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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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Food in Iceland

24 Jan

Even beyond The Hot Dog (already mostly lamb), most of what we ate during an epic December trip across Iceland was lamb or arctic char (14 lamb dishes and 13 with char in 12 days)… The trip was more about the icebergs, the lava, and the hot pools than the food, but a few memorable bits:

Salted cod and tomato.

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But, even better, salted cod pizza from the pizza place with no name:

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Probably my favorite restaurant, Grillmarkaðurinn. Steak (the only beef all trip?) and lava salt and a bit of whale meat (itself very reminiscent of steak).

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Cooking Christmas dinner in a little guesthouse near Höfn. Had to unscrew the plastic handles from a stock pot to make something we could put in the oven, and the knives were so dull they could barely slice an onion.

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Homemade braised lamb stew and Brussels with fried mutton lunchmeat as a stand-in for bacon.

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Yet more lamb.

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Rye bread that was baked by burying it underground near a geothermal pool.

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Smoked puffin. Dark and a bit fishy.

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Wall of yogurt.

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Some amusing menu translations. We did not eat the “our least sustainable fish and a must try when it is available”.

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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.

La Huella, beachside grill, Uruguay

24 Nov

A flight, complex car rental logistics, and a long drive on highways and pothole-ridden back roads to Jose Ignacio down the coast in Uruguay led to the legendary La Huella just before they closed.

Delicious seafood fresh from the grill on a soft-sand beach. Remarkable thin-sliced octopus in oil, grilled squid, potatoes crushed into the grill, buttery-rich mussels, and more. Quite a day.

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Copenhagen Salty Licorice

1 Nov

In Copenhagen earlier this summer as part of the birthday week European tour (see the past week of posts), I took the “Black Gold” licorice tour. It’s not well advertised, and I was the only person to show up, so I felt a bit bad for the tour guide who did a whole two-hour walking tour just for me.

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It included a lot of education about the history of licorice as a medicine, a “medicine” (tonic/elixir), a sweet, and a savory ingredient. I got to chew on a real licorice twig, eat a number of sweet and salty licorice candies (including many of the traditional licorices made with ammonium chloride salt– a noticeable ammonia/fishy taste which I liked), licorice ice cream, licorice syrups, meringues, intensely salty licorice menthol hard candies popular with sailors, and even a beer brewed with licorice.

Honestly, even I, licorice fiend, burned out a bit and felt sick of it by the end (but it was a well executed tour).

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).

London Food: Moro, Ottolenghi, River Cafe

28 Oct

Earlier this year I joined H in london for a few days as part of a week and a half birthday trip to Europe. In addition to seeing a few friends who live there and visiting some interesting cycling, printing/stationary, and sherlock-holmes-themed stores, we enjoyed a lot of good food and drink. I posted a few photos of a St John birthday dinner and exploring local beer separately, but here are the other major highlights of the food:

Getting brunch at Ottolenghi including a delicious shakshuka (eggs, tomatoes, chili, cumin):

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It was a bit of a trek to River Cafe, which I’d personally rate “very good”, with an excellent burrata, but the pasta with chard gets an A++: panzotti (a thin, filled pasta) with chard, nutmeg, a little garlic, and some astoundingly good olive oil. I also loved the amaro (Amaro Montenegro) we had with dessert– slightly bitter, slightly reminiscent of orange peel / dried tarragon / tea.

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We also had a great dinner at Moro, where the menu leaned towards North African inspired small plates. The unpresumingly-named “mixed vegetable mezze platter” was amazing– from lentils to the eggplant to the spicy cabbage– every single component had a beautiful breadth of flavor and seasoning. A lamb plate there was possibly the most perfectly-cooked I’ve ever had. And for dessert, “orange blossom labneh (strained yogurt) with pistachios and pomegranate seeds and grilled apricots” was more interesting than any dessert I’ve had in a long time. And Moro isn’t formal or unreasonably expensive– I’d definitely go again.

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Honorable mention: a 5AM salt beef bagel with pickles and mustard near Shoreditch. I wouldn’t say it was actually good , but it was an experience…

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