OK….this is going to sound stupid……but only at first.
We’re gonna talk about ICELAND.
Yes, it’s winter there. And visiting Iceland is probably the furthest thing on your mind. But remember, the climate in ICELAND will soon become tolerable. April and October are chilly, but not necessarily cold. And May through September can be downright pleasant, with highs in the 50s. Joanne and I visited ICELAND last October, when the temperature was about ten degrees cooler than that.
Here’s why we need to deal with ICELAND now…while it’s still winter here in Minnesota:
Tourism in Iceland has exploded in the last few years, reaching an expected 2,400,000 visitors this year. Just think of it. For six months, a city of 300,000 people swells to eight times its normal size. It’s also become a hot spot for celebrities. Some come to make movies, others to charter boats for fly sea fishing. Some just crave the isolation, which Iceland offers in abundance. Reyjkavik is overwhelmed. The city is building hotels as fast as it can and restaurants are heavily booked during the summer season. Reserving early is a MUST. And have your hotel concierge book your restaurant reservations right away. That’s why I’m telling you this now.
So here’s a heads-up on some restaurants that Joanne and I like.
But first, your hotel. Besides an array of boutique properties, the major chains have set up shop in Reykjavik, although not in the heart of town. There are two Radisson Blu hotels, a Hilton, and a soon-to-be-opened five-star Edition brand by Marriott.
Joanne and I stayed a couple of blocks from the city center in an older, but very nice property called THE HOTEL HOLT.
Now, before we dive into the cuisine and restaurants, I strongly suggest that you read my posting on Iceland from November 9, 2017. It provides a backdrop for the restaurants I’ll be describing.
Something important to understand from the outset is that the NEW NORDIC CUISINE revolution you’ve read about in Copenhagen and Sweden is also relevant to all of the restaurants I’ll be talking about.
What is the “new Nordic cuisine?” It’s natural. It’s local. It’s sustainable. It’s about preserving, smoking, salting, fermenting. It’s seasonal and it prides itself on serving “foraged” ingredients. It’s about sheep and cattle freely grazing on the slopes completely free of drugs and hormones. And finally it’s about being surrounded by an ocean and the bounty of fresh seafood from Iceland’s ice cold clear coastal waters.
For imported items, Icelandic chefs tend not to rely on heavy emission-inducing transport. Their trading partners tend to be their other nearby Scandinavian neighbors. And for tomatoes and vegetables, they have an abundance of hot-houses, no doubt thermally heated (check out the winter low temperatures; surprisingly ICELAND is a hell of a lot warmer than Minnesota).
The pioneer of this movement was, of course, NOMA in Copenhagen, named best restaurant in the world for three years in a row.
So let’s get started. We had heard of Reykjavik’s top-rated eatery, THE GALLERY RESTAURANT, which was housed in our hotel, and its chef, an alumnus of NOMA. Being slightly jet-lagged upon arrival, we decided to make it the first stop in our culinary tour of Iceland’s capital.
The dining room was well appointed and pleasantly lit, with spaciously placed tables and an overall classy and comfortable – if a bit dated – feeling. That was okay because the food trumped everything else.
Yes, it expressed the core of the NEW NORDIC CUISINE but with clever, slight French overtones.
We began with two AMUSE BOUCHES: a tasting spoon of marinated local veggies and secondly a sensational Lobster Bisque garnished with WHITE CHOCOLOATE CREAM! Dorothy, you ain’t in Kansas anymore!
Next we shared three starters: a Zucchini-wrapped Langoustine, a Golden-Crusted Sea Scallop on a bed of tapenade with a sauce of golden bell pepper coulis, and finally Salt Cured Salmon with a side of dark, chewy toast and honey mustard. As you might expect, for mains I took the “snout-to-tail” route and got the Icelandic Cod with Crispy Pigs Ears. Joanne surprised me and chose the Baby Lamb with Plumbs and Red Beets.
I snooped at nearby tables and concluded that they were dining equally well and as adventurously as we were. I spotted the Icelandic Duck, the just-caught Flounder, the Salmon Tartare with Scallop Ceviche. All looked really, really good.
If that wasn’t enough, we just couldn’t pass up dessert. A Dark Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Tuile and Raspberries was a hit. So was the Olive Oil Cake.
We trundled up to bed and immediately collapsed.
It was a GOOD NIGHT.
P.S. Stay tuned for upcoming postings on Reykjavik restaurants. And by the way, Minnesota: Icelandair out of Minneapolis is AFFORDABLE. Dare I say, even cheap?