My hands are frozen, my lips are cracked, my ears glow a fluorescent red, and I’ve lost feeling in my feet for some time now. Vaguely skeletal objects occasionally impede our steps. They might be bicycles, but I can’t see anything, so who knows.
Though it kind of feels like it, we are not climbing Everest. We’re trudging through the snowy streets of Copenhagen looking for a restaurant.
Unfortunately our maps provide an insufficient level of detail. We haven’t seen a taxi in about an hour. And even if we found one, we’d be unable to direct the driver anywhere. I want to curse but am frustrated by my inability to do so. Why is Danish so impossible?
And why, my girlfriend asks, don’t we just stop someplace else? We’ve passed hundreds of places to eat, and we’re scouring a neighborhood called Meat Town for a restaurant whose name sounds a lot like Fish Bar.
It’s called Kødbyens Fiskebar, or more familiarly, Fiskebaren. It’s a favorite among the noma staff, run by noma alumni, and Rene Redzepi’s lovely wife had told me we had to go. That was pretty much all I needed to know.
We finally find it, in an industrial park we’ve walked by three times. We sit at the bar and begin to defrost. We are an hour early to our reservation. We suck.
Inside it looks like a vodka commercial: porcelain-skinned blonde women with high cheek bones and low-cut dresses, halfway scruffy guys with high salaries and low body fat. After twenty or thirty minutes of awkwardly sipping hot tea, one of those scruffy guys — many of whom work here — shows us to our table.
It’s the smaller plates that most catch our collective eye, so we order five of them. Trout tartare is first. It’s got capers, onions, crunchy little mustard seeds, and a tuft of greenery on top. I like it.
The tiniest scallops I’ve ever seen come after that. Thimble-sized at best, they’ve got little globules of freeze-dried raspberry on top, and a dab or two or walnut oil. Some kind of green leaves are cut into circles and placed on each scallop. Everything is cut into circles in Copenhagen’s restaurants, as far as I can tell. Every little scallop here is sweet and super-tart for an instant, then nutty and rich on the finish. We want eighty more servings, but instead we eat two loaves of bread during the downtime. They’re hearty and they’re hot. So far I’m finding the restaurant bread in this city to be of surprisingly high quality.
My girlfriend gets fish and chips, made with smoked haddock from the Baltic Sea. The English translation of the menu claims it’s been lightly smoked, but I wonder if the Danish version says the same thing, because to my American palate there’s not much light about it. The fish has a lovely texture — moist and flaky within, crackly without– but it’s too salty for her to finish. It’s hard not to love the fried capers they’ve used to season the chips, though. I content myself with stealing those from her plate as frequently as possible.
Meanwhile I’ve dropped my camera into my cauliflower. There’s other stuff on the plate, too, but it’s the mangled cauliflower I’m most embarrassed by. It was a little ball of the stalk that got blanched and rolled in squid ink-stained bread crumbs. It was dotted with truffle oil and was supposed to look, I guess, like a small truffle, but now it just looks like I’m a jackass. This dish is king crab, by the way — an exquisite and delicious long piece of it. Slices of Gotland truffle — cut into circles, of course — keep it company, as do little mounds of Jerusalem artichoke puree. Dried cauliflower looks almost like broken coral on the plate, and the crab wades in a verdant parsley-and-cockle sauce. The combination of all of this is quite harmonious. It’s the best dish we’ve had tonight.
Dessert is granité. Actually, it seems that dessert in Copenhagen is always granité — we’ve had it every single day. This one’s made with sea-buckthorn from Sweden. It tastes like some perfected permutation of passionfruit. It’s amazing. More of the fruit has made its way into round little gels, as has some lemon. A white chocolate and tonka bean cream is at the base, with little cookie crumbles hidden between it and the granité. It’s a lovely range of different textures, and the overall flavor is so sour as to be nearly astringent. Refreshing and bright, it’s been the perfect end. Only hesitantly do we not order a second.
As we step outside, we stop to warm ourselves by the fire on the sidewalk. I’ll dress more warmly tomorrow, I think to myself. Tomorrow, we’re going to noma. That’s the reason we’re here in Copenhagen, and, in a way, the reason we’re here, on this sidewalk, desperately trying to put our extremities as close to the fire as possible before we set off into the dark, cold night. Thanks for the recommendation, Nadine. Tomorrow, I’ll try not to drop my camera onto René’s food.