day 10 – noma

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, 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.

day 9 – winding down

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:

  1. amass – undeniably the best meal so far
  2. 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
  3. 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…
  4. aamanns – really tasty open-faced sandwiches, and an overall enjoyable, simple affair
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. fishmarket – solid, standard, but would fit in fine on 14th street, as would…
  8. dim sum – as would…
  9. 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.

day 7 – adventures and adventures

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.

ok, great.

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.

day 6 – copenhagen-ish

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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.

day 5 – dinner trumps everything

i woke up early and i had an adventure getting the car out of the driveway (which resulted in a scratch on the rental, dammit) and i had a bite of food in norway that wasn’t some cured meat or fish and i met a really nice cab driver in copenhagen and a friendly neighbor and a nice person who works at 7-11 BUT WHO CARES ABOUT ALL THAT because i ate at amass and i’m just back from that and it’s all i can think about.

it’s becoming apparent that norway was my wilderness blogger and copenhagen is going to be my food blogger. there are two things in this city: amazingly interesting scandinavian cuisine and coffee. through the recent work acquisitions, i was put in touch with gabe ulla, whose invaluable twitter (for people who like food and are visiting copenhagen, that is) turned me on to amass. amass is run by a chef who used to work at noma (where gabe got me an in, hopefully i get to eat there) and … well, just look at the team. it’s kind of comical.

one of the things i realized out of this meal is that i approach the entire concept of cooking entirely wrong. i think of individual elements, i think of how i expect them to look, and i don’t break outside this very simplistic model. the dishes i had at amass made it clear how simplistic this is: courses were broken down by their ingredients, and then presented in a way that delighted and shocked. i read some words, and then the thing set before me was those things but in a direction i couldn’t even comprehend.

let me put it this way – zach looked at the menu and said it was the most interesting menu i’d sent him of the copenhagen restaurants i’d run by him. zach saw the forest, and i didn’t get it. i was sitting here looking at this fucking tree like a sucker.

rather than breaking down each dish, here are the things that happened during this meal:

  • on more than one occasion, i wanted to ask the crew if they were witches. because i’m pretty sure they are.
  • one of the serving staff gave me a giant list of restaurants, cocktail bars, and coffee shops to visit while i’m in copenhagen. i’ve already made reservations at 3 of the recommendations.
  • pumpkin almost moved me to tears. seriously.
  • burnt cabbage also did this. seriously

also, it is worth noting that apparently my wonderful and wise sister has been reading along on these daily posts, and she’s been advocating the consumption of lamb necks for quite a while. well, tonight was the first time i had slow-cooked lamb necks (48 hours in crystal malt (no not meth)) and they blew my mind. so, good work nishi, you remain smarter than me.

if this is the food to look forward to in copenhagen… if this is what the rest of the meals are going to try and approach… i am not sure if there is anything worthwhile to read here anymore. i’m not a food blogger and i’m not going to photograph each course and break down the flavors from the meticulously kept notebook on my right during the entire meal. but jesus christ this food is going to erase all other memories of this city from my mind.

tomorrow’s goal: call noma and get a table. take some photos. drink some coffee. drink some beer. eat dinner. try to remember something other than the last thing on this list.

day 4 – the journey

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.

day 3 – vacations are not mixtapes

i’ve watched high fidelity a few times and i’ve made a few mixtapes, and one of the rules i live by on that front is that track 3 should be a monster. unless you’re going theme, track 3 should be the point where you, by way of the mix, stand and get attention.

vacations aren’t like that. day 3 of a vacation is when you’ve gotten the good stuff out and you’ve settled in to where you are. day 1 is the travel day, shaking off the nerves. day 2 is the day you get your number one thing in – for me, it was dog sledding, though to be fair i didn’t know that was number one ahead of time.

day 3 here hasn’t been wolf like me. for starters, it snowed all morning. the snow came down in droves, casually, like it wasn’t even there. the clouds were there the whole time, and there is 4 feet of snow on the ground everywhere, so who cares about a little bit more snow? then i got in the car to go to town to run an errand (i don’t run errands at home, but on vacation, apparently its a nice diversion) and i realized that these roads were all very clear before and i hadn’t driven in snow in a while and did i still remember how to do this properly? but then i did and it was fine.

but what i’m saying is this: snow in cleveland and boston was like this, but it was kind of a big deal. it was like “ok, here it comes again, be safe and smart, save your parking spots, drive slowly, things are mostly open”. if it snowed in DC like this, forget it. everything is shut down.

here, its just a fact of life. in fact, i drove down fv292 (where the house is) to e8 (the big main highway) and it wasn’t even snowing down there anymore. and i came up to the highway and the water (there is water everywhere and it is awesome) and the sky broke and everything was golden and it was amazing. and i went down to town and everything was normal and fine, even though the roads weren’t cleared and there was a good amount of fresh snow everywhere.

and i came back and the snow had cleared and the roads hadn’t yet because who gives a CRAP you already live above the arctic circle so just deal with it. and people were blazing by me at 90km/h on snowy roads because, listen, the snow came down casually and get over yourself.

anyway, it snowed today. and i went to town. and it turns out no one carries contact solution. and then i came back here and i wrote some code and i drank some blue label and it definitely wasn’t a track 3, it was more of a miles davis sketches of spain situation, but at the end of the day i am pretty sure that is what vacation is all about.

tomorrow is my shot at the northern lights. there was activity the first night i was here, but it was too cloudy to see anything other than this beautiful blue pre-dawn at 2am. tomorrow is my shot, but even if it doesn’t hit, i’m pretty happy with wherever i am.

day 2 part 2 – nom nom nom nom

i forgot to eat yesterday.

well, i didn’t really forget. i just didn’t eat yesterday. everything closes early on sunday and by the time i got to the house, all the stores were closed. so, i didn’t eat.

today i went down to the town about 20 minutes away and bought pretty much all the cured meat and fish i could find, plus a loaf of bread, a little bit of cheese, and some other stuff. here are the top 3 things i’ve eaten in norway so far:

  1. smoked salmon. good lord. so smoky and delicious.
  2. spiced meat rolls – i’ve had lamb, beef, and ‘jam’ which i think means mixed. who cares, they are all super tasty with bread.
  3. kinder maxi, because obviously

i’m pretty excited about this creme brulee pudding i found, and that might bump the kinder. also just missing the top 3 is norwegian coke, which: coca-cola is maybe the greatest pleasure in the world because it is at once different based on where you are and also the same as you expect it to taste because it is home. they use real sugar here too, so that helps. finally, blue label is disqualified because it isn’t specific to this trip, though i have had a few glasses of it and it is pretty amazing.

last place on things i’ve had are norwegian anchovies. they are meatier than other anchovies and less salty, but i’m pretty sure i need to do some prep to make them not unbearable, and i don’t know what that prep is. tomorrow, i will either eat more of this cured meat platter or i will go find some place that will serve me reindeer. i am not sure which.

day 2 part 1 – dogs!

first things first: i made a photo set on flickr. go, look.

yesterday, i mentioned that the neighbor tomas offered to take me dog sledding today. i said yes right away, and today around 330p local time we went.

there are two things about dog sledding that you need to know. first: you sit in a small sled while dogs pull you and your guide steers standing behind you. you can’t see your guide, you just hear him and see the dogs. more on this in a second. the second thing you need to know doesn’t require any embellishment: these dogs eat a lot and use a lot of energy and metabolize like crazy, and there is no time to stop for pooping or peeing. so, there is a decent amount of pooping and peeing in front of you. its pretty reasonable when you break it down, but its also a bit goofy.

now, back to that first thing: listen, you aren’t listening, just listen: you are on a sled and these dogs are pulling you up and down hills and across frozen rivers and through forests and you have no idea where they are going and there is nothing holding you down or keeping you from flying off this sled except your guide has done this a thousand times and you trust him but you can’t even see him so i guess you trust in the dogs? this is basically why i don’t understand religious people, but i kind of respect them.

i got to tomas’s house and he put me in a snow suit and all 26 of his dogs (honestly, i didn’t count but it seemed like a lot more than 26) started barking and getting excited because they knew some of them were about to get to go on a nice long walk. tomas picked out 6 dogs and got them all linked up, and then he had me get in the sled and his house dog (the only dog that wasn’t initially tied up) ran ahead and led the group and we started. so i didn’t put anything about my previous first dog sledding fact together until we started. as soon as i sat down i realized “wait, i hate roller coasters, what the fuck am i -” and we were off. and man, those dogs start out of the gate fast, running and then going down these hills and then crossing a frozen river and back up the river bank and then running through an open field until tomas settled them down into a trot. at one point i realized being afraid was stupid because “man if those dogs can run down that hill i sure as shit can get pulled down it by them”. which… i’m not sure if that makes sense, but here we are and i’m alive and i definitely stopped being afraid at that point.

so like i said, we went through open snow and across frozen rivers and streams and through forests and up and down hills and i got to see the backcountry of this already country region. it was thrilling and fun and awesome and … well, bumpy at times too i guess. it was great. the dogs were great, they are so well-trained and so capable – they did 30km like it was nothing, with little more than a 4 minute break at the turn-around point. and they were so unbelievably happy the whole time. at the turn-around point, tomas mentioned to me that normally he would take 16 dogs out for this ride, but only 6 today because there wasn’t enough soft snow and the ground was too hard to control 16 dogs. i cannot imagine having 16 dogs in front of me. 6 was plenty.

back to yesterday: i mentioned one of the things i was afraid of while traveling, but here is another – without someone else with me, would i do fun things? i’m not talking about not sharing this with someone else. i’m talking about pushing myself to do fun things and actually taking advantage of this vacation. this melts away really quickly when i remember that of all of the people i know, i’m the crazy gambler. this vacation is a casino and i am not here to just toy around.

i’ll post part 2 in a little bit, and it will be mostly concerning food. i’ll dig into how beautiful it is here tomorrow, i hope. look at the photos though – you can tell how beautiful it is.