Copenhagen: Kiin Kiin

30 Oct

The tail end of my food-oriented birthday trip through Europe involved a 4-day solo jaunt to Copenhagen (for the first time), after finding surprisingly inexpensive flights from Paris. True to my typical solo traveler form, I stayed in an inexpensive hostel, got around by bicycle, spent most of my days outdoors wandering the city and surrounding areas… and also ate several extraordinary (in taste and experience as well as price) meals.

Kiin Kiin was where I ate the night I got in to town (I’d read a lot about it– the only two-Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in the world, and more importantly– person after person writing about the food).

And I was there for about 4 hours for a three-stage, probably 25 ‘dish’ meal.

First, a rapid series of tiny street-food-inspired snacks sitting on a couch in the lounge downstairs:

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These included a salad with apple, tamarind, chile, and other flavors, monkfish roe with salty coconut, a frozen tom kha soup (coconut / lemongrass / galangal), and many more.

Another dish was a piece of sausage under a dome… and when they lifted the dome, a cloud of white smoke rolled out that smelled so much like an outdoor street food market with open grills that I visualized such a market for a moment. This could have felt like a gimmick, but didn’t– it was a successful momentary evocation of place.

As I finished, I was ushered up into the main dining room (as one of the first guests of the evening).

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I noticed my table (and only my table) had a stack of books on it– a mix of photography, travel books, essays about cultural differences in Thailand, and so on. As the dining room filled up I realized that this was because I was the only person dining solo.

Wow. I’ve never seen a restaurant do something this thoughtful, and I in fact did read a few essays from the book on Thailand culture between courses or to pace myself on the food. The chef(?) even dropped by to chat with me during the meal and mentioned it was his book– he’d bought it when working in Thailand for a few years.

And then dinner began. A few quick cell phone photos:

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It was good. So good. Intense, clean flavors– the essences of ginger, galangal, tamarind, coconut, fish sauce, and other ingredients without ever being heavy or one-dimensionally spicy. At a few moments during the meal I thought “this may be one of the best meals of my life– I’m so glad I came here / I wish my food-loving friends could be here with me”.

There was a tom yum with almost clear dark broth and galangal. A salad mixed tableside with fish sauce, chili, lime, lobster, foamed tom yum, and cucumbers. Red curry… in ice cream form. Concentrated basil and other thai herbs. Beef with oyster sauce and young ginger. Every single dish I just listed blew my mind.

Time after time I felt something like “this is the most pure intense expression of (basil, or whatever I was eating)”, which I assume was a mix of careful picking of ingredients and a range of techniques to highlight and concentrate flavors.

Whew.

It was about this point in the meal that I heard someone coming around and quietly asking each table ‘will you need a cab later?’ … and in a bit of a reminder that this outpost of opulence was in the heart of copenhagen, table after table, whether young friends, middle-aged business partners in suit and tie, or stylish grey-haired retired couples replied “Oh, no, we biked”.

 

As dinner wound to an end(?) about three hours later, I was brought back downstairs to the  informal couches where they brought out a series of 7 tiny desserts and some really good tea. I didn’t take many photos, but here’s one, of cotton candy along with a pitcher of passion fruit syrup they bring you to pour over it and watch it dissolve:

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There was also a fascinating dessert of what I think were Thai and dutch flowers (including tulips and orchids?) — slightly crispy, slightly bitter, a few leaves, and some spices.

And what they said was condensed milk boiled 6 hrs in the can turning it into a creamy caramel, with toasted coconut.

By the end of the evening I was sweating a bit, not from spice but just from the extended experience of eating. And all I’d had for lunch was a slice of pizza.

I feel like I’m writing and writing and need a broader range of adjectives to describe it– but even looking back months later this was one of the very best meals of my life in terms of the food, up there with Alinea and Saison (of course, dining alone is a whole different experience from dining with others).

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Some day, I will go back.

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