REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Season 1…Episode 3
FLASH !!! I just learned that THE GALLERY in Reykjavik’s Hotel Holt has closed (see my March 22 post). It sounds like the shuttering is part of a major renovation at the hotel. That doesn’t come entirely as a surprise. As I wrote, the restaurant – as wonderful and inventive as it was – felt a little dated to me. So this remodel will be welcome. What’s also welcome is that they hired a Reykjavik culinary rock star, purloined from the world-famous DILL RESTAURANT, to helm the Gallery’s successor. Joanne and I tried to get into Dill, but they were fully booked every night we were in town.
Stay tuned. When I learn more, you’ll learn more.
A reminder: As with all food and drink in Iceland, what you have heard is true: It’s EXPENSIVE. If you dine at places similar to those I’m describing, plan on spending at least $100 per person at dinner with a modest amount of wine. But here’s the thing: You’ll probably only be there for three or four nights, and you don’t have to splurge every night. So if your budget can stand it, go for it: You’ll remember these dinners all your life.
This is my final Iceland post for 2018 (well, maybe I’ll do one more; I’ve got a positively great lunch spot to tell you about). If this final installment doesn’t persuade you foodies to plan a long weekend in Reykjavik, all I can say is that it’s your loss. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Now, let me tell you about GRILLMARKET, where Joanne and I ate on our final night in Reykjavik.
By this time I had begun to understand and digest some of the attributes that are at the core of Iceland’s quiet culinary revolution.
I thought about the cold and largely unpolluted climate…the livestock raised without hormones or antibiotics, grazing freely on craggy basaltic slopes untouched by pesticides ….the local modest farms that that provide the milk, cheese and animals in a healthy, virtually disease-free environment….the safeguarding of clean, natural flavors….the rules concerning the strict limits on meat imports (hell, you can’t even bring cured ham or salami into the country)…and finally, the icy-cold, clear waters that surround the island country and yield a seemingly endless variety of fresh seafood.
Combine all that with the culinary revolution of Nordic Cuisine and, well, Grillmarket simply made sense to me. They seemed to embrace all of the discoveries that I had only begun to understand.
And, on top of that, they absolutely nailed the paradox of being exotic, yet comforting and familiar.
Let me describe. Dinner began with warm slices of Beetroot Bread with a dollop of soft Icelandic butter topped with black lava salt. Since here at Parasole, we serve beef carpaccio at several of our restaurants, I thought I’d give theirs a try as my appetizer. As expected, the paper-thin slices of tenderloin were perfect, but the dish was enlivened with chili jam, Parmigiano Reggiano and sweet almonds.
For her starter, Joanne chose the Char-Grilled King Crab Legs cut into 4-inch “soldiers” and basted with citrus butter.
A group of three young women seated next to us seemed to be absolutely delighted with themselves as they had the courage to order up a Trio of Sliders – but these were not your father’s sliders. One was made with Langoustine, another from Puffin, and a third made from Minke Whale.
Next we shared a warm Slow Roasted Icelandic Duck Salad with spinach and tangerines.
Now, Grillmarket, as its name suggests, specializes in food prepared on a custom-made grill that they claim can reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. And the restaurant’s deep, dusky atmosphere reinforces the whole grilled meats message.
Steaks abound – each around 250 grams (a bit more than half a pound), all grilled and served on wooden boards that complement the casual, rustic interior.
We didn’t order steak, but check out the images I’ve included. There’s a Beef Tenderloin as well as a traditional Steak Frites.
But the steak that caught my attention was the HORSE TENDERLOIN! It occupied, in big letters, the upper left “pole position” of the menu. I probably wouldn’t eat it, but then again…it WAS the headliner.
(By the way, horse is offered on a lot of menus in Iceland).
I really need to go back to Grillmarket…soooo many things I want to try, like the Grilled Lamb Short Ribs with Lime Wedges…the Double Rack of Lamb with garlic potatoes, crispy kale and chopped almonds…and a feature called “The Meat Gourmet,” which included a generous sampling of Char-Grilled Duck, Lamb and Beef.
The OCEAN CONTINGENT……not to be outdone by the livestock wing……they trumpeted THE FISH GOURMET……once again a generous trio of offerings….this time GRILLED SALMON…..COD….and REDFISH.
Fish and Chips are on the menu and very affordable. The twist is that they’re made from dried fish and dried squid (not sure why). I’ll probably try ‘em when I return.
Grilled Redfish, paired up with Smoked Pork Cheeks and a “Slap” of Carrot Puree, caught my attention. And the Grilled Arctic Char and Salmon would no doubt be very good, if perhaps a bit pedestrian
Two dishes that didn’t sound good to me at all: The Lamb Carpaccio, sliced too thick, looking a bit too primal (i.e. bloody); and the Grilled Minke Whale Steak, eagerly wolfed down at another table by a guy whose flannelled attire suggested he was either a local or a wayward Oregonian. The dish appeared to be accompanied by some sort of Asian dipping sauce.
Why do I have an aversion to horse and feel bad about eating whale when I eagerly gobble up little lambs? Maybe it’s my southern Illinois roots, but when I was a kid, horses were for riding and whales were for reading about in literature class.
So what did we order instead? Two dishes right out of Iceland central casting.
Joanne got the Char-Grilled Langoustine Tails served atop Fresh Shrimp and Scallops with Crispy Brioche Croutons and Champagne Sauce. And I zeroed in on Grillmarket’s showstopper: Grilled Reindeer served under a big glass dome. With Icelandic fanfare it was ceremoniously lifted at the table amid clouds of rosemary-scented smoke billowing up to the ceiling. When it cleared, I beheld a captivating combination of Reindeer, Smoked Pork Belly, Red Cabbage and Red Currant Chocolate Sauce!!!
Dessert was a Chef’s Potluck – a large black tray filled with a dozen or so samples of pastries and ice creams (probably leftovers, but no matter; they were delicious).
Wretched excess in Reykjavik? DAMN RIGHT!!