Thursday, June 30, 2016

24 HOURS in Reykjavik: A Whirlwind Tour of Iceland Restos: Hlolla Batar; Boejarins Beztu Pylsur; Fish Company; Kopar; Sjavargrillid Seafood Grill; Dill; Matur og Drykkur

By Chance I became very good friends on-line with Reykjavik resident Ymir Arthursson. It turned out that we shared the same passion of eating well. We corresponded at length about food, food experiences and the culture of Iceland (or as he refers to it as "Niceland"). 

Ymir turned out to be a most convivial, fun loving friend with wide ranging interests.  After a few months of correspondence I very much looked forward to my visit with him. He escorted me as a good friend would and was indeed a pleasure to be with. 

As it turned out, Ymir and his delightful wife Hebba, own Magical Iceland (www.magicaliceland.is), a highly experienced and very knowledgeable touring firm that specializes in tours for foodies. They are very well versed in the cultural demographic and natural wonders of the island and its history. But, added bonus, they love to eat well and know many of the best chefs personally.



I landed at about 3pm in the afternoon, got settled in my hotel and by 4pm, off we went to eat, having a lot of ground to cover before midnight!

One important note of interest. I really wanted to try Icelandic lamb, as I had heard so much about its history and unique flavour. Icelandic lamb is the only lamb in the world that has not been crossed with any species of foreign lamb since lamb was brought to Iceland by the first viking settlers around 850AD! All lamb is descended from the original Norwegian stock. 

OK you skeptics, Hlolla Batar was the first place I was taken and frankly I was a bit shocked when I arrived and realized what Ymir expected me to eat. At first I thought it was a joke! However, I decided to go with the flow. I knew that some of the restos we would be hitting, as the evening wore on, were some of the most important in Iceland, culminating in the restaurant Dill.

Hlolla Batar




"Head boat" (hofdabatur)....lamb with melted cheese, lettuce, cabbage, ham, fried onions and hlolli sauce (this sauce seemed to be mayo with ketchup, mustard, sugar and vinegar in some proportion with a touch of a hot sauce mixed in for a bit of a bite). Now, this is not the kind of sandwich a foodie would go out of his way for on a major food trip. But, I was glad I tasted it. It was good for what it was. A lot of tourists come here on their own, or are taken. But, would I go out of my way for this experience.....NO!

Next, I was taken to what is considered one of the best hot dog stands in the world. Even I knew about it from previous reading. Further, it was on my list of must try places in Reykjavik. Boejarins Beztu Pylsar has been around since the 1940's. Lines snake away from this spot, all day, every day. So, I felt reassured that it must be good!



Boejarins Beztu Pylsur



The simple hot dog. Was it good? Yes, the skin had a nice snap and the filling was quite tasty. Was it worth me trying? Yes, because the spot is so much a part of the food culture here. Worth going out of your way for if you are just here for a short time? No. But I could have easily eaten 2 or 3, if several more restos were not planned for this night!


Fish Company


On the left, dill butter  and on the right, caramelized brown butter, accompanied by sea salt.


Seasonal Foods From Around Iceland (The Next Few Dishes)

Fried langoustine, roasted squid, with spring onion mayonnaise, ginger pickled carrots, sliced chili and garlic chives.


Salted, slowly cooked filet of cod, with lovage, seaweed, pickled celery, smoked apple slices, dill oil, warm egg foam and smoked cod roe mayonnaise.


Gravlax accompanied by an onion-tarragon consomme with beer pickled turnip, beer bread, tarragon emulsion, cured egg yolk and pickled red onion.


Burnt and marinaded tuna with peppered watermelon, lemongrass granita, avocado puree, fried lotus root, sliced radish and sesame mustard dressing.


Kopar


Here, Icelandic rock crab is brought directly from the fjord.


Rock crab soup soup, loaded with perfectly cooked rock crab, spinach, baby shrimp and bean sprouts. 


Crispy crab (local) cakes topped with fluffy remoulade.


Cured salmon and seaweed biscuit.


Sjavargrillid Seafood Grill


Shell fish soup with blue mussels, scallop, shrimp and fennel.


Puffin, European shag and minke whale tartar with mustard, hazelnut, dill and red currant. I had a tough time eating the minke whale, it being a big brained mammal. The taste was distinctive but not overly pleasant. Maybe it was my bias? I was being polite eating this dish, with my friend Ymir.


Dill

Dill is Iceland's most important resto and is expressive of evolving Nordic cuisine from an Icelandic perspective, created by chef Gunnar Karl.

Snacks

 Carrots, smoked mayo and dried sÖl.


Chicken and roasted yeast. 

Crispy dried catfish and burned butter cream.

NO Photos: Oats, trout roe and sea truffle; Rutabaga and smoked roe.


Menu


Bread and local butter. 


Mussels, celery, watercress and parsley.


Tusk, kale and black garlic. 


 Beet root, cherries and dried guillemot.


Potato, smoked lumpfish, lumpfish roe and dill. 


Lamb, sunchokes and crowberries. 


 Carrot, buttermilk and barley.


Skyr (the uniquely delicious local yogurt), rhubarb and cookies.

Matur Og Drykkur


I was not mentally prepared for how truly good the food experience would be at this resto. In fact I found that this was the most interesting, satisfying gustatory experience that I enjoyed in Iceland. The best of local foods, presented simply, perfectly executed from a refined perspective. This kind of experience, for me, is the most satisfying and is exemplified by such International restaurants as Kitty Fisher's in London, Edulis in Toronto, Pied de Cochon in Montreal, etc.

Very good bread and sweet churned butter.


 Trout smoked in sheep's dung with burnt flatbread.


Sliced, double smoked lamb with buttermilk and nutmeg.

Wonderful, perfectly cooked, remarkably tender organic Icelandic lamb with potatoes, rhubarb jam, winter kale, crowberries and crowberry juice. The lamb texture and flavour reminded me of our spring lamb, but with a preferable, very pleasing, slightly gamey flavour.


Now, this dish was for me, the piece de resistance!!! Cod's head (yes, it was quite huge) cooked in chicken stock with sugar and kelp. Remarkably delicious! No food lover coming to Iceland should ever miss this dish, as created by this chef.


Deep fried cod chins (or as the Basque would call this, koktxas).


The accompanying potato salad was very good.

NO PHOTO: Icelandic twisted doughnuts "kleina" topped with licorice-lemon zest-cardamom sugar and sided with caramelized whey sauce. Delicious! 


Chocolate mousse topped with rhubarb granite and a piece of licorice flavoured meringue. Interesting combination of flavours and a satisfying ending to a terrific meal.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Italian Food as it Should Be: Enoteca Ascari

Enoteca Ascari is a rare Italian resto in North America where the the chef possesses a valid approach to the preparation of wonderful, essentially rustic Italian food from a sophisticated, contemporary perspective. This resto has been under the radar to some degree, despite being busy all of the time. So, to my good friends who share my interests, Enoteca Ascari is worth a visit.


Warm, mixed, plump olives marinated with herbs and citrus are simple, perfect and very satisfying.


Arancini cacio e pepe, rice balls with pecorino cheese and pepper with cheese sauce.


Crostini with ricotta, rapini, pickled ramps and topped with lardo, all on olive oil fried bread.


Crostini al tonno, olive oil poached albacore tuna loin, smashed white beans, pickled red onion, chopped chives all on olive oil fried bread.


Insalata Americana, seared romaine lettuce heart, oven dried tomato, julienned radish, sun flower seeds, fried shallots, with a creamy oregano dressing.

Pasta is made in house and was rendered and cooked so perfectly, being both slightly al dente but also with a springy texture. For me, this is the perfect pasta!



Spaghetti a la chitarra with basil, tomato sauce and pecorino di Sardegna.


Spaghetti with julienned basil and fresh morels. 


Ravioli d'inverno, sunchoke and black truffle filled ravioli with swiss chard, brown butter and chestnut spuma. 


Crispy, thin shelled cannoli filled with peanut butter ricotta and chocolate ganache, with dehydrated banana. 


Steamed lemon pudding, whipped cream and vanilla syrup.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Le Pavillion, A Pop-Up Joe Beef resto at The Derelict Hearn Generating Station, Toronto

The ambiance was MONUMENTAL at the derelict but cleaned up Hearn former power generating station. This was the location for Le Pavillion, a resto pop-up commissioned for the Luminato Festival, held annually in Toronto every year. The link below will show you a photo of the resto venue, located 4 floors up (you had to walk up the stairs....good exercise before the big dinner), in the power plant control room, on the landing above the ground floor.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/restaurant-reviews/article30397624.ece/BINARY/w940/image.jpg

Montreal's Joe Beef chef Frederick Morin and Toronto's Honest weight chef/proprietor John Bil, both good friends, were inspired to contribute their talents for this event and they also inspired chef celeb friends and winemakers to contribute to either food prep, busing, wait staff,etc, to this grand oevre, such as wine maker Norman Hardie, Chef Daniel Boulud, Joe Beef Chef/co-proprietor David Mcmillan, sommelier Vanya Filipovic, etc. Chocolates were supplied by Montreal's Nora Grey.

The derelict mess of the grounds and interior had to be cleaned up, water brought in from a source 200 meters distant, and power and the kitchen area scoured. Chefs Morin and Bil both contributed to adding design elements to the industrial space to make the room more pleasing and convivial.

Seven hundred, $100.00 per person, 7 course menu tickets were sold out within 24 hours of being offered. In keeping with the industrial theme, both Mr Bil and Mr Morin wore construction vests and steel toed boots for the service. Each day items were selected to be served from a very extensive a la carte menu (our group added 2 items to our set dinner). The a la carte menu also changed daily.


Fabulously fresh oysters, clams and prawns accompanied by mignonette sauce and Russian dressing. 


Wonderful house made bread accompanied the Joe beef style terrine of duck, gizzards and foie, cooked in a can, the tops removed and the can lifted at the table.


Ta-da!!! 


Classic gelee is added to the top of the terrine. The terrine and gelee were so classic and perfect. Delicious!


Joe Beef ham, cured in wine lees, thinly sliced and served with julienned celery root mixed with a walnut oil mustard cream and walnuts. 


Ontario white asparagus poached in beurre blanc, chilled and at service, warmed in green asparagus juice and served with a side of mousseline of epoise (epoise simmered in cream, chilled and folded with whipped cream and white pepper)


Gateau of arctic char, scallops and crayfish mousse with a crayfish bisque sauce. My favourite dish of the night....but every dish was at a high level. 


Roast lamb with figs in a delightfully rich sauce. 


Ratatouille. 


Buttered rice. 



Our "Extras"

Snails with garlic butter. 

No Photo: Horse tartar, meat chopped a la minute, with classic accompaniments of capers, raw egg yolk, diced shallots and chopped parsley. This was perfect and delicious.


Desserts


Classic baked alaska with cherrries. I have not enjoyed this dish for 30 years! 


Macerated sliced orange in old rum.


Fresh strawberry tart, the strawberries lie on a layer of jam and cream. 


Cookies from Andreas accompanied by chocolates for Nora Grey.