start. Bastard features out-of-the-ordinary things like grilled beef heart, pig-head cheese and rabbit rillettes. And the vegetable dishes shine bright. We begin with a half Bastardplanka, which is laden with prosciutto, finnochiona, chorizo and capocolla, just sliced on the Ferrari-red hand-crank Italian slicer. There is also rillettes, pig head-cheese and pate, all made in house. The overflowing board is accompanied by a basket of excellent crusty levain bread which is baked daily in the outdoor pizza oven.

Baby gem salad is spicy with Umbraico Rosso, an Italian cheese which is immersed for a couple of months in red wine, garlic, walnuts, and white anchovies. Deep fried rabbit with sauce gribiche, and Rödkulla beef tartare with pistachios and green olives are both appealing, but we go simple with a wood oven pizza....delicious, and said to be the best in town. For our taste it could use a couple more minutes crisping in the oven.

I inquire about an interesting looking row of sparsely-labeled flasks of clear spirit, and learn that they are the Empirical Spirits, made by two alumni of the famous Copenhagen restaurant noma.....very special stuff I’m told. We try the newest one (more on that later) and vow to return the next day for a tasting of all.

The next evening, intent on that spirit tasting, we decide also to see if we can get lucky for dinner again as well...and we do! Two bar seats, within a couple of minutes....the staff seems surprised—and happy—to see us again. We tell Sean the bartender that the reason is primarily to do the Empirical Spirits comparison—and oh by the way, to have some delicious food. So he lines them up, 2cl each in small chimney tasting glasses (these spirits are sold by the cl, in whatever amount you wish—they are not inexpensive)—he doesn’t deem there to be necessarily a proper order.

Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen started the distillery in a former shipyard in Copenhagen. These are the guys who were in charge of fermentation and foraging at noma, and when the restaurant was temporarily shut down to relocate, they struck out on their own. They created a low-temperature, high-pressure vacuum still, which allows the alcohol to evaporate at cooler temperatures, enabling the retention of subtle flavors and aromas that would otherwise be heated away in a normal higher-heat distillation.

Left-most in the lineup is called Fallen Pony—completely clear...nose of...cherry, maybe?  A bit of spice? Cherry or some sort of fruit carries through into the taste, as well as a bit of something herbal. Incredibly smooth, round, no heat at all. Sure ‘an I’d buy this stuff! Apparently each new release sells out almost instantaneously. The official description is:

An aromatic double-fermented quince-tea spirit made from a base of quince, barley koji, Belgian Saison yeast, and pilsner malt wash. The spent fruit material is fermented into a quince tea kombucha, vacuum distilled and then used to rectify the final product to preserve the sweet botanical notes, highlight hints of marzipan, and provide balanced acidity.  

Next up is the one we sampled last night, which gave us such laughs. It’s their newest offering titled “Fuck Trump and his Stupid Fucking Wall.” It’s based on Habanero pepper, and you can smell it as soon as the bottle is uncorked. Not hot in the mouth at all, but a bit acid, which becomes clear from the distiller’s description:

Fuck Trump and His Stupid Fucking Wall is a refreshingly smooth, warm, vegetal tasting habanero spirit made from a base of naked and pearled barley, Belgian saison yeast, and koji. The clear product is modified with a habanero vinegar that gives it a low 27% alcohol that imparts an intensely fruity habanero profile without any of the heat, preserving the floral and fruity notes typically hidden in habaneros.

Third in line is Helena, again a crystal clear spirit. No fruit or botanicals in the nose, but just a warm, smooth, round, unctuous, long lasting sensation in the mouth. The closest thing I could compare it to is an ultra-premium grappa. The distillery says:

Helena is our most unadorned product: a double fermented clear spirit. Made from barley koji, pilsner malt, and Belgian Saison yeast, this product blends Eastern and Western fermentation methods to create a smooth base spirit with subtle nutty aromas and a delicate sweet barley character. Koji provides a signature flavor profile that yields a sweet, umami, and floral note.

The only colored spirit, a slight chestnut hue, is called Charlene McGee. Definitely a smoky nose, but not in the sense of peat-smoked scotch...it’s an herbal smoke, with a bit of spice, and I know there’s juniper in it. It’s delightful, and would be enjoyed by anyone that likes a peaty scotch. The house line is:

Charlene McGee is a juniper spirit inspired by the Scandinavian culinary tradition of smoking. Juniper berries are smoked with their own wood, lightly crushed, macerated, and gently distilled at low temperatures to preserve the fruity, vibrant integrity of the botanical and the smoky flavor profile. The final blend is matured in Oloroso casks to impart a faintly sweet hint of woodiness. The spirit has base notes of fresh juniper, fruity blackberries, and resinous, fragrant juniper sap that leaves a smooth, smoky finish.

What an experience. Our dread-locked Jamaican waiter friend from the night before is off duty tonight but having a glass at the end of the bar, and gives us thumbs up when he sees what we are up to. When we’ve sipped each once, he announces his favorites—Fallen Pony and Helena, for sure!

Food? Oh yeah we need to get some dinner. Another half bastardplanka, with that great crusty bread, the asparagus with duck egg and cured Mangalica ham, and a couple of glasses of Provence rose. What a great way to end a quick exploration of Malmö.

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