Saturday, October 24, 2015

Things I Ate in Norway: Ålesund and Geirangerfjord

We had three dinners in Ålesund, which is a little ironic since it was the smallest town we visited. But that's the way the itinerary worked out.

Our first night, we went to XL Diner, which specializes in Bacalao--cod of various forms being one of Norway's national dishes. Of course, this place specializes in salted dried cod, but then goes out of its way to prepare it in non-Norwegian ways. Because other countries do a better job of making it palatable and Norwegians are no fools?

Anyway, XL Diner has glorious views--Ålesund is all about the ocean. We looked out at islands and fjord and a great sunset as we enjoyed a batch of terrific mussels and our Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish-style bacalao. Not sure I'd go back for more, but it was interesting, and you can't beat the setting.

One last XL note, they had whale carpaccio on the menu, too, but the family agreed that we were just fine not tasting whale this trip.

The second night we went very low-key; we'd had a very long day trip by bus, boat, bus, boat, bus, and bus (if I remember my count correctly) to see some amazing fjord scenery.  So rather than make a reservation we rolled the dice and went to a place called Lyst on the pedestrianized art nouveau street, Kongens gate. Fried appetizers and salads all around and we were very content. I don't have pictures, but trust me, they make a tasty and pretty salad.

And for our third dinner we went to Anno, which was fancy, though we ate pretty lightly, so I can't give it as full a review as I might've liked to.

On the aforementioned Geirangerfjord adventure, we stopped in Hellesylt for a while before the ferry departure. I ducked into the small and unprepossessing Ocal's Pizzabar to get a coffee (and so that we could use the restroom without shame). The proprietor was super nice and surprisingly persuasive about the desirability of having a piece of apple cake.  And, hey, who can say no to apple cake in an insanely beautiful setting?

After the ferry ride up Geirangerfjord (which, really, if you get to go to Norway, do this trip.  Amazing scenery!) we ended up in Geiranger, which is sadly super touristy. But we found a place called Naustkroa, with a sign out front saying "Open Terrasse by the fjord!" And a minimum of exploring revealed that in fact the place DID have a little terrace right on the fjord, with a table exactly right for mom, J., and me. So we had pizza in a spectacular setting. One was pretty normal, veggie, but the other involved salmon and potatoes.  Fun!  Really, almost any food in that setting would have been great--it was just wonderful to sit out with a nosh and a beer and enjoy the scenery.
 And our last lunch, back in Ålesund, was a great find. We tried 2-3 different places, and struck out repeatedly, before J. mentioned seeing a cafe called Invit on Apotekegata, which I recalled from Tripadvisor and other places. It's part super-upscale design boutique, part espresso bar/cafe that serves food, too. And, while not very Norwegian (I think this is a trend with our Norway dining), this place also featured a hidden back...well, barge, really, moored at the end of the narrow waterway that divides the town. The food was of the fresh-and-organic variety, and they served wine. All very excellent! On the photo below, Invit's barge is on the water (duh) left of the red building, with the umbrellas on it.

And finally, before I wrap this long post, I have to say a word about the best coffee I had in Ålesund, which was at Raccoon Coffee, again on Kongens Gate. Got a very fine flat white, and a chocolate-covered almond meringue pastry called a Sarah Bernhardt. And a beluga whale sighting, to boot!

Things I Ate in Norway: Theatercafeen, Oslo

 Our second dinner in Norway was much more formal and fancy (and a little stuffier and less interesting) than Arakataka, but also quite enjoyable. We went to the fancy-schmancy Theatercafeen, which is not actually in a theater but is quite nearby the National Theater. It's the total white tablecloth deal, lots of nice woodwork and crystal--and excellent service.

I do love a place with authentically old fixtures, as opposed to the faux-old ones that are so trendy these days.

We shared a couple of appetizers:  A scallop ceviche, with lots of vegetables, and a reindeer carpaccio.  Figured we had to have reindeer at some point, though this wasn't especially "deer-y."  Not that I'm complaining about that, mind you.

I'm very proud of the carpaccio photo, though don't ask me how I managed to take it.

 And for my main I had a nice piece of halibut, which they served with white beans and chorizo and a salty, feta-like cheese, which might have been, in fact, feta.  Felt kind of commonplace--and not very Norwegian at all--but I can't argue with the execution.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Things I Ate in Norway: Arakataka, Oslo

Last time I posted I had decided I'd group my Norway food stories together by city. But I'm going to prove myself a liar here. The first dinner we had in Norway was definitely the prettiest meal of the trip, and one of the most interesting and tastiest, too. We went to a place called Arakataka, which the Chowhound crowd liked, and which was an easy walk from the hotel, in addition to not being crazy expensive.

The space was beautiful, spare and modern, and the menu was really fun--lots of small plates, so you could assemble your own multicourse menu. We followed their advice and had 2-3 things apiece, plus some Norwegian cheese for dessert.

First, bread.  Bread in Norway is fantastic!  Dark and multigrainy and very tasty. Good bread for long winter nights. The bread was served on a bed of toasted wheat berries--nice touch!
And the butter. Norwegian butter is also really good--but then so is all European butter. This was particularly interesting because it was goat, not cow. New to me but very tasty--in between butter and chevre. I really liked the dollop-with-wooden-spreader presentation.
For my starter I got the spaghetti with bleak roe, which was creamy and briny and wonderful.
Mom opted for the potato with lumpfish roe and ramson (which is a wild onion relative). It was like a super-sophisticated take on chips with onion dip.
We all got the same second: the cod with peas and mussels. Beautifully cooked, kind of fish & chips-like?
I opted for the duck with beetroot and celery for my main. A tiny piece of duck, but again perfectly executed.
Mom won in the looks department, with the jerusalem artichokes, sea lettuce and oysters. Very pretty presentation--very light (most of the shells are for show, there were only about 3 of them in the dish).
My sister J. was undoubtedly the bravest or most radical of us, getting the Peppercrab for her main, which was a lot of work! Delicious, not too spicy, but on the messy side for a nice restaurant.
I really loved this place--the menu was kind of perfect for the first day--easy to fine-tune to suit just how much you want to eat, and how adventuresome you're feeling. I'd highly recommend it for anyone in Oslo looking for good, seasonal, modern fare from a pretty creative kitchen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Things I Ate in Norway: Bergen

I just wrapped up a week in Norway with my mom and one of my sisters.  Pretty much a perfect fall vacation--weather was great, scenery was spectacular, and we are all still speaking to each other.  For non-food Norway pictures, see this album.

I've thought about posting food thoughts, whether to do an uber-mega post of everything, or break it down by meal, but the best compromise seems to be to recap by city.  In reverse order, here's Bergen, where we had two dinners.

One dinner was planned and fancy, at a place called Spisekroken.  It's a pretty typical locovore/seasonal-type contemporary place.  But it's Norway.  I had smoked duck with carrot and buckthorn puree followed by lamb with pearled barley, pickled pumpkin, thyme, and sherry sauce.

And for dessert we shared a chocolate mousse with Norwegian brown cheese and blackberries, cloudberries, and hazelnut and caramel.

It was a nice meal--service was good, the space is nice and contemporary, and the duck was excellent.  I've had better lamb chops; these were a little fatty. Nice job with the sauce, though, and I loved the grain. I never think to make barley. I should.

Something clearly went wrong with the dessert--I think they got busy and it sat a while. It looks suspiciously like a melted lamb chop, no? Thankfully, it tasted a lot better than it looked.

The second, much less fancy, dinner was at the Opera Cafe. Yes, chips and salsa. I liked it since it echoed mom and my first meal of the vacation. Then I had simple grilled salmon, with a nice fruity salsa and, joy of joys, a salad. And we shared a piece of tremendously good eplecake and ice cream for dessert.

This was unplanned--I hadn't made a reservation for the last night.  We were out, we were hungry, I was getting grumpy, and Google Maps turned it up nearby. But it was perfect--definitely more the way Bergenites eat every night than Spisekroken. And we needed something lighter and simpler. I loved the vibe, too--it was right by the national theater, and close to the university, so very studenty and low-key.

Mom and I had some prosecco and toasted our last night in Norway.

A couple of other notes on Bergen eats.

As I'm easily persuaded by advertising, I had a Skillingsbolle from Baker Brun, the "all-time favourite Bergen treat."  It's a cinnamon bun, but one that's been a Bergen tradition since the 1890s and "a taste of the soul of the city."  So they must be doing something right!

And maybe one of the best things I ate all trip.  During our couple of hours touring the Sognefjord's spectacular scenery (all mountains, sea, and waterfalls), I had an Ostepolse med bacon--a pork sausage studded with little chunks of cheese, wrapped in bacon, and cooked in the ferry's little snack bar.  Served a la hot dog, in a bun with mustard.

In the moment, brisk air, breathtaking scenery, amazing adventure, it was pretty much the ideal thing to be eating.  Thanks, mom!

Canelé and Macchiato at Frisson Coffee

I had a picture framed last week at a place in Hell's Kitchen and last weekend found myself walking west on 47th Street.  Happily so, as I stumbled onto Frisson Espresso, a non-chain, high-quality, charmingly artsy coffee place tucked away midblock.

They made me a very pretty macchiato, and I had an even prettier canelé. As you may know or can see in the picture, they're small, specialized pastries, known for a caramelized outside and a bread-pudding or custard-like inside. They're from Bordeaux, and although they've been below my radar, apparently they're quite the hot pastry in NYC recently. At least, Serious Eats has covered 'em.

I think this was my first one ever. It was delicious, and interestingly it made me think of a dessert I grew up with. Cascaron are essentially Filipino donuts, deep-fried conglomerations of coconut, rice flour, and sugar.  Very unhealthy. Being coconut based, they taste nothing like canelé. And yet, the combination of textures, crisp giving way to toothsome, soft-but-chewy interior, was evokative.  

Thinking about desserts of my childhood reminds me that I should write something about malasadas at some point.

In the meantime, if you're in Hell's Kitchen, stop by Frisson.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Not-So-Guanciale Pizza at Otto

On Thursday night I took myself out for dinner at Otto, Mario Batali's informal pizza place near Washington Square Park. I'm a huge fan--a quartino of wine, some veggies or salumi, and a pie or pasta dish is great, reasonably affordable, and then comes Otto's olive oil gelato, which changed my life the first time I had it.

Seriously, that stuff is so good...I ordered it the first time just because it sounded weird and I am a fan of weird ice creams. But it's super ultra creamy, the mouthfeel is like magic, and they serve it with just a bit of crunchy sea salt... While I pride myself on dessert-related willpower, I will never turn that down.

I'm noting Thursday's dinner mainly because it was a rare disappointment.  The guanciale pie was their pizza del giorno. And it was good, and yet...I had a mental expectation of lots of chewy, smoky, wonderful, jowl. And what it really was was, well, chick pea pizza. There was a little guanciale, I think, but it was chopped super-fine and there wasn't much of it. I didn't send it back, since there was nothing really wrong with it.  But it definitely didn't live up to my expectation.

Anyway, go to Otto. Save room for dessert (I did 3 flavors: Guiness stout and roasted fig along with the olive oil--weird ice cream flavors attract me, like I said--and the stout was fantastic). But if you go on a Thursday, I think you can skip the guanciale pizza.