(one visit, October 2005)
Given the heady restaurant prices in Oslo, I decided to avoid the top echelon establishments. Instead, I took advantage of being among friends, and locals, who could provide some insider tips on (relatively) affordable good eats.Fresh seafood was tugging at my belly, but little was I prepared for the unique experience that I would get at Lofot Stua – the first (affordable) seafood restaurant that popped to my friends’ minds.
For a non-Norwegian, this unassuming restaurant on a bustling-street-by-day served some pretty unique dishes. Upon entering, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be impressed by a chart of various deep sea fishes – all in Norwegian. I recognized some, but others, were impossible. Atmosphere is not this restaurant’s forte. I would liken its kitschy nautical affect to the American Captain D’s chain.The menu selection was as impressive as the prices. Upon some translation and explanations, I quickly homed in on my dinner choices: whale and seal. Both were offered as an appetizer and entrée. Intent on trying both meats, I decided to order the seal first and then whale as my main dish.
Despite their uniqueness to a foreigner, these two meats were not unusual to my companions. In fact, I was told that whale was a rather pedestrian food – usually not highly regarded because of its tough, stringy, and often near inedible quality. My friend who recommended the restaurant amused about dreading whale for dinner as a child because it would prove nearly impossible to digest.
Given these descriptions, one would wonder why a restaurant would serve whale – especially at 280 NKo a plate (approximately $38)! However, I was reassured that ordering whale would be perfectly acceptable and promised to be very good, as restaurants only served “choice cuts” – the most tender parts of the massive animal. They did remind me, especially the server, that whale was not a fish, rather a mammal, and to expect red meat. I assured them that this was not only acceptable, but welcomed.
Seal received much better treatment in description than whale – at least for me. The only thing that my server could say to describe seal was that it tasted heavily of liver (emphasis on the “heavily”). This met my sheer delight.
My seal starter featured a strips of pan seared seal meat, charred on the outside but still bloody (you can see this in the picture) tender on the inside. If I didn’t know what I was eating, I would undoubtedly think it was calves liver. It was not stringy or tough at all, as I feared it might be. I loved this dish – my only complaint was that it was rather oily.
For my main dish, a very generous cut of grilled whale came saddled with a side of fresh salad (a welcomed sight in the otherwise vegetable-scarce country), baked tomatoes and boiled potatoes. Whale is extremely “meaty” – more so, I think, than beef.
Despite its charred-looking exterior, the thickness of the cut of meat yielded a perfectly (to my taste) rare interior. Well seasoned, the whale was not as tender as the seal, butcher’s twine-thick strands of gristle ran through the meat in a few areas. These were easily worked around and did not much affect my eating. Also, I found whale to be pleasantly appealing because of its gamey “livery” taste – even more pungent than the seal. Topped with a tangy dollop of sour cream, the combination was exceptional.
Without wine or dessert – this novel sea duo ran 380 NKo (approximately $53). Fortified by the hearty arctic meat, I was well prepared to face the cold Norwegian night!
Lofot Stua **
– Miserable: What else do you want to know?
* Okay: Go there if you want edible food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: Average food. Nothing to write home about.
*** Good: Memorable. Quality food and service. Would measure up to most standards…
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
***** Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. must be very finicky to find something wrong…
****** Speechless: ‘nough said.