It is Tuesday, July 22. 5 days ago, I got back from a week in Tulum, Mexico with my girlfriend and 4 other people.
The last time I took a trip, I wrote about it extensively. There were a few reasons why I did that — I wanted to get back into writing, I was alone on an adventure, the material demanded it — and those reasons speak to why I didn’t write about Roatan last year or my week in Tulum.
First, before the wrong impression is given, Tulum is amazing. It is beautiful, with perfectly sandy beaches and blue water and friendly people and delicious food and historical ruins and and and and. However, I was with friends and thus didn’t have a lot of downtime to write. There is only so much one can write about beaches upon beaches upon beaches, though I could have written tomes about both sets of ruins we saw, if I let myself wander.
This time, I was too busy relaxing, sitting around doing nothing, to try and capture the narrative of the trip. Both are good ways to respond to special trips – capture everything, or soak in everything and capture nothing. Finding that balance is increasingly the challenge of traveling – how will I remember?
It is the challenge of getting older and being in that sweet spot where you are self-aware that you want to remember everything because of everything you’ve forgotten but still being young enough where you think you have many trips, many adventures ahead of you. You take the trip for granted a bit, you also don’t take it for granted a bit. Today, 5 days later, it was a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful dream.
Photos coming soon.
during my almost 3 hour visit to noma for lunch today, i had a lot of time to think about what separates a good restaurant from one that can be considered one of the best in the world.
noma is either the first- or second-best restaurant in the world right now. it topped restaurant magazine’s list three straight years, from 2010-2012, and came second in the 2013 list.
the format is similar to that of other top-flight restaurants, made familiar to me when i first read about elBulli: 20+ courses (in my case, 26) that each take no longer than 5-10 minutes to eat, served rapidly and with precision. noma is famous for introducing a new take on nordic cuisine, as chef rené redzepi deeply explores the region for interesting, unique, and clever ingredients and turns them into interesting, unique, and clever dishes.
as i’ve made pretty clear over this series of posts, i’m not interested in food-blogging. i’m not interested in trying to write about specific flavors or impressions on food, because it seems a lot like dancing about architecture and honestly would become meaningless over time. i also discovered something during my meal today: there is something about removing the mystery of the meal that is unfair to anyone who reads this. the food was really fucking good, isn’t that enough to say?
the restaurant was beautiful and they sat me first of anyone because i happened to be the first person that walked into the restaurant. a few other folks were waiting until noon, but i had no such luxury since my flight from copenhagen to chicago was at 340p and i needed to give this meal as much time as i could.
upon entering, a few things happened: first, my bags were taken from me quietly and effortlessly, which is more than i can say about the nicest hotels i’ve stayed in. second, everyone from the kitchen and the 3 hosts all greeted me. third, when i sorted out who of the 20-ish people smiling at me i was supposed to talk to, the host sat me at a single table instead of at the sharing table that i was told my seating would be.
this was an overwhelming, happy start to the meal. i felt incredibly welcomed. no one else could get such a greeting, because, well, i had sat and some of the staff was busy preparing my meal and then the meals of those who sat after me. and i felt lucky… lucky isn’t the right word. blessed? blessed that i was given a table alone. upon sitting, my waiter came over to me and said, plainly “so, you know gabe?”
when i first planned this trip, whenever i first planned this trip, i was just late on making a reservation for february at noma. i was on the waitlist for 2-3 different days, but my hopes were… minimal. i lacked expectations, because who can ever expect to get that kind of call? then a funny chain of events, a wonderful chain of events happened:
1) i happened to go to my favorite bar in dc with pablo, because i heard my boss was there with some folks who were in longer meetings earlier that day. this was maybe 1 week before my trip began.
2) at the bar with my boss, trei, was lockhart steele, founder of the racked/eater/curbed network which was recently acquired by vox media. lockhart saw me and broke into a huge grin and said “niv, we just closed our tab, but for you i will have one more beer.”
now, lockhart and i have only encountered each other a few times in passing, but by all accounts he is a great guy and apparently by all accounts i am not so bad myself. my work intersects deeply with one of the value propositions we offer sites we are interested in acquiring, so without me really knowing it, some of the new, exciting people in our office are pretty well aware of me and view me in a positive light.
this is how i’ve rationalized this entire thing, so let’s just assume i’m right, because otherwise i am just the luckiest person on earth. or maybe lockhart is incredibly nice.
3) lockhart sat with me and had a beer and asked me how things were and trei mentioned my trip to him and he was immediately drawn in. he found the entire trip exciting and brilliant. he listened to me talk about my hopes for the northern lights in norway and how i was excited to eat in copenhagen because i’d heard such great things about the food there and on and on and on. and i forgot that i was talking to the founder of eater.com, until he mentioned to me that a former writer of his gave notice in the best way possible, because he was recruited to move to copenhagen to write about food for chef rené redzepi. gabe, he assured me, would get me into noma without any problems. my jaw hit the floor, and i thanked my lucky stars for going to churchkey at the beginning of the snowstorm.
4) lockhart introduced me to gabe, and gabe ulla is smart and kind and wonderful. he reached out to nadine, who runs reservations at noma. everything went silent while i was in norway.
5) then nadine emailed me and said i was set for the shared table at noma on tuesday, february 25 at noon and asked if that was fine.
6) AND THEN, as if he had not done enough, gabe reached out to me via email and while we were not able to meet up while i was in copenhagen, he sent me numerous recommendations for some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. it was incredible. it was high-cuisine lonely planet, and as a result i had very few culinary missteps while i was in copenhagen.
so, lockhart, gabe, and nadine all have my greatest thanks for pulling all of this together and helping me experience noma. i’m sure as hell buying lock the next round, and hopefully gabe will be back visiting the states sometime soon.
back to the experience at hand: the shared table was starting to fill up and i realized what it was – one-offs sharing a table for 8. all of them strangers, except for one couple. i couldn’t help but think of the movie clue and hoped that they all secretly knew each other and then someone would turn up dead. well, maybe not the last part.
eating alone was how i’ve been used to eating. i’ve had four spoken conversations since my trip started. i didn’t want to be stuck at the pace of anyone else and i surely didn’t want to sit next to anyone who would over-analyze the magic being put in front of us, so the treat, the gift of getting to eat alone was more than i deserved.
i mentioned removing the mystery of the meal earlier and i just referred to the meal as magic, and i wanted to expound upon that by way of another side story. there was a gentleman sitting to my left, probably my dad’s age, with his wife who spoke loudly and confidently about the food as it was placed in front of him. he asked many questions about how things were made and spoke assuredly about how they could buy most of these ingredients in new york city and he could make most of these dishes in his house with his fancy kitchen gadgets but they were still delicious anyway.
this, to me, undermines the entire premise of noma. noma is a world-class restaurant because the dishes are like magic. i thought about my first meal in copenhagen, at amass (still the second-best meal i’ve ever had), and the dishes there were magic as well. both restaurants presented a list of ingredients and even visually presented things that were familiar. amass was like a good magician, presenting dishes you could reverse-engineer with a bit of thought and very few questions but were incredibly enjoyable regardless of understanding them. noma was some david copperfield making the statue of liberty disappear shit. i joked about wanting to call the kitchen staff at amass ‘witches’, but noma was some dark, secret black magic. things were presented that made no sense but were delicious, things were presented that you thought you understood, but then realized quickly you had no earthly comprehension of what you were eating, things were presented that you’ve even tried to make, only to realize the things you thought you did well were not even close to good.
noma was some black magic shit and i could not recommend it more. amass might get there soon, bror is a little bit short but on its way, and nowhere else i ate came close. manfred’s is a great counterpoint – a delicious, wonderful meal that made perfect sense and was executed exceedingly well. noma only had 2 dishes like this, and they were both taunting, as if to say “yes, we can do that black magic you’ve never had this before and will never find it again stuff, but we can also make things you’ve had every day better than you’ve ever had it”.
so to me, asking the waiter, the magician, to immediately reveal his trick is exceedingly bad form and doesn’t allow noma to be as good a restaurant as it is.
back to the beginning of this story, i mentioned that everyone greeted me upon entering the restaurant. i spoke a bit to the waiter and showed an interest in seeing the kitchen and saying hello to gabe, and before i knew it i was set up for a tour of the restaurant after dessert and before my taxi arrived to take me to the airport.
let me remind you that this is one of the best two restaurants in the world, they are booked full every day, and i just had a meal for one with a juice pairing and was dressed in jeans and a flannel button-down. i was a friend of gabe’s and little else, and i’m not even sure that i needed to be a friend of gabe’s to get this treatment – i just had to ask. the service and friendliness was exceptional, and captured so much of what i liked about copenhagen in one 2.5 hour chunk.
i saw the finishing kitchen, the main kitchen upstairs (with a weird, apologetic note about the interns from my guide nate, who softly defended noma’s practice of not paying interns), the test kitchen, and the office and library. everyone said hello, thank you for coming in, and good bye as i walked through the tour. i was so overwhelmed that my camera was in my pocket until the very end, where i got some shots of the finishing kitchen.
and after 26 courses and a lot of juice and 2.5 hours at noma, it was time to catch my cab and make the mad dash for the airport and my flights home. i’m writing this as we approach greenland, 3 hours into our almost 9 hour flight. the glow of the meal is still with me, i feel lucky and blessed and happy about my trip to scandinavia, and i am glad to be on my way home with that sending off.
and with that, here are my cellphone pictures of noma.
today was my last full day in copenhagen, and effectively my last full day of vacation. i’m flying for a good chunk of tomorrow (over 12 hours) and then i have wednesday off back home but i have to get my life, my real life back in order.
copenhagen is great. i really, really enjoyed the central part of the city and nørrebro, the two areas i spent time in. the people are friendly and nice, the city is safe and interesting and almost but not quite diverse. the only complaint is that it is a tad bit too cold, though i guess looking at dc weather right now it is about the same. i really like how rather than tearing things down only to rebuild them, this city seems to recycle itself to meet modern needs. its very much a modern city with a medieval feel to its architecture. i mean, its a european city i guess. that is how it works here. they’ve been around a while and they figured out what works, rather than starting over from scratch every once in a while.
the lack of diversity is a bit annoying but it didn’t really cause any issues. a fair number of people thought i was danish, but that might just be a safe assumption that danish people choose to make when they aren’t quite sure. it’s the safer choice, i guess?
anyway, today was a nice, relaxed end to my time in copenhagen. i realized i had only been eating fancy tasting menus and i needed a steak, partially spurred by a text message from clif and partially by finding myself hungry late last night. i found pastis last night and then had a dream in which i told pablo about some tremendous steak frites i had in copenhagen so my decision was made for me when i woke up. i read a bit more of islands in the stream and took off for pastis around 2p for a bite. i drank some wine, ate some steak, and read some more hemingway. how very american-in-europe of me.
after that i wandered around the city a little bit. i hadn’t actually looked at any of the many, many stores that lined all the streets of central copenhagen. i decided to remedy that.
in dc, there aren’t any stores anymore. they’ve all gone, driven out by online ordering and bad zoning rules. i used to think this was a good thing, but now i’m certain that it isn’t. these stores and this mixed zoning of bars and restaurants and stores both chain and boutique, unique and mass-produced all jumbled up together creates a dynamic, compelling walking environment in copenhagen. before 7pm on weekdays, this does not exist in dc – only restaurants and bars drive foot traffic, and we miss out on ridiculous treasures like a vintage wallpaper store, 15 antique shops, and all the bookstores we used to have but now we have forgotten.
aside: there are a billion bookstores in copenhagen. the first one i wandered into, in fact the first store i wandered into was a niche bookstore about visual design. i spend too much time with teddy when a place like that is the first one that draws me in.
the kinds of stores that can stay open here shocks me – the aforementioned antique stores for example, and the many niche bookstores, the plethora of cafes, etc etc etc. this is an expensive city, and there must be some intelligent zoning and city planning that allows this walking/biking culture to thrive.
wandering around was nice, but as i felt myself getting tired i headed back to the apartment. i read a bit more and around 745p i headed to dinner at pluto. this place was recommended by the waitress at amass, but so was geist. i wasn’t sure what to believe going in, but the initial impression was a good one – it was low-key if a bit dressy, with friendly waiters and none of the bass-thumping madness of geist.
aside: i wonder how much my impression of geist was affected by going there saturday night instead of, say, monday night.
i got the 12-course fixed menu and a glass of syrah and i read while i waited, which wasn’t long. all of a sudden, 5 of my 7 courses were upon me, and they were each delicious. i wanted to pace myself but couldn’t, everything was entirely too good. that got me through the appetizers, the charcuterie, and the salad courses. of the next 7 courses, i had 3 fish, 2 meats, and 2 desserts lined up.
annoyingly, the fish and meat courses were uninspired and not at all as exciting as the starters. pluto also had a significant pacing problem, with 5 courses coming out immediately, then the 2 fish courses, than a feeling of being forgotten, then another fish course, then 2 meat courses (these were especially bad) and a knowing of being forgotten for quite some time.
finally, dessert, which almost redeemed the lousy mains, except it was dessert and they were mains and the main courses need to do better, you know?
i made it out of there stuffed and slightly unhappy, but energized from the strongest cup of coffee i’ve had on the trip so far. i wandered on back home and now it is now and i haven’t quite started packing yet and i haven’t stopped thinking about tomorrow and my meal at noma at noon, squeezed in just before my flight home. my goal is to pack up entirely and leave the apartment in time to catch a cab for lunch, taking my suitcase with me. the folks at noma already know i’ll be going straight to the airport from my meal, so it should just be up to me.
so let me wrap up this post with a memory of all my copenhagen meals, ordered from best to worst:
- amass – undeniably the best meal so far
- bror – unfairly had to eat this meal in the shadow of amass, so i took it for granted. in retrospect, it holds up quite, quite well
- bar’vin – mostly snacks, but between the owner being the most gracious host and the ham, this one slots in at number 3, just ahead of…
- aamanns – really tasty open-faced sandwiches, and an overall enjoyable, simple affair
- manfred’s – this place felt like an elder statesman in the overall “new nordic cuisine” movement: less dynamic, more sure of itself, but only one dish that was to me worth returning for
- pastis – so different and such a more traditional meal than anything else on this list, it isn’t fair to compare. so put it in the middle and move on
- fishmarket – solid, standard, but would fit in fine on 14th street, as would…
- dim sum – as would…
- pluto – fishmarket, dim sum, and pluto are probably all tied as fine restaurants, with a very slight gradient between them
man, i ate a lot of food.
so tomorrow is noma and flights and home and while i will miss this vacation, i am honestly a bit relieved. i was getting lonely on the road by myself for this long, and i think the cracks are starting to show. it’ll be good to be back.
after an early and easy morning, i wrapped up liverpool’s 4-3 win and took a light nap. when i woke up, i was in a foul mood, so rather than heading out i decided to relax, stay in, and read more of islands in the stream, the hemingway novel zach recommended to me just as i was leaving for this trip. i finished tender is the night in norway, so i figured hemingway on leg 2 made some sense.
of course, these are both wildly depressing novels. i am overall enjoying this trip and i guess introducing some balance by the way of depressing american novels is a way to cope with that, i sometimes question my decisions.
hold on, this fire hasn’t been interested in starting all day and i’m about to exhaust this house of firewood and starter material so i need to focus on that for a minute.
we’ll see what happens, who knows with these things.
i read for a while and i got to the end of part I of the novel and the end of part I requires a drink. i looked around and it was 750p and i hadn’t gotten ready for my 830p dinner at manfred’s, a solid 30 minute walk. so, i pulled myself together and i got going.
i thought the streets were empty this morning, but after 8p on a sunday, copenhagen is emptied out. there are a decent number of people already in cafes or restaurants, but there is no one out and about. it might as well have been a winter blizzard.
i hoofed it on up to manfred’s, which is in between coffee collective and mikkeller & friends, and got to the restaurant right in time for my reservation. i ordered the chef’s tasting and a glass of cabarnet, which was of course natural wine.
a moment of your time regarding natural wine: manfred’s claims to have founded this movement in copenhagen, and i really haven’t seen it elsewhere but every nice meal i’ve had in copenhagen has come with an offer of natural wine (amass, bar’vin, bror). it’s wine that is made without any chemicals or additives, and from what i can tell it tends to be brighter, cloudier (of course) and punchier in flavor. it lacks subtlety but makes up for it in spirit, i guess? i don’t know. wine isn’t really my thing and natural wine almost certainly isn’t my thing, so far.
back to manfred’s: i’ve had the tasting course at a few other restaurants, and this is the first one in copenhagen that was at all vegetarian friendly. in fact, the majority of dishes were vegetarian, and while the best two dishes were not vegetarian, they did a good job of representing. since this wasn’t amass and i’m not a food blogger, i won’t go into much more detail, other than to highlight my favorite dish: squid, roasted eggplant, and leeks. great interplay, great textures, very enjoyable.
i would be amiss if i didn’t mention the first americans i ‘encountered’ on this trip – a group of 4 sitting with a british local who came in a bit after me. it seemed that they may have worked together and been in town for a conference- either way to me it didn’t seem that they had traveled abroad very often and had no feel for really anything. i’m not a huge world traveler, but i know when there is a language barrier with your waiter, the last thing you want to do is try and make jokes with him. i also know not to be the loudest person in the room, and how to not be amazed that yes, one of the best restaurants in the world is in copenhagen because of michelin stars, or something.
i have a great disdain for a lack of intellectual curiosity, and it definitely caused me a bit of annoyance during the meal. if you think i’m being snotty… well, i was. so there.
man, i cannot get this fire to start. one second.
ok, i basically put all my paper trash in the stove and lit it up, and if that doesn’t get it going well i quit.
man that failed faster than i expected.
manfred’s was pretty good, but amass still is the leader in the clubhouse on good meals in copenhagen. the food at manfred’s was good, but the food at amass was interesting and also really good. so.
after the meal, i walked up the block to mikkeller & friends, the scene a few nights ago of me getting drunker by myself than i realized.
tonight i had 3 beers in an abbreviated fashion (more on that in a minute):
- three floyds blackheart – the only three floyds on tap outside the US, according to the bar. pretty good IPA, very malty but full-bodied, like a good american IPA should be
- to øl dangerously close to stupid – really good double IPA, surprised me with how well-balanced and full-bodied it was. heavy on the citra, not too boozy (despite being over 9%), and the only negative is a slight bitterness up front that plenty of people would have no problem with
- mikkeller nelson sauvin iipa – grapefruit and bitterness, not a hint of booze despite being over 8% and really good body. just, grapefruit for days, which i don’t necessarily need
halfway through beer #3, an issue came up with ottoneu, and i chugged the beer and paid the bill and rushed home. here is the post-mortem on that whole sordid affair. you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
overall, today was a good day. i woke up early, i processed photos, i wrote a decent amount, i read a decent amount, i napped, and i got to a few key things i wanted to see. i haven’t successfully started a fire with this goddamn wood (yes, now i am blaming the wood), but other than that it was solid, if not spectacular. the best decision i made was to take a nap and then take it easy between 4p and 730p, because otherwise i would have completely drained myself like i did yesterday.
tomorrow: listen, i like these tasting menus and these high-minded scandinavian dishes, but i need steak frites or a burger for lunch tomorrow. and then pluto’s for dinner. and gift buying in between.
i shut it down early after a rough day 7, and as a result i woke up the earliest i’ve woken up on this trip (8am! hooray!) and got productive pretty fast. i posted a bunch of photos and organized my flickr, and then i went in search of a solid cup of coffee to compete with coffee collective, the leader in the clubhouse for coffee shops.
my search took me to risteriet, a cool little shop on what looked to me to be a pretty hipster street about 10 minutes from where i’m staying. the coffee was fast and cheap, and they had a good amount of beans for sale and some interesting equipment, too. they even had cuban beans, which i guess isn’t much of a novelty for anyone except an american now that i write it out. however, the coffee just wasn’t that interesting. it might have been that they use the simplest beans for their filtered coffee, it might have been that things weren’t that fresh – but i was reminded of the lady at coffee collective telling me that the lighter roasts have more subtlety and flavor, and i tasted something that was dark and lacked both those things.
now, to be fair, the bar is really high and risteriet didn’t meet it, but it was a pretty solid cup of coffee to get the day going.
from there, i walked over to aamanns (which apparently has a location in nyc), walking through some of the central parks in copenhagen. i walked up to the rosenborg castle and saw some danish royal guards doing the whole marching band thing, and wandered around the castle gardens and the neighboring botanical gardens for a little bit. i kept walking up towards aamanns, and saw some cool residential side streets before settling down for a lunch of smørrebrød, which are basically pieces of bread with a bunch of stuff piled on top. i had the herring, pork belly, and roast beef. all were excellent, with the herring being the most delicious of the 3. i also had an elderflower soda, which was pretty interesting and tasty, though not a flavor i’m going to miss when i’m back home.
after a slow meander back to the apartment through a half-alive central copenhagen, i found the liverpool game on a stream and i’m going to watch and read through the afternoon. one of the things yesterday made apparent is that i’m running myself ragged through this city, and i should take it easy every now and again. it helps that everything is shut down here after 2pm on sundays, so unless i want to go to a bar, i’m taking it easy until dinner.
i walked back through a few busy squares and past a lot of closed shops, and there is something interesting to me about how the pop culture here is so american-influenced, if not out and out american. i can’t imagine what it would be like to have popular culture so dominated by a foreign country, and i wonder if that is partially why food has taken such a prominent place here in copenhagen. books, music, movies – these will never be exported from denmark matching the pace and quality required to keep up with america. but food! maybe food can?
or maybe there are niches in all of these things, and i like food more than i care for danish movies. i don’t know.
i have been struggling with my camera choices. the rx100-ii has been my main camera, and the d800s has been unused since norway. traveling alone, i tend to want to be discrete and quick, almost – i want to capture moments quickly, rather than carefully compose a scene. i think this is because of traveling alone, i’m not sure. the rx100-ii also isn’t making life easy by producing very excellent photos very quickly. it seems an ideal traveling camera for me, while i still need to sort out what to do with my d800s other than night skies and sunrises. i guess ‘struggle’ isn’t the right word, but this is both an excellent finding and annoying all at once.
liverpool is having a weird game against swansea right now, and maybe i’ll go down the street for a pint and the second half, or maybe i’ll lounge around here until i can think of something better to do. dinner is right next to coffee collective, and a return trip isn’t out of the question at all.
today was jammed pack with both food adventures and traveling solo adventures. i did a good job of adding some spice to this entire endeavor, i guess.
i woke up around 1130a and got going around 130p. first stop was to a drug store (matas) to get some contact solution. i’ve been contact solution-free since this trip started and i’ve slept in my contacts the last 5 nights. the main problem is that while i’ve been to a few grocery stores, none of them carry contact solution. only designated drug stores do, and they aren’t open that long so i’ve put it off and missed out and finally today i said enough was enough. so i went over to matas near where i’m staying and today i learned that drug stores in denmark are really just the body shop or sephora or whatever. tons of beauty products and perfumes, and very little relationship to my corner cvs. so, that was interesting. there was one shelf of what i believe were “medical supplies”, and there i found my contact solution, and there my first goal of the day was accomplished.
most of you saw my many instagrams, but the next stop was truly great: bar’vin, around the corner from matas and from where i’m staying. the owner, nils, selects some of the best western european cured meats, and combines that with 5-6 nice cheeses, excellent bread, and over 20 bottles of wine that are available by the glass. the meal was right up my alley – cured meat and cheese with some wine almost always is – but the highlight was “the world’s best ham”: 48 month aged (!!) pata negra from joselito. it was spongy, rich, pork-y, tender… like i wrote on instagram, nils assured me that he hadn’t forgotten to serve me the jambon, i just couldn’t eat it with the rest of the things i had ordered. after having this ham, he said, everything else “would be like eating air”. while i had the ham last and couldn’t test his theory, i’m pretty sure he was right.
i ran home with my contact solution and my full belly and dropped everything off in the apartment. i rushed out the door because in about 10 minutes the arsenal game was starting and i wanted to check out the scene at the southern cross, the local liverpool+arsenal pub. i really wanted to scout the scene ahead of the liverpool game tomorrow, plus i needed to watch some sports and see what a bar in denmark is like. i’d really only been to restaurants, and there really aren’t a lot of bars at all. the ones that do exist seem to be english-themed and thus reminiscent of every place in midtown manhattan, so i was a bit wary going in.
the second thing i learned today is that you can smoke in pubs in copenhagen. yuck. stinky.
everyone in the southern cross was british and a regular, and they were none to pleased when the local danish station chose to show the stoke-man city game instead of arsenal-sunderland. honestly, i wasn’t really happy with that choice either: unless city is going to score 6 goals, they are not necessarily enjoyable to watch. they finally got a stream up about 20 minutes in (and arsenal up 1-0 already), so i stuck it out and watched the rest of the game. it was cold and wet outside and i didn’t feel like drinking shitty beer so i just sat around and talked a bit with the guy next to me and enjoyed the crap out of rosicky’s goal and when the game ended i took off. the pub was full of annoying bar people who have the same annoying bar conversations and i probably won’t be back. one of the least enjoyable things i’ve done in copenhagen, to be honest. hopefully i can find the liverpool game elsewhere tomorrow.
i wandered back home, pretty tired and ready for a nap, and as i approached the big double doors that lead into the courtyard that the apartment is off of, i realized i didn’t have my keys. i thought back and realized that i must have dashed out the door without them to make it to southern cross in time to see the arsenal game. so, thanks a fucking lot, arsenal. my keys were probably sitting on the table up in the apartment, and since the doors lock behind you here i was solidly locked out.
great, adventure time.
of course, my first move was to wander over to ved stranden 10 for a glass of wine while i figured out what my appropriate next move was. this is a pretty solid, if yuppie, wine bar and i wish i could have paid it more attention. i was tired and annoyed about the keys and i’ll need to go back there at some point before i leave. i texted alex, my airbnb’s host’s local friend, who i’m supposed to reach out to in case of trouble. he told me he was 50km away and suggested i try to use a credit card and jimmy the lock or call a locksmith.
so i called a couple of locksmiths and i tried my hand at picking my first ever lock and i found out that the locksmiths were closed and i’d make a lousy burglar. now it was around 645p and my dinner at geist was at 830p so i texted alex again: are there spare keys anywhere in the city? and alex said “i’ll come in and help you out”. a huge change of attitude and life-saving, honestly.
i got into the courtyard and i waited around and around 8p alex made it here with the keys and let me in and there were my set of keys sitting right on the goddamn table. he vanished before i could buy him a beer, but no time – i had to get ready for geist.
dressed up, walked over, and as i walked in to geist i did not see anything that resembled the menu that had me so excited. i saw a dark, trendy, snotty restaurant that was trying really hard to be a scene. my fears were confirmed when i checked in. the hostess looked at me like i was going to take up a table for 2 all by myself (which, to be fair, i was) and said “you can sit at the bar or you can wait, but it might be a long wait”. cue the jerry seinfeld bit on taking reservations versus holding reservations. i waited for about 3 minutes, looked around, and realized i was not going to enjoy my meal at geist. i compared it in my head to bar’vin earlier in the day. at bar’vin, nils walked around and spoke to everyone, and he took great care of me by picking out the wines, picking out cheeses, giving me a little extra dry-aged beef before i left, and sharing the enjoyment of the jambon with me. this place was a giant impersonal scene, and it wasn’t what i was looking for out of dinner. or really ever.
so i walked out and i looked on my phone for my email from gabe. he suggested a danish place around the corner, so i went there, only to find it closed on saturday night.
so i walked a bit further and i found myself in front of dim sum, the place i was actually originally supposed to eat at tonight. how’s that for a sign? i went in and wasn’t judged for eating alone and had an enjoyable, if rather regular meal. it was just more comfortable – i could talk to the waitress (or choose not to), it wasn’t super busy, and i could see the chef making my food. kind of the basic set of requirements for a meal alone, i think.
today was an exhausting, kind of annoying day. it’s been cloudy and rainy every day i’ve been here, the food was meh, the people were a bit subpar (but to be fair a lot of that was the fault of the english), and nothing made me happier than putting the fire on in the apartment and getting into shorts and a t-shirt. tomorrow promises to be a bit better, as i’m eating lunch at aamanns and dinner at the highly-recommended and promisingly low-key manfred’s. right now i’m going to put some more wood in the fire and read a bit more of islands in the stream and dream about 3 points for liverpool.
it’s after midnight and the fire is trying to catch and goddamnit i love copenhagen.
today was a pretty solid day. i slept in and woke up late (something i plan on doing again tomorrow). once i got going i cleared up a few errands (credit card knows what country i’m in, cell phone works properly, that sorta thing) and planned out the day:
that’s a pretty solid afternoon. ricemarket for a late lunch, then coffee collective and finally mikkeller and friends. i swapped the last two because i figured coffee would be good after beer (correct decision). then i went to bror on a strong recommendation from my aforementioned contact gabe for dinner and while it didn’t erase my memory like amass did, it was really quite good.
so, my notes:
copenhagen is awesome. i really like it here. it’s friendly, the bike lanes are absurdly large, and there are interesting things at every turn. the bike lanes are worth calling out: they are the size of car lanes in dc. like, 4 lane roads are 2 bike lanes and 2 car lanes. it’s pretty impressive, and allows everyone to ride around without helmets and really without worries. cars know they are 3rd place in this city behind pedestrians and cyclists, and that general understanding makes it pretty safe to ride around on bikes.
the people are also worth calling out: incredibly friendly, understanding, and helpful. ‘kind’ might be the best word. i had great experiences at lunch, at the bar, and at dinner. and also everywhere in between. it’s really quite something.
once i got going this afternoon, i walked up basically nørrebrogade to mikkeller and friends. i stopped off at ricemarket for a quick bite, and had a pretty delicious tuna and some decent fishcakes and dim sum. not amazing, but pretty good. mikkeller and friends is an ideal bar: well-lit, helpful bartenders, 39 (!!) taps, and sausage and chips if you find those taps taking advantage of you. i took notes on the beers i had, because otherwise i would have missed everything:
- to øl frost bite – a winter pale ale, made with pine needles which was very apparent, surprisingly bitter, easy drinking, pretty cloudy but overall light.
- mikkeller i beat you – a double ipa and a play off of IBU. booze was apparent but covered, resin-y, doesn’t feel like a 9.5% beer but still light-medium body, which is the downfall of every european IPA.
- to øl fuck art – this is advertising quadrupel – naturally came up in the progression, but also what a name. what a goddamn name. pretty yeast funky, pretty boozy, pretty smooth. very cloudy, and had all the quad characteristics: raisins, plums, yeast, etc.
- to øl jule maelk milk stout – i got this mostly because hainesy and josh noticed a 15% milk stout and threatened to come to copenhagen if i didn’t drink it. much smokier than i expected, which covers the booze well, so it didn’t feel 15% at all. very smooth, very syrupy with cherry tones (which makes perfect sense). milk stout portion only apparent at the very beginning of each sip, otherwise it felt like a very strong barrel-aged russian imperial stout
- mikkeller black ba grand marnier stout – roasty as all get out, boozy as all get out. it’s 21% so that makes sense. pitch black darkness, ends with a charred flavor. more of an experiment than a beer
as you can imagine, i was pretty toasted after those beers. so i went to coffee collective, which was a really cool coffee bar. other than their impressive sourcing and how they roast their own beans (super light, as to not introduce unnecessary bitterness), i really liked the layout of the place. it was like walking into someone’s breakfast nook – there wasn’t a bar or anything between me and the person who worked there. i sat at a high table near a window, and she talked to me conversationally about their coffee and made me a regular cup of coffee and an espresso. the good danish places (last night’s meal at amass included) seem to not roast too dark, allowing the coffee beans’s natural fruitiness and sweetness to come out. i’m not used to these light coffees, but i have to say they are pretty delicious. i could get used to them. i got a couple of bags of their espresso beans, which are the darkest they roast but aren’t really that dark. it should be interesting to make them back home in the office and see what people think.
so, beers and coffee and a lovely walk into the northern part of copenhagen. the northern part of copenhagen was great: much more diverse than where i’m staying, definitely very arabic (which i could tell by the arabic writing on a few of the stores), and just a bit more real-feeling than the touristy wonderland of central copenhagen. i’m excited to try out the western part of the city tomorrow to compare.
finally, i made it over to bror tonight. i was going to go to höst, but gabe insisted. so i went to bror and i was not disappointed.
i had the tasting menu with the wine pairing, and i added the bull’s balls as an appetizer. first off: bull balls are annoyingly tasty, once you get past what they are. they are like oysters without the fishy taste and a bit more put together with a hint of beefiness. they were super tasty. the rest of the meal was great: brown trout, amazing cod, beef cheek (guys, beef cheek. always good? possibly), and some ice cream that i wolfed down too fast to even register. while this meal wasn’t the mind-blowing, memory-erasing experience at amass, it was really quite good. the only complaint i have is that the service was a bit slow, but that might be my american antsy-ness. i’m not sure.
thanks to gabe, i’m now semi-pals with the head chef, who was incredibly nice and came to talk to me a couple of times during the meal. everyone in the city notes the same places as excellent, so i’m really excited to go to geist (tomorrow), manfred (sunday), and of course nöma (tuesday lunch, just before my flight home). the food in this city is just so fucking exciting, i cannot handle it.
so, today was a bit more reporting, and less poetic. tomorrow, other than geist, is wide open. i’ll probably check out the palace and explore the city a bit, with a pretty exciting meal capping off the day. so far, copenhagen has just been excellent. while i liked being alone in the middle of nowhere, cities are just more my speed.
it’s 11pm local time, and barring a 2am miracle i will not see the northern lights on the norway leg of this trip. there has been a thick layer of clouds over the region since i got here.
wait, let me back up.
this is where i am:
this is my fourth night here and i’ve seen maybe 3-4 stars, total. briefly. before the clouds took them away. i haven’t seen the moon. nights are a silent, inky black unlike anything i’ve ever experienced. there aren’t animals moving around, there aren’t insects anywhere. there is just you, the inky black abyss, and some quiet snow. maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the wind in the distance. maybe the wind will come your way.
the first night i was here, there had to have been some solar activity. the world was lit in a hazy pre-dawn blue at 1am, so there was light coming from somewhere. the clouds blocked the source then and have every night since.
i was outside just now smoking a cigar and sipping on the last of the blue label and thinking about how successful this trip has been. yes, peak solar activity. yes, february is a long night up here. yes, i went out to the country to minimize noise pollution. yes, yes, yes. but i pulled this trip together on a lark, on a whim. i showed up in the middle of nowhere (look at that map again) and i encountered the friendliest, most helpful people anywhere and i ate smoked meats and drank blue label and smoked cigars and was productive and rested and read and wrote and i’m not even done with this trip yet.
tomorrow i head out to copenhagen, where i have reservations at 5 restaurants (including noma, noma!!) and an apartment in the middle of the old city, walking distance to bars and restaurants and mikkeller and everything. i’ll get a little taste of northern european city life and some of the most interesting food around.
tonight i am going to revel in how much fun the last 4 days have been. stress-free, work-free, ottoneu-filled, music-filled, writing-filled, thought-filled… like my friend ross emailed me earlier today, “the journey up there is what it’s about”.
and i’m ever the optimist, so i’m going to drink some coffee and wait for that 2am miracle. i think i saw the clouds breaking a few minutes ago.