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Icelandic Cocktail Party

21 Feb

We threw a cocktail party / trip slideshow inspired by the food and drink of our trip to Iceland, squeezing about a dozen people into my tiny apartment.

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It started as an excuse to share the Brennivin (somewhat harsh icelandic schnapps with caraway), Lava Smoked Imperial Stout, and a cocktail centered around Birkir, the excellent birch-branch-infused liquer we’d carried back in our luggage (Birkir + lemon juice + simple syrup + soda water).

And then the planning spiraled a bit out of control, as tends to happen with dinner parties– we decided we needed to make individual-serving-size appetizers based on various combinations we’d seen in Iceland (lamb + rutabaga, arctic char + fennel + apple + dill, salmon + horseradish + cheese). Fortunately we were able to find char in one of the bay area fish markets.

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We tried a few ways of cooking rutabaga and ended up boiling and then deep-frying thick chips of it to layer carrot puree, lamb, fried onions, and salt on:

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The salmon (house-cured gravlax — raw salmon packed in sugar and salt and dill and let sit) with cheese, pickles, onions, dill on rye. This was all inspired by a dish at the “Unnamed Pizza Place” in Reykjavik operated by the Dill team that in retrospect I think was a substitution– the menu said it was salmon and fennel, but the first night we went there it came with cottage cheese and pickles and horseradish instead, which ended up being a great combination.

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Parnsip puree, arctic char (pan fried in butter), salmon roe, fennel (pickled and fresh), dill:

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A dessert hannah created visually inspired by the snow-covered lava boulders– Icelandic Skyr + dry chocolate cookies (almost sables) + a licorice caramel.

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More of the spread, before people showed up:

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All surrounded by souvenirs (lava, wool, volcanic ash) and a slide show of some memorable trip photos:

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Gas Station Cooking, Iceland

25 Jan

In Iceland, in a cabin on a snowy horse farm half an hour outside a tiny 350-person town on the day after Christmas. The two restaurants in the area were closed. As was the only grocery store we could find.

A gas station beckoned– we took it as a challenge. This collection of tins/boxes:

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Became spaghetti with peas, sardines, tuna, fried onions, and the salmon rub spice pack Alaska Airlines had inexplicably given me as I disembarked and which I’d been carrying ever since. Not bad, actually. With a candle lit with an emergency firestarter and flint (we didn’t have matches) surrounded by bits of lava from the beach.

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Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

23 Jan

Iceland’s most famous food:

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Mostly-lamb hot dog in a snappy casing, with the pentalogy of condiments: raw onion, deep-fried-and-dried onion, ketchup, pylsusinnep (sweet mustard), and remoulade (mayo, capers, herbs).

Legit. I regret I only had two in my time there.

Floreria Atlantico, literally underground cocktails in BsAs

25 Nov

A week and a half ago, I was here.

Walk into a flower shop:

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Head through the back door and down metal stairs:

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Have a drink:

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Just one page of the loosely themed menu:

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One of the best cocktail bars I’ve been to in my life, by far. Every single cocktail was remarkably good, and distinctive– glass jars of eucalyptus, cocktails infused with smoke from the grill, beer and amaro, a cocktail in pieces you combine as you drink… but none of it felt ‘conceptual-cute’ or forced. Really well executed cocktails that happened to have some structure to the presentation. I’m in awe.

Copenhagen: Geranium

31 Oct

When I ate at Kiin Kiin earlier in my visit to Copenhagen, the chef/owner(? — sorry, industry friends, for not knowing) stopped by to chat at one point, and asked where else I was eating on my trip. I mentioned Geranium as my other major meal and he was very enthusiastic and excited I was eating there, putting it up with Noma as an elevated nordic food experience.

And there I was a few days later, eating things like this (only the center piece is edible– a chocolate egg filled with toffee and rolled in pine dust, nestled in a bed of fragrant evergreen tips):

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I very slightly toned down the commitment and expense of a solo Geranium meal by going for lunch, and opting for the ‘light lunch’ (only 19 courses). In a few photos:

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Instead of a wine pairing, I opted for the non-alcoholic fruit juice pairing– which included I believe 7 different juices, all made in house and paired with specific courses. I remember a tart red currant juice, the white grape juice infused with tarragon, and especially a fermented carrot juice.

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The oyster and a ‘cracker’ of fish skin:

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One of their long-standing dishes and also one of my favorites– a bowl of stones, among which are a few “dill stones” you pick out and eat– actually balls of an amazing preserved halibut wrapped magically in a thin layer of dark green dill gel with a consistency of kelp.

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And many more dishes, including a sweet carrot shell around air and picked buckthorn, a cheese in the very early phases of form (almost a thick cream), a single charcoal-cooked baby potato with sheeps milk butter, egg yolk, a granita (frozen ice) of pickled cucumber, a sort of dumpling with a transparent (I believe dried apple) wrapper and filled with an assortment of tiny edible flowers, and many more. A few photos:

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The series of desserts (including the aforementioned chocolate toffee egg rolled in pine dust, a sheep yogurt, a frozen herbal tea ice, and a fascinating white chocolate which I don’t even normally like) was also fantastic– interesting flavors without much overt sweetness.

I even got to sit at a little counter in the kitchen for one of the courses and watch as chefs bustles back and forth a few feet away.

The whole meal felt like everything I’d expected/hoped from distilled/refined Nordic food– true to the place, forests, flowers, trees, the feel of “The North”, spare design, seafood, and minimalism combined with elegance.

At the risk of repeating myself after Kiin Kiin, this was another one of the very best meals of my life. This was a week for the record books and memory… which is one of the main reasons I’m collecting some photos and notes here, to look back at some day.

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.

Paris, lunch at Septime

29 Oct

Paris earlier this year w/ H for just two days was a surprisingly low-key trip, involving some good coffee, a few meals and cocktails, taking a Velib for a spin, and a lot of walking around the city and looking and taking photos while skipping most of the major cultural sights.

The beef salad at casual cafe Le Rubis was good, the steak frites was just as expected, the bakeries and macaron shops were plentiful, the coffee at Telescope was some of the best I’ve ever had in Europe (unusually light roast, slightly lemony), the coffee at 10 Belles was decent and in a fun neighborhood to wander around on foot (Belleville), and dinner at Verjus was trying to be “modern” but deeply disappointing.

And a long leisurely lunch at Septime was a highlight:

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It involved putting ourselves in the hands of the chef for several spare, ingredient-focused courses– a few tiny carrots fresh from a garden, dark chicken (a local french chicken, poulet) fried in chicken fat– rich and a little wild/gamey and with a drizzle of pureed andouille sausage, seared tuna with turnips and pickled rhubarb, real strawberries (as someone who grew up in a strawberry town I have high standards), and a few cheeses served warm.

Oh, and a local craft beer:

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Another fine way to spend a few hours, in an airy, well-lighted farmhouse-like space, and not too formal (a group of friends in their 40s to 50s were having lunch over the course of the afternoon, arriving and leaving at various points through the meal,  with one well-dressed gentleman even rolling a folding bike in to tuck behind the table).