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#1 Sneakeater

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 05:25 PM

COPENHAGEN SUMMER 2010
a/k/a Copenhagen Without Noma


The first thing you notice here is that everybody is gorgeous. Gorgeous and well-dressed. I don't want to say anything good about Hitler, but you can see where he got that Nordic Superiority shit from. Not just young people, either. This isn't like Portugal (or Polish Greenpoint, Brooklyn), where everybody under 30 is beautiful and everybody over 30 is either a crone or a fire hydrant. People age well here -- and, if anything, become even more stylish.

Even the bicycle riders -- there are hordes of them, as in Holland -- are stylish and beautiful. Everybody is.

I mean, everybody. You go to a tourist spot like the Round Tower (an old observatory now used as an observation deck), and the tickettaker is model-like. In New York, she'd be sitting at the front desk in a gallery. Here, she sells tickets at a tourist attraction.

I've never felt so much like a dumpy repugnant troll in my life.

Because the rest of the country is apparently less improvident than I am, I am virtually the only American I've seen here. I noticed it on the plane trip over -- the plane was full of returning Danes, with almost no Americans. I can see my countrymen's point. I've always avoided Scandinavia because it's so expensive. I was right with a bullet. But after the most uncomfortably hot summer of my life, I was desperate to get somewhere cooler than New York. Since I'm traveling alone, I wanted someplace urban. So why not the city with The Best Restaurant In The World? Of course, I can't get into it. But still.

The Royal Cafe

This is a stylish little cafe tucked into the Illums Bolighus shopping complex, right off the Royal Copenhagen porcelain store. I happened upon it, but doing some backresearch I see they're almost sort of famous for an invention called (get ready) Smushi -- sushi-sized smorebrodden. Let's ignore that if these are sushi-sized, they're monster pieces of sushi. Let's just be grateful they didn't call them Smapas.

The point is that they're very good.

Now it's time for me to go into my annual rant. Why can't food in the U.S. be as good as food in Europe? Why does good food seem so effortless here, when in the U.S. it's such a big deal, with so much apparent effort?

Take my smushi. (There's a sentence I never anticipated writing.) The three I selected -- the best three, my cheerful (and of course gorgeous) waitress exclaimed -- were fishcake with remoulade, liver pate wrapped in salt meat, and "Parisian steak" with "an exciting topping". The fishcake itself was exemplary. It was of the firm variety, and very fishy. (I'm saying that as a good thing.) Danish remoulade (it turns out this is an actual dish) contains finely ground cabbage and pickle, and is stained yellow with turmeric. So this is a traditional dish: very good but no big deal, you'd say.

But then we come to the liverwurst with salt beef. Chopped onion on top, fine. But the cubes of gelleed boullion fond? If anybody in the U.S. did that, you'd have to listen to the waitron explaining it for 20 minutes. But there, it's just something some cafe does.

"Parisian steak" turned out to be a chopped-beef patty, seared on the outside and raw on the inside. The "exciting toppings" turned out to be capers, corn-and-carrot relish, and some exotic tiny egg, raw in its topped-off shell.

As if to remind me that I'm not going to Noma, each Smushi -- they really should be ashamed of themselves -- also comes topped with a different unidentifiable but pungent northern green.

Let me try to be clear why I'm so bitter about all this. This cafe is in the main mainstream fancy shopping district: the exact equivalent of upper Madison Ave. This wasn't some place I went out of my way to find; I just stumbled in. And it's not a big deal: it's just a little cafe. Could you expect to stumble upon something this good but this unassuming off Madison? And it's not simple food at all -- it's quite stylish and even somewhat elaborate.

We just don't have a developed food culture, is all. I'm staying here.
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#2 Anthony Bonner

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 05:35 PM

COPENHAGEN SUMMER 2010
a/k/a Copenhagen Without Noma


The first thing you notice here is that everybody is gorgeous. Gorgeous and well-dressed. I don't want to say anything good about Hitler, but you can see where he got that Nordic Superiority shit from. Not just young people, either. This isn't like Portugal (or Polish Greenpoint, Brooklyn), where everybody under 30 is beautiful and everybody over 30 is either a crone or a fire hydrant. People age well here -- and, if anything, become even more stylish.

Even the bicycle riders -- there are hordes of them, as in Holland -- are stylish and beautiful. Everybody is.

I mean, everybody. You go to a tourist spot like the Round Tower (an old observatory now used as an observation deck), and the tickettaker is model-like. In New York, she'd be sitting at the front desk at a gallery. Here, she sells tickets at a tourist attraction.

I've never felt so much like a dumpy repugnant troll in my life.

Because the rest of the country is apparently less improvident than I am, I am virtually the only American I've seen here. I noticed it on the plane trip over -- the plane was full of returning Danes, with almost no Americans. I can see their point. I've always avoided Scandinavia because it's so expensive. I was right with a bullet. But after the worst summer of my life (I can't take heat), I was desperate to get somewhere cooler than New York. Since I'm traveling alone, I wanted someplace urban. So why not the city with The Best Restaurant In The World? Of course, I can't get into it. But still.

The Royal Cafe

This is a stylish little cafe tucked into the Illums Bolighus shopping complex, right off the Royal Danish Porcelain store. I happened upon it, but doing some backresearch I see they're almost sort of famous for an invention called (get ready) Smushi -- sushi-sized smorbrotten. Let's ignore that if these are sushi-sized, they're monster pieces of sushi. Let's just be grateful they didn't call them Smapas.

The point is that they're very good.

Now it's time for me to go into my annual rant. Why can't food in the U.S. be as good as food in Europe? Why does good food seem so effortless here, when in the U.S. it's such a big deal, with so much apparent effort?

Take my smushi. (There's a sentence I never anticipated writing.) The three I selected -- the best three, my cheerful (and of course gorgeous) waitress exclaimed -- were fishcake with remoulade, liver pate wrapped in salt meat, and "Parisian steak" with "an exciting topping". The fishcake itself was exemplary. It was of the firm variety, and very fishy. (I'm saying that as a good thing.) Danish remoulade (it turns out this is an actual dish) contains finely ground cabbage and pickle, and is stained yellow with turmeric. So this is a traditional dish: very good but no big deal, you'd say.

But then we come to the liverwurst with salt beef. Chopped onion on top, fine. But the cubes of gelleed boullion fond? If anybody here did that, you'd have to listen to the waitron explaining it for 20 minutes. But there, it's just something some cafe does.

"Parisian steak" turned out to be a chopped-beef patty, seared on the outside and raw on the inside. The "exciting toppings" turned out to be capers, corn-and-carrot relish, and some exotic tiny egg, raw in its topped-off shell.

As if to remind me that I'm not going to Noma, each Smushi -- they really should be ashamed of themselves -- also comes topped with a different unidentifiable but pungent northern green.

Let me try to be clear why I'm so bitter about all this. This cafe is in the main mainstream fancy shopping district: the exact equivalent of upper Madison Ave. This wasn't some place I went out of my way to find; I just stumbled in. And it's not a big deal: it's just a little cafe. Could you expect to stumble upon something this good but this unassuming off Madison? And it's not simple food at all -- it's quite stylish and even somewhat elaborate.

We just don't have a developed food culture, is all. I'm staying here.

I was jokingly going to guess your chip and pin incident was at illums bolighus.

I told you about the people.

"This is a battle of who blinks first, and we've cut off our eyelids"


#3 Sneakeater

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 11:03 PM

Ole Mathiesen, if you must know.
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#4 Sneakeater

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 10:22 PM

Big-Deal Michelin-Starred Restaurants

Copenhagen has more Michelin stars than any other Scandinavian city. (The competition, as you might imagine, is not fierce.) So even if you can't get into Noma -- which you can't -- there is still a lot to choose from (Noma having two stars, the rest one). My meals at four one-star Copenhagen restaurants further demonstrated to me that Michelin's New York ratings suffer from serious grade inflation: several of the one-stars I ate in Copenhagen were equivalent to the three-stars in New York.

I went on this trip alone and I planned to really concentrate on my food, so I could write full reports. I even bought a nice notebook in which to record my contemporaneous impressions. As it happens, however, it is even easier in Copenhagen than in New York to persuade attractive young women to let you take them out to dinner. (I'm not even going to talk about the effect of staying in a newish and highly swank hotel that everybody is curious to see the inside of.) So I ended up not concentrating hard on my food at all (and certainly not taking any notes). What follow are some general impressions to aid future visitors.

a. A/O/C

A/O/C is in the basement of what appears to be a 19th-Century building formerly devoted to some sort of diplomatic purpose in Frederiksstaden, an aristocratic quarter. The walls are white-washed, so that the affect of the vaulted room is modern and simple rather than ornate. The food is French-inflected New Nordic, not as doctrinaire and crazy as Noma (and more French-inflected). It was very good.

What I remember from this meal (it didn't take any suasion at all to get all my dining companions to accept extended tasting menus -- those Danish women can really put it away [maybe it's all the bicycling they do]) are the "semi-frozen" veal with (I think) ground beets and other stuff, the veal served in pink strips with a tiny of bit of meaty flavor poking out through the frost, and the best pork cheeks I have ever had by a long shot, first braised and then very briefly fried.

b. The Paul

The Paul is actually inside Tivoli Garden. The chef is Paul Cunningham, a Brit who (I think) trained under Marco Pierre White but who has had fairly extensive previous experience cooking in Denmark. Before you get too pissed off about the name of the restaurant, note that it's located in a highly architecturally significant glass pavillion designed by Paol Hennigsen -- which is a blast to be in, in and of itself.

Chef Cunningham serves an extended and fairly experimental tasting menu. But since I had an early curtain after dinner, I had the three-course "Ma Cuisine" menu instead. This is supposedly a tweaked version of the classic. It started out with a Bouillabaisse exactly like you'd have in Marseille -- except that the fish were of the North Atlantic and the spicing was completely different. No matter, it was superb. The Nordic flavors tend to be tart and herby, and that worked great in this soup.

Then, a dish that seemed to answer the question, how rich can you make an entree? Well, you put in oxtail, and bone marrow, and foie gras, and mushrooms, and truffles, and I'm leaving stuff out, too. I mean, it was delicious (how could it not be?) -- but it verged on parody. A big portion, too.

c. Restaurant Herman

This, the lead restaurant in my hotel, the Nimb (also technically on the Tivloi grounds), was probably my favorite. The basic idea is similar to A/O/C -- French-inflected New Nordic -- but if anything it was a tiny bit more accomplished. There was a lot of play here -- dishes served with dry ice carpeting the table in mist (which impressed my unjaded date a lot more than it did me) -- but there was real thoughtful cooking going on, too. Maybe the very best thing (that I can remember) was an amuse, a variation on a traditional Danish dish called "burning love" (that I remember) which consists of a pastry sphere dusted with vinegar powder (I'm pretty sure I'm getting this right) filled with bacon, potato, and onion, which you dip into a pickle marmalade. It was the marmalade that set it off. Fantastic.

d. Soelleroed Kro

This is an old post house located in an affluent suburb of Copenhagen. It's far stuffier than any of the other places I went, and the food leaned more on the French inflection and perhaps was more traditional Danish than New Nordic. It was also superb.

As did Food Snob, let me celebrate their signature caviar appetizer. It looks like a tin of caviar from Rossini, a Danish supplier -- but the caviar turns out to be only a thick top layer, topping a layer of creamed Jerusalem artichoke and then a layer of langoustine. I found this stunning.

Turbot with leeks was perfect (and turbot remains a fairly rare treat for someone from my part of the world), as was pigeon (if this weren't such an unfusiony place, I'd have sworn it was crusted with panko) served with truffles and beets.

Wine pairings were revelatory at all these places. They weren't merely The Greatest Hits Of The By-The-Glass List. A lot of deep thought obviously went into deciding what to serve with what. And no one was afraid to pour glasses from bottles with some age. My jaw dropped when the sommelier at Soelleroed Kro came to the table with a bottle of 1998 Clos des Papes to pair with the pigeon -- but by that late point in my trip, it shouldn't have.

So you can eat very well in Copenhagen, even if you can't get into Noma. My only complaints would be that sometimes the food is a bit too rich, and sometimes it's a bit too tart. But big deal. I'm buying into this New Nordic stuff.
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#5 Behemoth

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 10:35 PM

Thanks for the well written reports. So much for my theory that food in Europe gets worse as you go North. Bergen in Norway was (except for one meal) just awful, for example.
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#6 Sneakeater

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 10:38 PM

I have a fairly strong suspicion that Copenhagen is anomalous.
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#7 Orik

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 10:42 PM

Yes, thanks, we might just go there at some point.

Before the New Brooklyn Nordic Cuisine, I imagine all the food was as heavy as some of what you describe. At least it's been my experience in Dutch starred restaurant in the 90s that a dish would commence with an amuse of foie creme brulee, continue with cream of cream of cream of asparagus, then lobster in cream, some cheese, and then maybe a souffle. Thinking about it I can't recall a single meal that didn't include foie creme brulee Posted Image
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#8 Anthony Bonner

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 11:05 PM

my impression of 5-6 years ago was pretty similar to yours from ten+ years ago.


Still even then much better foodwise then the other place in Scandy I spent time.

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#9 Sneakeater

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 11:18 PM

Orik can probably get into Noma, too.

(It's OK: I ate Redzepi's food in New York.)
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#10 Sneakeater

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 11:48 PM

Before the New Brooklyn Nordic Cuisine, I imagine all the food was as heavy as some of what you describe. At least it's been my experience in Dutch starred restaurant in the 90s that a dish would commence with an amuse of foie creme brulee, continue with cream of cream of cream of asparagus, then lobster in cream, some cheese, and then maybe a souffle. Thinking about it I can't recall a single meal that didn't include foie creme brulee Posted Image



my impression of 5-6 years ago was pretty similar to yours from ten+ years ago.


Still even then much better foodwise then the other place in Scandy I spent time.


And now that I think of it, the places where I had the most problems with richness were The Paul (where the menu I had didn't even purport to be Scandinavian) and Soelleroed Kro (which was by far the most Old Skool place I went).

Although even now, these guys love their foie with cream.
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#11 g.johnson

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 01:20 PM

Thanks for the well written reports. So much for my theory that food in Europe gets worse as you go North. Bergen in Norway was (except for one meal) just awful, for example.

It gets worse going east and west too. Only the south is safe.
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#12 yvonne johnson

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 01:53 PM

I rather liked the food in Oslo (especially at the Chinese restaurant).
It was not a new dish, as I recognised my tooth marks. Wilfrid

#13 Sneakeater

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 02:56 PM

Cocktails in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is trying very hard to develop a cocktail scene. But it's still immature, showing all the usual signs: one-dimensional drinks, too sweet/fruity, Fear Of Bitters. But it's trying.

The start of the Serious Cocktail Scene in Copenhagen apparently was the bar at my hotel, the Nimb. (The following was all told to me by the bartender there the night I arrived, who was doing his Last Shift Ever there and with whom I deeply bonded as a fellow alkie. COMP DISCLOSURE: we drank into the early morning, and somehow he forgot to charge me anything.) When the hotel opened in 2008 at great expense, the owners were determined -- or thought they were -- to have the best cocktail bar in Northern Europe. They hired one of the legendary current-generation bartenders of London to run it. But they weren't willing to back it up with all the things that Great Serious Cocktail Bars need: housemade infusions and bitters, GOOD ICE, etc. So the Legendary London Bartender decamped after a few months. But he left them with a cocktail list that's a compendium of the New Cocktail World's Greatest Hits (with a lot of amusing commentary). And, apparently, with a supplementary off-menu list of such drinks as well, as when a few nights later they were out of some ingredients needed for a Champagne cocktail one of my dates ordered from the list, the bartender recommended as an off-list substitute an Old Cuban, an Audrey Saunders/Pegu Club classic.

Now this is both good and bad. A good cocktail is a good cocktail. But I didn't pay godknowswhat for a plane ticket and take a seven-hour plane ride to drink New York City specialties.* Indeed, my bartender friend that first night recognized this, as he asked at one point if I wouldn't want to try a local cocktail instead of another International Classic. He then made me a drink developed by a friend of his that had won the first prize at the Copenhagen Cocktail Competition (or some such) the previous weekend. Later in my vacation, I had the chance elsewhere to try the second prize winner. What I glean from these is that the local Copenhagen style is to use Cherry Heering.

I had already heard of Ruby, and my bartender friend confirmed it was the premier cocktail lounge in the city. Ruby is located in an attractive townhouse on a canal across from the Slotsholmen island -- in the Georgian embassy, in fact -- and you have to knock on a locked door off to the side of the embassy's vestibule to get in. Oh shit, I thought: I'm going to have to name-drop my way past a door policy. But no, you knock on the door and a chirpy (and beautiful) cocktail waitress invites you right in. I guess they figured they needed a locked door to be taken seriously as a cocktail lounge.

Ruby sprawls over two floors and a back yard, looking more like a house than a bar. It's very very pleasant. But the drinks just aren't there yet. As I said above: too sweet, too fruity, one dimension to each drink, not enough bitters. Which is weird, in a way, because the New Nordic flavor profile being promoted in the city's restaurants is pungent and distinctive. What I think is that, instead of Cherry Heering, they should concentrate on using all those odd Nordic herbs that Rene Redzepi and his acolytes come up with.

I didn't get to them (those multi-course tasting menus with wine pairings were murder), but for the record other Copenhagen cocktail destinations are 1105 (in the heart of the Stroget district -- although not on the Stroget itself) and a place that I think is called Union that is more of a traditional unmarked speakeasy somewhere in Frederiksstaden.
___________________________________________________________________________

* The Hotel Nimb's website, which maintains the pretense that the hotel has a world-class cocktail bar, boasts that Jim Meehan did a guest stint there. I love Jim, and love his work. But I can't imagine I'd be happy if I got off a seven-hour plane ride only to find Jim waiting for me at the bar on the other side.
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#14 Wilfrid

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 06:10 PM

I don't want to say anything good about Hitler, but you can see where he got that Nordic Superiority shit from.


It certainly wasn't from Basildon, I agree.

Let me try to be clear why I'm so bitter about all this. This cafe is in the main mainstream fancy shopping district: the exact equivalent of upper Madison Ave. This wasn't some place I went out of my way to find; I just stumbled in. And it's not a big deal: it's just a little cafe. Could you expect to stumble upon something this good but this unassuming off Madison? And it's not simple food at all -- it's quite stylish and even somewhat elaborate.

We just don't have a developed food culture, is all. I'm staying here.


Of course. I am sure I've said the same sort of thing about station buffets in small Spanish towns.

#15 Wilfrid

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 04:32 PM

Without wishing to disrupt discussion of Sneak's excellent reports, I discovered in conversation last night that there may be people unfamiliar with the source of his subtitle (the title of the video is wrong, of course):