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!!




Last week I posted about Reykjavik.

To you folks who’ve never given Iceland a shot: This week I’ll take a second shot at getting you to add it to your culinary bucket list.

Also, just yesterday I received a pop-up ad promoting Icelandair roundtrips from Minneapolis for three hundred-something bucks!!

Get ready…..I’m preparing to wear you down.

Today we’re going to talk about sheep. Ever since the Vikings brought them to Iceland in the 9th Century, the animals have roamed free in the pesticide-free hills and mountains for nine months of the year. Not only that, all the sheep from all of the farms co-mingle and roam freely with one another without fences. In the early fall, the ranchers mount their smallish Icelandic horses and ride up into the hills to collect their spring lambs.

This annual event is called RETTIR….. and it’s a festive time.

Because each animal wears an individual identification tag, they are easily separated and herded into large divided corrals. And because this is Iceland, strict – very strict – laws ensure that they are as pure as the icy, wind-driven snow. No antibiotics…ever. No added hormones…ever. No electric shock…ever.

The result is that these all-natural direct descendants and genetically identical animals are wonderfully flavorful and exceptionally lean. The meat is also expensive. But due to Iceland’s increased prosperity, the people seem to have a willingness to spend money on high-quality, all-natural products.

So onward to one of Joanne’s and my favorite restaurants: KOL. Situated right downtown on SKOLAVORDUSTIGOR STREET (go ahead, pronounce that) near the base of the big church called HALLGRIMSKIRJA (while you’re at it, say that out loud), KOL is definitely meat-centric. But its seafood is not to be missed either. Just be prepared. While not weird or off-putting, it may challenge picky eaters.

If there are two of you, have your concierge book table # 91 by the window.

Artful cocktails are “master-crafted,” many with theatrical flaming garnishes.

The dense, dark, moist, chewy bread was cleverly paired with whipped Nutmeg Butter.

Check out the colorful and beautifully composed beet salad that Joanne loved. I opted for a starter of Langoustines, prepared with dill-marinated apples, fennel, bacon-date puree and citrus velouté.

The table next to ours shared an appetizer served in a jaw-dropping, family-style vessel laden with what must have been the best and freshest offerings from Iceland’s surrounding waters.

But now…. back to the sheep…..

Lamb comes half a dozen ways. I really loved the deeply flavored Char-Grilled Lamb Sirloin. And get this – it was paired with an unexpected counterpoint of Blueberry Polenta, 20-month aged Tindur cheese, celeriac, shallot esabeche and a nutty praline.

KOL touts that their custom charcoal grill/oven rises to 350 degrees centigrade. I’m not certain a charcoal oven can reach that temperature. By my calculation, that would be over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, but maybe I’m wrong.

I was absolutely RIGHT, however, to order the lamb that comes off that grill. It’s fired over a ton of herbs – mostly rosemary, I think – and the process unlocks an earthiness that reflects that lambs’ free-range diet. Next time, I must get what Joanne ordered: the Smoked Haddock (Finnin Haddie) with braised leeks and a poached duck egg. Soooo rich, and soooo good!

So many dishes, so little time.

The Braised Ox Brisket with Couscous and Buttery Mashed Potatoes & Gravy was tempting on the chilly autumn evening we were there. The local Icelandic Duck Confit with glazed red cabbage, red pearl couscous, roasted carrots and cashews also beckoned.

A block of soft, ivory-white cod, pan-seared and poached in what must have been a pound of butter – and the duck fat fries that accompanied it – would certainly be a sure-fire express ticket to heaven.

Joanne and I shared what was billed as the Chef’s Choice dessert plate. I’m not at all sure what was on the platter, but the Cassis Ice Cream, made from locally grown black currant berries, was narcotic.

So what’s to say?

Well, if you’re a food nut like me, you’re going to marvel at the VIVID and UNEXPECTED flavors and combinations of Reykjavik’s restaurants. For the adventurous culinarian, this is virgin territory, unlike any other part of the world. And it’s especially interesting to me that Iceland was, not long ago, a culinarily challenged country. Thank God for the New Nordic Cuisine revolution, which has transformed the country into a multi-starred dining destination, always punching above its weight.

Folks, I’m not messing around here. I know what I’m talking about. And if your “dining curiosity IQ” is anywhere above room temperature, you NEED TO GO TO ICELAND!

The only downside to Icelandic eating: It’s hard to chew when you’re smiling all the time.




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?

Nothing Wrong With Reykjavik

Joanne and I have just returned from three days in ICELAND. I’ll write about the food and restaurants in the upcoming weeks and months. But before that, I thought it might be wise to give a general overview of the place to provide context to my upcoming posts.

First of all, I discovered ICELANDAIR when we went to London. We were checking prices with Delta and found that if we flew on Iceland’s national carrier via Reykjavik, the fare would drop by about two-thirds.

Now, Icelandair is somewhat of a budget carrier ¬– but just somewhat. For example, whereas on international flights the big carriers give business class travelers warm toasted mixed nuts (no peanuts) before the dinner service, Icelandair offers its fanciest passengers a choice of cabin-temperature caramel corn or pretzels.

And the FLIGHT ATTENDANTS? Well, check ‘em out.

The dinners were evocative of what we were expecting in REYKJAVIK – Salmon 3 ways…herring…blini…and trout roe – served all at once on a tray (not in courses), but nonetheless very good indeed. The intro didn’t end there, as we were greeted with a miniature of Icelandic Vodka.

Landing in Reykjavik the next morning, Joanne and I had time to walk the town before our hotel room was ready. We loved the scale of the city, which was quaint, historic, a cross between a city and a village. It’s a great place to meander, with no high-rises to block the sun, and a harmony of buildings in a bright palette, with many primary colors balancing softer and more restrained – but still quite varied – paint schemes.

Also interesting: the vast preponderance of structures are clad in vertical corrugated metal siding – and, aesthetically speaking, none the worse for it. I later found out that the reason metal was used was because the Vikings wiped out all of the trees a thousand years ago, and it turns out to be exceptionally difficult to grow new trees in this climate. Today Reykjavik has some, but the rest of the country is virtually barren.

The city is not without a sense of humor. The Walk signals sport smiley faces; the Don’t Walk signals keep you stationary with red frowney faces.

The language is famously impossible – not merely incomprehensible but essentially unpronounceable. Thank God the people have the sense to speak perfect English!

The church that dominates the skyline is called Hallgrimsirkja (go ahead, give that a shot). Vast in scale – construction began in 1945 and didn’t end until 1986 – it stands proudly over the city.

The National Museum, called Tjhodminjasafnid (what the hell, you might as well try to pronounce that, too) occupied us for half a day. It’s a fascinating place – very informative and well-curated. I learned a lot.

Most folks go to this island nation not for its restaurants, but for its spectacular scenery – Europe’s wildest and most rugged. As the publication, Eyewitness Travel, puts it, “Outside Reykjavik is a mix of lunar deserts, thundering waterfalls, whale watching, northern lights and majestic fjords.”

Reykjavik is a small city with a population of only a little over 300,000 people. So you can only imagine the crunch in summer months when almost 2 million tourists invade (from where, I don’t know. But the bathroom signage in the National Parks gave me a clue that they are probably not all Americans and Northern Europeans.)

Here’s another observation: COLD PLACE, WARM HEART. The people are all really nice.

Would it be politically incorrect to note, however, that the people aren’t uniformly attractive? Because Icelandic men – many, many of them – are just a mess: overweight and almost slovenly, poorly groomed, not well-dressed. (there’s probably no shortage of “plumber’s butts” here.) That struck me as so strange in that the vast majority of women were drop-dead gorgeous (go back and check out the flight attendants).

I’ve read on the Internet that due to an alleged shortage of Icelandic men, the government is offering up to $5,000 per month to men from outside the country to come and marry Icelandic women. Obviously, that’s nonsense…

…though a gender imbalance COULD partially explain why Icelandic men feel so comfortable “letting themselves go” while the women stay glamorous, trim and beautiful. I don’t know…I was just wondering.

The other thing that I was wondering about is the ICELANDIC HOT DOG. No kidding: It’s a WEENIE made of organic, grass-fed, hormone-free lamb, pork and beef, and served up on a warm steamed bun, topped with raw and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, remoulade and mayo. You get them at a tiny stand near the waterfront called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.

So is it accidental? Serendipitous? Or on purpose that the last few slides of this posting go from beautiful women….to weenies…..to Bill Clinton at the hot dog stand…..and finally on to the famous ICELANDIC PHALLOLOGICAL MUSEUM?

I report. You decide.