travel: toward a facile familiarity…

A city of bikes.

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The Norwegian Airline strike was a refrain during the latest Friends of Lysverket weekend in Bergen.  It came up repeatedly in conversation.

The strike had gone on way too long, keeping thousands of people, including me, suspended in travel limbo.  I had two connecting flights on the airline that week: one to Copenhagen, and one to Oslo, where Christopher Haatuft (chef of Lysverket), his wife Annette, and I had a dinner reservation at Maaemo.  Unless the strike ended, we’d have to find another way to get there.

Not willing to take chances, we booked train tickets.  And seeing that the strike was still on when we woke early that Tuesday morning, we headed to the station to catch a ride to Oslo.

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Finse.

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One year ago, in March of 2014, I had entered the Schengen in Paris without having my passport checked at French immigration control. When I protested to my European friends, they laughed and accused me of being a “paranoid American.” One year ago, flight M370 disappeared into the vastness of Southeast Asia. And one year ago, I first came to Bergen, Norway.

One year later, none of my European friends think I’m paranoid anymore.  In fact, for the first time ever, I was pulled out of line at European immigration control on a random check this past March. And one year later, the fate of flight M370 still remains a mystery, just one of the incredible headlines of the past twelve months, which have included Putin in the Crimea, ISIS in the desert, Kanye at the Grammys, Kerry in Cairo, terrorists in Copenhagen, Bibi on the Hill, Birdman at the Oscars, hostages in Paris, and Hillary in hot water (it’s time Billy Joel does a sequel to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”).

All of these thoughts swirled through my head as history seemed to repeat itself on this, my fifth trip to Norway in a year. My friend Solveig, who, in many ways, first brought me to Bergen last March, was in Bergen again by coincidence.  Meeting where we had last left off, we had a lot of catching up to do.  So, we met for coffee at Kaffemisjonen, my favorite coffee shop in Bergen; grabbed a light lunch at Paradis, the relatively new deli opened by the Colonialen restaurant group; and took a refreshingly long walk in the cold rain.  We had the whole city to ourselves.

And, just like last March, this year, I left Bergen on a train bound for Oslo to have dinner at Maaemo.  The journey was just as peaceful and breathtaking as I remembered.  I watched the rainy landscape of western Norway turn progressively colder and snowier as we ascended eastward into the interior mountains that lay between us and capital city at the other end.

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Teddy's Softbar

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Oslo was perfect.  It was sunny and bright, and the air was crisp. The city seemed to hum with anticipation of spring.

It was Christopher Haatuft’s birthday, and we were there to celebrate it.

Having been cooped up in a train all day – normally, it’s a seven hour ride, but we were detained an extra hour near Finse due to heavy snow – we spent what little time we had before dinner stretching our legs in the shops up and down Karl Johans gate.

On our way to dinner, Christopher insisted that we stop at his favorite dive bar for a drink.  Teddy’s Softbar is a time capsule from the 1950s.  I got the sense that not much has changed in the intervening decades, not even the clientele.  An old jukebox glowed against one wall.  The interior was papered with fliers. And a chalkboard menu of short-order items (a hamburger for the equivalent of USD$20, for example) hung by the door, as it probably always has.

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10th Course: Scallops from Frøyo

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As we climbed the steps to Maaemo, Pontus Dahlgren, the restaurant’s manager appeared.  Having somehow seen us arriving from afar, he came out to greet us in the night.  As surely as chef Esben Holmboe Bang’s cooking has made Maaemo the toast of Norwegian fine dining, so has Pontus’s charm and grace.  He is a consummate maitre d’, one of the few I have met who seems sincerely invested in the diner’s experience.

Dinner at Maaemo was great.  I liked this meal more than the one I had there last year.

Quite a few of the same dishes reappeared – fat langoustines nestled in boughs of spruce; rømmegrøt, a traditional porridge of sour cream over which Holmboe Bang shaved cured reindeer heart; a tangy vinaigrette of fenalår (aged lamb) with charred onions, bone marrow, and quail egg; and that toasty, caramel-like brown butter ice cream with hazelnut crumble and molasses that was one of my favorite desserts last year, just to name a few.  But I didn’t mind all of the repeats. Because everything was better this time.  The flavors were more balanced.  And, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure we had more food at this dinner than my last one (for example, Holmboe Bang served us two langoustines this time, a sizable 2 to 3 ounces each), overall, it felt lighter.

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Group selfie.

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The highlight of this dinner, for me, was a slice of salted sheep rib (a traditional Christmastime meat for Norwegians) that had been glazed with a tangy vinegar sauce.  We used our fingers to pick the meat off the bone.  It was dense and salty, and funky in the way that I like sheep meat to be.  I especially loved the flavorful pockets of fat in between, which were even more pungent than the meat.  This dish was a compelling rebuttal to my earlier complaints about the thinness of modern Scandinavian cooking at the high end.  Here was a dish that was grounded in tradition, and yet refaced to great affect.  It was not repackaged beyond recognition.  Nor did it come with a social studies lesson (I had the benefit of knowing the cultural significance of the cured sheep meat in Norwegian cookery only because I stumbled upon it at a market in Bergen and inquired about it out of curiosity). The story wasn’t in its ties to Norwegian nationalism, or some other geeky footnote.  The story was, simply, its deliciousness.

I also appreciated having a second go at what Holmboe Bang calls “The Smell of the Black Currant Bush.”  He had served this whimsical-looking dessert at the Twelve Days of Christmas last December at the Restaurant at Meadowood.  But I found the “branches” – a piped tuile – too hard, almost impenetrable there.  Here, in his own kitchen, they were light and crispy, and added just the right amount of crunch to the fragrant black currant bush ice cream, which had an alluring flavor that I can only describe as a meeting between lychee and banana.

Holmboe Bang and Dahlgren had graciously given us the private dining room upstairs, where I ate last year.  From that glass-enclosed perch, we had a full view of the kitchen and a nice survey of Oslo, which glittered in the night beyond.  There were some gifts for the birthday boy to unwrap, and much conversation afterwards.  It was a terrific night of good cheer and good food with good people, perhaps best captured by Homboe Bang in a group selfie that he snuck onto my camera when I stepped outside (to take a phone call with Norwegian Airline – news broke that the strike had ended).  I found it the next day as I sifted through my photos of dinner.

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The colors of Copenhagen.

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Barely 24 hours after we arrived in Oslo, Haatuft, his wife and I were back at Oslo station. They hopped on a train bound for Bergen, and I boarded the airport express to catch my flight to Copenhagen.

This was my fourth time in the Danish capital, and my third visit in three years.  And I have fallen in love with it.  Easily navigable on foot, by bicycle, and by public transportation, Copenhagen is an extremely accessible city.  It is clean and safe.  And the only people who don’t speak English there are likely to be tourists.

I don’t think Copenhagen offers the grandeur of its Scandinavian rival, Stockholm.  But, I think it’s the more handsome of the two cities.  Like its denizens, Copenhagen is far from the cutting edge of fashion, but it is incredibly well-groomed, preferring tidiness to trendiness (a stylistic sensibility that I share).  Preserving the look of previous centuries, the city has managed to escape the ugliness of modernism without losing out on all of the benefits that come with it.  Despite being a hub of commercial activity Copenhagen hasn’t been scarred by it the way so many other European cities have.

I hope to eventually acquire the same facile familiarity with Copenhagen that I have earned with the other cities in which I have worked or lived, or have visited repeatedly. In the meantime, I am quickly learning my way around it.  Gifted with a keen sense of direction, I have purposefully chosen to explore new restaurants every time I visit, and have sought out the unseen corners of the city.

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A city of bikes.

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Copenhagen was blessed with unbelievably good weather.  Spring had arrived, and I could feel its welcome.  Shopkeepers were leaving their doors and windows open, and sidewalk cafés filled with locals and tourists alike.

I took advantage of the clear, crisp days by spending as much time outside as possible.

I explored the hive of shops and alleyways that radiate from Amagertorv (pausing at the posh department store Magasin du Nord to stock up on Johan Bülow licorice candies).  I criss-crossed the many bridges that stitch Copenhagen together, admiring the city’s open network of waterways.  And, I went running with a friend.

Nudging me through pedestrian-heavy streets, and weaving our way around bicyclists, he pointed us in the direction of a series of parks, where we found lovers and friends, young and old, gossiping on benches, chasing frisbees, and strolling along, hand-in-hand.  We passed by a carpet of crocuses unfurling before Rosenborg Castle – purple and white, just like the ones that heralded spring in my school’s colors in front of University Hall at my alma mater.  And we arrived to canons and cobblestones at the Kastellet, an old military fortress hemmed in by a star-shaped moat.  From its ramparts, we had a clear view of the harbor and Refshleøen beyond.

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Kim Dolva

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I spent the better half of one day with Kim Dolva, who I had met the week before at the latest Friends of Lysverket dinner in Bergen.

He took me to his wood workshop and furniture design studio, the København Mobelsnedkeri, located in a warehousey part of Islands Brygge. The relatively low overhead associated with this traditionally industrial, but now slowly gentrifying section of the city allowed him and his partners to get their company up and running a few years ago.  Now, their business is really taking off.

As the company’s name suggests (it translates to the “Copenhagen Joinery”), København Mobelsnedkeri focuses mostly on woodworking.  Its furniture and fixtures have a recognizably Scandinavian simplicity to them, with wide, flat surfaces supported by straightforward lines and gently sloping curves.  Dolva and his team design for the privately wealthy.  But they also outfit commercial retail shops and restaurants, a couple of which he took me to visit.

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Henrik Storland

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Resourceful and gregarious, Dolva befriends artisans and craftsmen around him, and finds ways of collaborating with them.  For example, next door, he found a metalworker, who now makes fasteners and lampshades for København Mobelsnedkeri (I recognized these lampshades; they are a part of the interior of Lysverket, which Dolva designed).

He also found NanaKi Bonfils, founder of Made A Mano, a company that specializes in making high-quality, Italian lava rock tiles.  When I mentioned how much I admired the tilework in his studio, Dolva insisted that I visit Bonfils.  I’m glad I did. Her studio near Kongens Nytorv was a small but bright showcase for her beautiful work.

Moving in on the other side of Dolva’s workshop is Henrik Storland, who had tagged along on our weekend in Bergen.  Storland is in the process of opening a cycling and coffee shop.  We stopped in to say hello.

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Grød

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Porridge is the focus of Grød (by the sound of this word in Danish, I assume it’s the equivalent of “gruel” in English), a newcomer to the short but super-hip Jægersborggade.  Here, you’ll find hot breakfast cereals during the day, and comforting grain porridges, like risotto and congee, at night.  Dolva loves the food here, so we swung by for a taste.  I had a bowl of barley, spelt and rye cooked in soy milk and topped with bananas, walnuts, and licorice sugar.  His porridge had apples, raisins, and flaxseeds, and was sweetened with ginger syrup.  Offering a healthful, reasonably priced, and delicious product, I don’t see why Grød won’t catch on quickly, or replicate.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Grød, or a copycat opens in Brooklyn, or Berkeley, or Seattle, or Hollywood…

Afterwards, we walked across the street to Christian Puglisi’s restaurant Relæ, where Dolva showed me the utensil drawers that he custom-designed for the restaurant’s dining tables.  I recalled getting my own silverware out of those drawers when I ate there in 2013.  It was nice to revisit them with their maker.

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Cabbage, Chicken Hearts

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I have Zac Efron to thank for pointing me to Bror.  Last year, at our friends’ wedding, he glowed about his dinner there and urged me to go.  After hearing good things about it from other friends as well, I decided to give it a try.

Opened two years ago by Noma alumni Samuel Nutter (British) and Victor Wågman (Swedish), Bror (which means “brother” in Danish) is located in a split-level space near Nørreport.  Nutter was out the night I ate there.  But Wågman was in.  With Springsteen and Blondie rocking it out on the speakers, he and his crew presented me with a multi-course tasting menu.*

I was slightly skeptical going into dinner. I had heard that the restaurant could be too heavy-handed with meat, verging on the grotesque.  Was this just another senseless display of testosterone?**

Thankfully, it was not.  I will admit, there was a lot of meat.  And, it definitely flirted with that line bordering on excess.  But, despite the fact that my dinner seemed like it was foraged from the culinary island of misfit toys, it didn’t cross it. Bookended by bull testicles and an entire, stewed lamb head, with a cod eyeball staring at me from another course in between, it could so easily have been a freakshow (how’s that for a statement?).  Instead, Bror walked that line deftly, celebrating the strange and odd by making it truly delicious instead of merely gawking at it.

Zac was right: everything was cooked so well that I overlooked the spectacle of it all.  That bull testicle was tender and juicy, breaded and deep-fried until its shell turned golden-brown.  It was served with tartare sauce.  The cod head had been cooked until it was melting with gelatin. It glistened green with dill oil and was served with a creamy horseradish sauce.  I picked the bones clean and stripped its lips of sticky collagen.  And that lamb: everything was pulled from the skull and served to me in three parts, my favorite of which was a stew of the meat presented with giant crêpe and condiments.  I wrapped it all up and ate it like a burrito.  It was great.

Bror is not pretty.  The interior, and everything in it, is mismatched.  And service seemed a bit chaotic the night I was in (Wågman even admitted as much).  But, I got the sense that creating good food is really all that matters here.  It is honest.  And that’s why, despite my initial misgivings, I liked it so much.

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Breakfast

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A couple of days later, I dropped by Café Lillebror (so named because it is, literally and figuratively, Bror’s “little brother”), Nutter’s and Wågman’s second restaurant.  Located on a corner near Bror in the city’s Latin Quarter, it serves pastries and coffee in the morning (I had a doughnut filled with lingonberry jam) and sandwiches at lunchtime.  At night, there’s a more serious, three-course prix-fixe menu.

Like its older brother, Lillebror is also slightly mismatched, although it has a far more finished look to it. The space is a collision of old and new, with chandeliers hanging from halos of crown molding, suspended above a bank of tables and chairs of a more modern, Scandinavian style.  Natural light flooded through its storefront windows, giving the café a deceptively spacious appearance.  I loved it.

Wågman saw me having breakfast, and joined me for a brief chat.  He told me that they hadn’t changed the interior much from its previous ownership, except to add a bathroom to meet the city’s building code.  He also told me that Café Lillebror was born out of a desire to make really great bread, which it does (the head baker here now is an American named Brit).  You’ll find it served at both Bror and Lillebror.

I’ll have to go back for dinner sometime.

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French Duck

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I met my friend Pelle for lunch at Uformel near the Tivoli Gardens. It’s the more casual, sister restaurant to Formel B.

What I loved most about this restaurant was that the lunch menu was like a small plates menu, without feeling like a small plates menu.  That is to say,  the dishes had the seriousness of main courses without requiring you to commit to main course portion sizes.  And they were all priced at 100DKK (desserts too), making it rather affordable to cover a lot of ground.***  Everything was cooked nicely, and was beautifully presented. The flavors were bold and good.  I especially loved a juicy slice of French duck breast with a scarlet run of beet sauce and garlicky ramson.  I’d go back.

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A|O|C

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The highlight of my eating tour of Copenhagen this time was my dinner at Kong Hans Kælder, which I already recorded in this previous post.

Located in a sunken vault, one similar to Kong Hans Kælder, is a|o|c.

Whereas Kong Hans Kælder is small and intimate, a|o|c is cavernous, generously spread across a honeycomb of arched rooms. And, instead of being moody and romantic, a|o|c is brightly lit.

The restaurant has been on my bucket list ever since Ronny Emborg was chef there (Emborg just announced his departure from Restaurant Marchal at the Hotel d’Angleterre to take over the kitchen at Atera).  Its recent promotion to two stars under its current chef, Søren Selin, in the inaugural Nordic Cities Michelin Guide reminded me that I still hadn’t eaten there.

My friend and I ordered the top tasting menu, which included 10 courses, plus snacks and petits fours.

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Snack: Cucumber

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Delicious?  Yes.  Pretty?  Yes.  Precise?  Definitely.

But I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time telling you what, beyond the consistency of the cooking, made the food at a|o|c unique.  I don’t mean to pick on this restaurant alone.  It’s a problem that I’ve noticed at the high end of dining in general, especially in Scandinavia.   Fine dining restaurant experiences are starting to bleed together into a blur of ceramic plates and nicely cooked meats and vegetables with colorful sauces.  Strip away all of these aesthetics and superficialities, and what is left of them?  Where’s the voice?  What’s the purpose?

In contrasting his own European culture to the Asian culture, a chef, who recently returned from Japan, noted how little cynicism there is in the food culture there compared to the West.  I think it’s because the Asian food culture focuses more on craftsmanship and quality.  More significantly, Asian chefs backseat themselves to the more important business of finding meaning, purpose, and pleasure in everything they cook and serve.  This sort of altruistic pursuit of discipline, understanding, and self-inspection grounds them, and is instrumental in building trust between the kitchen and the dining room. Diners trust that the chef is devoted entirely to creating the best dining experience possible for them.  And the chef trusts that his guests will recognize and appreciate his dedication.  From this, grows mutual respect.  And respect is everything.

Western food culture, on the other hand, seems to be focusing more on form, fame, and fortune nowadays.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve said time and again, I appreciate that restaurants are businesses, and businesses must make money.  But, inherently, relationships based on commercial exchange are thinner, more superficial than those that grow out of mutual respect.

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Grød

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I’ll probably get roasted for making this comment, but it’s an honest one: I have a hard time giving the same level of respect to chefs who are known more for making guest appearances or opening new restaurants than spending time in their own kitchens as I do to those who are in their kitchens night after night.  This is not to say that I can’t appreciate or respect a chef for his talent, or his business acumen, despite his absence from the pass.  But that type of respect is different than the kind that I have for a chef who offers his presence – himself – to his guests on a daily basis.  There’s a difference in motivation.  The business-focused chef has divided allegiances.  And as practical and realistic as this type of chef is, it shouldn’t surprise him that his business choices have left the door open to cynicism.

Of course, the dining public and the food media in the West are partly responsible for this cynicism as well.  Just as voters deserve the governments they elect, so too, the dining public deserves the food culture it supports.  I’ve written about this before.

I’m not here to change all of that (although, I would if I could). Sadly, I count myself as a member of the cynical West, one who longs for the altruism and respect of the East.

I’m also not here to condemn any chefs.  I don’t mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with building empires, or chasing financial security, or even fame (after all, I am American), so long as everyone acknowledges the implications that come with those things.  I also don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t any Western chefs or restaurants that engender the type of mutual respect that we admire about the East. They’re just less common.

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Snack: Grilled Romaine

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Is a|o|c worthy of two Michelin stars?  Probably.  From what I could tell, the ingredients are good, and the cooking is consistent.  It’s certainly on par with, or even outperforms half of the three Michelin-starred restaurants in America.  But, among its Scandinavian peers, it does not stand out to me.

There are now seven two-Michelin starred restaurants in the “Nordic Cities.”  I have been to six of them (once each to a|o|c, Frantzén, noma and Oaxen Krog, and twice to Geranium and Maaemo).  And I’ve eaten the food of the seventh chef – Mathias Dahlgren – at his former restaurant Bon Lloc in Stockholm (although I have not eaten at his current restaurant Matsalen).   I am far from being an expert in this region.  But based on my experience, these restaurants (and others of this ilk, like Amass, Ekstedt, Fäviken, Kadeau, Relæ, Studio, and Ylajali, all of which I have visited) have all done an excellent job of capturing and conveying a sense a time of place – the new Nordic, now.  The problem is, they all occupy relatively the same time and place.  And so there’s a considerable amount of overlap among them, stylistically and substantively.

As I have said before on this blog, what separates good chefs from great chefs is that the latter go beyond simply conveying a sense of time and place. The truly great chefs create time and place of their own.  That’s because they’re not merely telling a story about a time and place, they’re telling their story: Stephen Harris at the Sportsman, Victor Arguinzoniz at Asador Etxebarri, Ferran Adrià at elBulli, Alain Ducasse at Louis XV, Norio Yamamoto at Ifuki, Bernard Pacaud at l’Ambroisie, Joshua Skenes at Saison, Carme Ruscalleda at Sant Pau, Hideki Ishikawa at Ishikawa, Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, Tadayoshi Matsukawa at Matsukawa, Enrique Dacosta at Quique Dacosta

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Magazine rack.

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I’ve been getting an increasing number of emails asking for my advice and opinion on Scandinavian fine dining.  So, if all of the foregoing thoughts, gathered from my travels and eating in Scandinavia, can be put to good use, I can at least give you this:

Setting aside the fact that the Michelin Guide has yet to award a third star in Scandinavia, I do think that what the region boasts in quality ingredients and technical prowess, it lacks in vision and voice (for a more in-depth consideration of this, read this earlier post).  That said, Scandinavia remains one of the most exciting places to be eating at the high end right now.  With few exceptions, the caliber of cooking is unparalleled, and so is the level of service.  If you’re headed to Scandinavia, these are the restaurants that I think should be highest on your list:

Of the top-end restaurants that I’ve visited in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, I think that noma and Fäviken offer the most compelling perspectives within the new Nordic set.  At these restaurants, you’ll discover original and unique ways of thinking about food.

Maaemo, Frantzén, Studio, and Geranium merit most in precision and beauty.  Although the food at these restaurants can be incredibly delicious too, go to be dazzled by their polish and finesse.

And Kong Hans Kælder, which I don’t include as a new Nordic restaurant, I do include for its thoughtful approach to cooking and service.  Go here to experience a standard of quality and respect that I haven’t met elsewhere in Scandinavia.  For that reason, Kong Has Kælder, alone here, has won my heart.

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A clear night.

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I’ll be back in Scandinavia at least four more times this year.  I’m excited about the discoveries that await, and for the opportunity to continue reaching toward a facile familiarity with this region of the world, one with which I have fallen deeply in love.

To see all of the photos from the meals from this trip to Norway and Denmark, click on the links below:

Oslo
Maaemo


Copenhagen
a|o|c
Bror
Café Lillebror
Grød
Kong Hans Kælder
Uformel

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Traditional Norwegian Pastries

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* From Bror’s website, it appears that the restaurant offers a few menu choices.  But my server told me that the chef had a menu planned for me, and I went with it.  So I’m unsure how my menu differed from the normal course of business.

** The pronunciation of Bror is awfully similar to that term of endearment used by American dudes, jocks, and surfers for one another…

*** At the time, the U.S. Dollar was performing unusually well against European currencies.  My trip coincided with a spike in the U.S. Dollar, which was trading at just over 7 DKK per U.S. Dollar.

Photos: A night cyclist passes by a display of light fixtures in Copenhagen, Denmark; a blizzard of snow on the platform of Finse, Norway; Christopher Haatuft at the jukebox at Teddy’s Softbar in Oslo, Norway; giant scallops, cooked on its shell at Maaemo in Oslo, Norway; Christopher Haatuft, Esben Holmboe Bang, Annette Tveit, and Pontus Dahlgren at Maaemo; a night scene from Christianshavn in Copenhagen; an alleyway at night in Copenhagen; Kim Dolva at his København Mobelsnedkeri studio in Copenhagen; Henrik Storland builds a bicycle in his upcoming cycling and coffee shop in Copenhagen; breakfast porridges at Grød in Copenhagen; chicken hearts and cabbage at Bror in Copenhagen; coffee and a lingonberry jam-filled doughnut at Café Lillebror; French duck breast with beet sauce at Uformel in Copenhagen; the skirted tables in the white-washed and arched dining room of a|o|c in Copenhagen; cucumbers at a|o|c in Copenhagen; stools at Grød in Copenhagen; Bror at night, Copenhagen; a magazine rack and chair at the København Mobelsnedkeri in Copenhagen; Copenhagen at night; and traditional Norwegian pastries at Maaemo in Oslo, Norway.

~ by ulterior epicure on April 6, 2015.

5 Responses to “travel: toward a facile familiarity…”

  1. I truly love your writings about food, and regarding scandinavia you are spot on, imho. But I still try to figure out what passport control at the airport has to do with those terrorist acts, political events and acts of war you mention (let alone how they could have been prevented by checking someones passport?). I know, quite a number of americans are big fans of sealing off their borders (and sealing off people, for that matter) and checking out people; but bringing airport-control and those events in europe together is kind of silly. I only elaborate on this because you are probably read by many americans, who must get a bizarre impression by the causalities you imply.
    By the way: I also wonder what this is supposed to say: “[Copenhagen] is clean and safe. And the only people who don’t speak English there are likely to be tourists.”.

  2. Scratch that last sentence, please – I got it now. Silly me, sorry.

  3. SvL: Admittedly, I take border security very seriously. Not only am I an American, but I am an American attorney whose father practiced immigration law in the U.S. for 40 years. While I assure you that I’m not one of those kooky conspiracy theorists who advocates sealing our borders (both of my parents are immigrants, and my father made his living off of immigration), I do think it’s important to monitor a porous border. What I found so scary about the French customs and border control letting everyone in last year without checking their passports is that they, a member state of the Schengen, not only opened their own country to unknown visitors, but they were exposing their other member states to strangers as well. On that trip, I visited France, Belgium, and Norway, all of which are in the Schengen, and none of which have any record of me being there. In light of recent events, European governments have said that they have failed to adequately monitor traffic between their country and countries known to be incubators of terrorists. I don’t think that suggesting causality here is far-fetched, or bizarre. (Incidentally, I initially brought up the passport control issue in my post last year because, in the first few days that M370 went missing, there was speculation as to terrorism. Part of the investigation centered on a couple of passengers whose passports were questionable – they were either stolen passports, or were faked. Either way, there were gaps that might have been closed had the passports been properly checked. Although the two passports were eventually cleared of suspicion, I find it unsettling that millions (or billions, as Interpol suggests) of passports leave the door wide open for shady activity: http://www.10news.com/news/investigations/interpol-more-than-a-billion-passengers-fly-with-unchecked-travel-documents-032014)

  4. Of course Iam with you when it comes to checking passports at the airport – at least when it concerns travel into/out of the Schengen-territory. Inside Schengen is another matter (I mean: free travel was one of reasons to do this; and the goal of Schengen and EU was/is to have some kind “united states”, after all).
    But didn’t you have to give your passport-data every time when you checked into hotels in Europe? So I think there was definitely knowledge of your “path”.
    I still don’t know what you mean by “recent events”. The terrorist attacks in CPH and Paris and Belgium came from people who lived there, not from some shady intruders. Crimea and Ukraine have nothing to do with people travelling there, either. And that missing M370 – well, there are all kinds of theories about this, not few involving government-agencies of powerful countries.
    I certainly believe in monitoring borders, but rather because it makes me *feel* saver, not because I think that it actually makes my country a safer place…
    Anyway, I was just a little bit irritated by that (sort of) political comment, which I found a tad lighhearted in the connections it made.
    But enough of this. Now, back to the table… ;-)
    PS: If you want to see how drastically things have changed at the airports, I recommend the great movie “Carlos” by Olivier Assayas – it shows an era when you could walk onto the sightseeing terrace of Charles de Gaulle-Airport with a rocket-launcher barely hidden under your coat…

  5. SvL: Oh, I see where we are missing each other. I wasn’t trying to link the passport issue to all the other headlines I included. Those other things – including Kanye at the Grammys and Birdman at the Oscars – was more to just record what has happened in the year since I first visited Bergen. It just so happens that some of the biggest headlines happened to be terrorist-related. I wasn’t necessarily trying to link all of those things together in any way.

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