A Fjord ing Scandinavia

Bergen.jpg

While most people are avoiding cold destinations in the dead of winter, Patrick and I decided Scandinavia in February was a great idea. For one, we usually do stay away from what other people do. We’re not exactly trendsetters, more-so bargain hunters. With Pat potentially coming to the US in March, we needed a destination to meet in the "middle" – somewhere between NYC and London.

After finding a bargain deal on a flight, Copenhagen became the destination. While known to be more expensive than most European spots, we planned to use the advantage of a cheap flight along with eating in and staying cozy in Airbnbs throughout the trip. Still, it was not cheap.

Scandinavian's prized herring

Scandinavian's prized herring

This should not take away from how gorgeous both Denmark and Norway are, however. We were there in the off-season for tourists, making it feel a bit more secluded and definitely less hectic. It added to our lazy holiday vibe, which we enjoyed. Most days were spent waking up late, grabbing unexpectedly great coffee at a local café, wandering around, stumbling upon a good bar or lunch spot, and even having an occasional nap. True vacations are restful after all, right?

On certain days we did plan outings. For instance on our last full day in Copenhagen, we took the train less than an hour away to a city recommended by our Airbnb host. The city was Helsingor, a quaint little port town with a castle, cobblestone streets, and again, delicious coffee. From Helsingor we went about 20 minutes by train to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, named after the original property owner who had wed three separate women all named Louise. The museum is situated in an old house, right on the edge of the sea. It was styled in the typical Danish Modern architecture, and housed some interesting exhibits, including a current one on the ceramics of Picasso. I would definitely recommend the day trip if you have the time while venturing through Denmark.

"When Louisiana opened its doors in 1958, ...it was Knud W. Jensen's vision to create a museum with soul, where the public could encounter artwork – not as something pretentious, but rather something that spoke directly to the viewer...From the start, Louisiana's exhibition practices followed the tradition at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which in the first half of the twentieth century had become famous – and notorious – for expanding the range of modern art to include architecture, design, photography, film and other genres". 

The food in Copenhagen was unbelievably good. It is so rare to find bad food that it will live on in my heart as one of the most foodie cities I’ve ever visited.

vsco-photo-1 (2).jpg
vsco-photo-5 (1).jpg

Our best meal had to have been at Host, a restaurant I’d found out about simply by doing extensive research weeks before. Meaning, yes, I curated our days around when we could eat at certain places. Started by a former Noma chef, the venue is made up of dimly lit, minimalist, white-washed walls, retro Edison bulb lamps, potted plants and twiggy vases, rustic wooden tables, as many Danish restaurants seemed to be decorated.

Høst is the Danish word for harvest. As the name reveals, great Nordic ingredients and seasonal greens sets the agenda at Høst—served with a sense of both the rustic and the elegant, and always with big flavors.

Høst has won several International design awards, among them Worlds’ Best Designed Restaurant at Restaurant & Bar Design Awards and World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant in American travel magazine Travel + Leisure.

Copenhagen, Denmark: Top 3 Places to Eat

1.      Kroyers

2.      Warpigs

3.      Host

vsco-photo-4 (1).jpg

 

Coffee

Coffee Collective (in Torvehallerne Market)

Casual

Torvehallerne Market – fish section with salads, bakery, coffee

I Love Fisk- Fried fish cake

Hija de Sanchez- super casual, small tacos by former Noma chef

Ma’ad Ethiopian – the only “cheap eats” we really found (delicious, too!)

Kroyers – tartines and AWESOME coffee

Christianshavns Faergecafe – herring and smorrebord

La Tigella- Italian, cozy, romantic

vsco-photo-3 (2).jpg

 

Fancy

Host- Noma-style dishes, local ingredients, impeccable plating, unbelievably good

Ralae – recommended, didn’t visit

Noma

Attractions

Day Trip to Helsingor

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Bars

Warpigs – American BBQ and craft brews

Soernes Ol – craft beers, cave atmosphere

Barking Dog – quirky cocktail bar

Olsnedkeren – craft beers and games

La Fontaine – jazz club (Sunday jam sesh)

Not Your Mothers – low key wine bar owned by American (tastings, cheap, buzzy)

 

vsco-photo-3 (3).jpg
vsco-photo-2 (1).jpg

More Restaurants

vsco-photo-3.jpg
vsco-photo-3 (1).jpg

Note: None of these restaurants are featured in NYC Restaurant Week deals. BUT they are still worth going to.

Gato

Off the corner of Lafeyette and E Houston lies the “passion project” of famed Food Network chef Bobby Flay.

Though I had reservations about eating at a potentially touristy, embellished/pretentious venue, Gato did not disappoint. It’s dishes ran more on the overpriced side than reasonable, but at the same time some felt like you were simply paying extra for the ambiance.

Which while we’re on the subject - Ambiance Tax is a real thing. Think about how much more rooftop drinks always are – you pay for the view, of course, but half the time you’re also paying for the scene. The literal “see or be seen” scene. Scene.

To start off we had 3 dishes from the Bar section of the menu. These are small, bite-sized portions, which is annoying when most diners are 2 people, sharing. For $21 the dishes aren’t expensive, per se, but not cheap to be paying for one bite of roasted eggplant each.

I will be talking about this octopus for a good while.

I will be talking about this octopus for a good while.

Next up was the famous, heavily-talked about on the food scene – scrambled eggs dish. You think “Wow Bobby really must think we are fools to pay $17 for eggs” but they REALLY are THAT good. I mean, you're out to eat in New York City, you will be swindled no matter what - might as well be swindled for something that is delicious.

Served with a side of grilled focaccia topped with tomato jam, the ramekin is filled perfectly creamy, mildly spicy eggs. The secret (I believe) is the Calabrian chili oil used, and possibly cooking the eggs slowly over low heat for a creamier consistency.

For our mains, we split the highly raved-about octopus plate, and the kale and egg paella. Throughout the meal, you can tell there is homage paid to simple, basic ingredients and he does it well.

The octopus was by far my favorite – grilled to perfection for a crispy outside and beautifully tender inside, the consistency was knockout. Then came the sauces. There was a lonesome shishito pepper placed atop the solo tentacle, but more so for aesthetics than taste. The real flavor came from the slightly sweet vinegar Dijon sauce and crunchy bacon bits. I was quizzing the waiter over the sauce because I simply couldn’t get over the divine pairing of something so light and refreshing with such a rustic flavor as the octopus itself.

vsco-photo-1.jpg

The paella, however, needed a sauce. I would say it erred on the underwhelming side for flavor except when I asked for a hot sauce, I received something magical. It was peppery, vinegary, definitely spicy but thicker than your average Tabasco – and it complimented the saltier, blander rice with its briny taste. The artichokes in the dish, nevertheless, were fried to a crispy perfection. They have a reasonable wine list to boot, and it seems the place is always packed.

I would recommend for casual dates or when the parents are in town.

Estela 

Once on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Estela has been on my dining bucket list since I moved to NYC.

It was much less pretentious than I envisioned (seeing as most of the Top 50 are fine-dining, white tablecloth places like Le Bernardin and Gramercy Tavern) and gave off a chic-without-trying vibe.

We started off with lamb ribs with charmoula and honey, fried arroz negro with squid and romesco (famed dish here) and beef tartare (to be honest, nothing to write home about). The ribs were fall of the bone tender, and spiced fabulously. The rice was surprisingly crunchy, which in Dominican tongue is called “concon”, or the crunchy bottom of the rice pan. There was a good bit of depth to the flavors there as well.

A successful meal I would recommend for Classy First Dates (think dim lighting and tapas-style sharable plates), or a bougie girls’ dinner (groups of 4 or less) because of the intimate setting.

Lamb ribs and Crispy Arroz Negro

Lamb ribs and Crispy Arroz Negro

NYC Restaurant Month, As Created By Big Al

pasta2.jpg

I’m on a food crawl.

I’m feeding off the buzzy energy of this city in a literal way.

I’m setting my time limit for September of 2018. Or when my money runs out, whichever comes first.

I'm not actually going off the NYC Restaurant deals, because why limit yourself?

I will eat, drink and treat myself through the chaotic metropolis of New York City.

I'm considering it an investment. It's good for the soul, after all. #TreatYoSelf

Starting off with the best two so far:

Tetsu's open kitchen 

Tetsu's open kitchen 

Tetsu

Though I was a bit wary it may be getting overhyped, Tetsu delivered. The new brainchild of famed chef Masa Takayama, the more-inexpensive-but-still-quite-expensive restaurant should not be compared to Masa. As its website indicates, “We're not trying to be Masa -- we are Tetsu”.

Tetsu, Japanese for iron, has an industrial interior within its 1860s landmarked building in the uber chic metropolitan neighborhood of TriBeCa. It features an open kitchen with an 18-seat counter, along with host stands and a giant flower pot made from reclaimed pipes and recycled oil drums, again paying homage to the historic cast iron structure of the building. Never one to miss a detail, the design was another element in Chef Masa’s plan for the restaurant.

In Japanese culture, robata is the center place of the home. Tetsu wants your eyes and ears focused on the robata in his new home. He breaks his menu down into verbs – raw, sizzling, grilled. He includes an extensive sake list, in which our waiter described a selection to be crisp and clear, like the freshly snow-peaked mountains the grain originated in. I could hear the silent peaks, I could taste the icy frost. I was sold. What was ordered:

Tamarind Baby Back Ribs

Squid Ink Pasta (made from actual squid) with Bottarga (cured fish roe)

Negi Toro Tamaki

Kinme Chili Ponzu: an Asian version of ceviche made with frisse, slivered green peppers, serviced in a light but fragrant citrus ponzu sauce.

Uni: the pride and joy of the night. I would’ve adopted it if I could. It was actually so exceptional, we order a second. The sea urchin is roasted in white miso paste and served inside its shell, topped with freshly shaved truffles. You’d think it was gilding the lily, but the lily was really just dusted with truffles and kissed by angels so gild away my friends.

Grilled olive oil cake and mascarpone cream : the cake was fluffy with a toasted outside crust, the cream was subtly sweet and delightfully refreshing; served uniquely oblong, like a mirror image of the bar counter.

The super oblong olive oil cake. Looks weird, tastes GREAT.

The super oblong olive oil cake. Looks weird, tastes GREAT.

The unbelievably good sea urchin (uni) at Tetsu.

The unbelievably good sea urchin (uni) at Tetsu.

L’Artusi

Mushroom Ragu. I would ragu on you if you didn't order it. #dadjokes

Mushroom Ragu. I would ragu on you if you didn't order it. #dadjokes

If you want the short route: This place is on par with that of Dell’anima. If you haven't been to either, go to Dell'anima first. In my opinion it's less pretentious and THE perfect date spot.

L'Artusi summarized: Chic décor, chic people, sophisticated pasta. But yet simple, delicious, satisfying.

Mushroom Ragu – hearty, refined, complex, the perfect pairing to a robust red.

Braised octopus special with supersatta, green (castelvetrano) olives, tiny panfried breadcrumbs. Salty, crunchy, grilled, smokey, briny, refreshing.

The long route:

I honestly don’t know what was better, the people watching in a room full of obvious wealth and beauty, or, the pasta. L’Artusi is definitely a scene for the wanting-to-be-seen. It has a chic décor with an almost homey feel – as if you’ve just arrived to your super good-looking friends’ apartment.

The wine list here is extensive and not cheap – nothing is less than $60 a bottle.

The pasta, however, is divine and worth every penny. While we had heard of the simple spaghetti with Parmesan, I was immediately sold by a current special. Once again I was sold by the octopus! The dish was tagliolini (similar to linguini) with braised octopus, supersatta, pepper and castelvetrano olives.

The beauteous octopus pasta up close, in person.

The beauteous octopus pasta up close, in person.

I, of course, only know this about the super specific type of olives after harassing our waiter – “WHAT are these magical olives!?” They were briny like typical Spanish green olives but yet not as intense. They fit into the dish seamlessly.

The other plate was a menu-listed item: Garganelli mushroom ragu. The mushrooms actually tasted like a braised meat that had been slow cooked for hours. It was fragrant, earthy, tender and the best accompaniment to the twirls of garganelli. Which, for the record, I hate the name of – reminds me of gargling. And I don’t want to gargle my pasta.

Of course, on top of all the delicious pasta was a mound of freshly grated parmesan, which we all know – never hurt anybody.

Both dishes were washed down with a vintage Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo – rich, mildly robust and that’s as far as I’ll go in describing it because I’m not Gary Vaynerchuck, or a wine snob, or really care. I want my wine to taste like wine and not nail polish remover, that’s as picky as I get.

So yes this was a good wine – a bit too fancy for me – but it made everything taste that much better no less.

I would recommend Tetsu for a Special Occasion dinner; L'Artusi for Date Night, Dinner with the Parents.

A completely unrelated photo of a lamb sausage sandwich from Borough Market, London

A completely unrelated photo of a lamb sausage sandwich from Borough Market, London

Up next will be Gato (Bobby Flay's Bowery-located spot) and Estela (formerly on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list).