Recently in Europe category

Fäviken

Magnus at Fäviken

It’s hard to write or talk about a place like Fäviken. Not that I have trouble talking, as those around me can attest to, but making the trek top the restaurant far north of Stockholm is as much about the experience of being in a certain time and place as it is about eating the food they’re serving.

Fäviken

Although I don’t necessarily follow all the hype about starred restaurants and culinary “experiences”, etc, I do know that regardless of cuisine, price, and location, like a perfect glass of wine or bite of chocolate, it’s not possible to fully describe it – nor will it be the same for everyone else.

Fäviken

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Stockholm

Swedish potatoes
Swedish bread ring

I had no idea what to expect when I planned a trip to Sweden. I think it was a friendly discussion between friends when we decided it would be interesting to go to Fäviken, the famed restaurant northward of Stockholm. (I’ll do a separate post on that since it was such a unique experience.) So we made a reservation, then decided to spend a few days before and after, wandering around Stockholm, seeing what’s good to eat in the Swedish capital.

Stockholm phone boothSwedish bread
swedish cookiesgrain bread at Scandic in Stockholm

There is a lot of talk of the new “Nordic” cuisine – which often uses old-style techniques for cooking, and celebrates traditional ingredients, reviving some that were in the process of disappearing. Other chefs are exciting diners with unexpected flavors and combinations. This modern cuisine sometimes relies on smoking, grilling, and cooking over fire. I was pretty excited to go and see what these young chefs were doing, but I was also interested in tasting anything that was traditionally Swedish as well, including the breads and confections.

organic flour & grains

One the whole, we ate very well. I’ve posted a few tips at the end for making a visit to Stockholm a bit easier on the budget. There were a lot of details on the plates during a few of the most lengthy meals. At those places, meals were meant to be experienced, and are not easily written about. But I was just has happy pulling up to a market counter and downing a plate of Swedish meatballs and lingonberries. Here are some of the highlights of the trip:

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Rosendals Trädgård Bageri

swedish flatbreads at Rosendals Trädgård

I think I’ve been speaking in too many superlatives lately. It’s just I’ve been fortunate to be traveling and finding so many great places. Either that, or it’s just my American side coming out, the one that tends to speak in superlatives. Still (or “Oh my God!”, as we say), whenever I find something amazing, I can’t help but going a little loopy over it.

bread and butter at Rosendals Trädgård

For example, could this be the greatest bread bakery ever? Imagine a glassed-in building in the middle of a huge organic garden in Stockholm with a 16-ton wood-fired oven inside. And right in the middle is a well-aged wooden counter that is the center axis of the bakery, where the dough gets shaped before baking, and later becomes the place to gather all the breads and pack them into baskets to be sold at the cafe and the shop next door.

Swedish breads at Rosendals Trädgård

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Pärlans Caramels

Parlans lemon caramels

One of the things that most excited me most about coming to Stockholm was to visit Pärlans Konfektyr. The moment I heard about it, I knew I had to go. I mean, a small shop that makes artisanal caramels, in one of the best dairy-producing countries in the world, with a wink-and-a-nod to traditional Swedish charm? Count me in.

wrapping caramels in stockholm at Pärlans Confectionary/Konfektyr

So I asked if I could come and watch them make caramels. When I walked in, I got the usual cheerful Swedish greeting, and I realized I was surrounded by caramels in an array of flavors – some traditional, others less-so, and some beautiful jars of sauce which, after I tasted a sample, had me seriously consider risking getting busted for trying to smuggle a few home in my carry-on. I didn’t, although I’m sure the agents at the airport would have been very, very happy to confiscate them!

caramel cutting

The beautiful logo, the warm welcome with a lilting “Hej!” (“Hi!”), the rows and rows of wrapped caramels, and jars of sauces with “l”, “J”, “Å” and Ö”-heavy names I could barely pronounce. Judging from the steady stream of customers – many with kids in tow (and towheaded kids, at that – after all, it’s Scandinavia), it seemed to be an obligatory stop in the neighborhood.

caramel makers in Stockholm at Pärlans Confectionary/Konfektyr

After a few moments of admiring everything, the folks at Pärlans invited me into their pristine kitchen and I felt an air of happiness as the workers diligently cut up butter, boiled up sugar syrups, measured out fruit purees, and were hand stamping wrappers for caramels.

copper caramel pots

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Smörgåstårta

sandwich cake 1

Eating and travel are lots of fun. Hopefully when you hit the air – and the road – with friends, there will be a lot of hits. But inevitably, you do run the risk of a few misses. En route to a remote part of Sweden, we drove for a while, seeing nothing but trees, remarkably blue skies, one or two clouds, and a car-free road in front of us.

But soon our tummies started rumbling. We had hoped to pass a charming little place on one of the picturesque little lakes that we kept driving by, dreaming of platters of fresh fish caught that morning with a bowl piled with new potatoes, slick with Swedish butter, dill sprigs, and crunchy flakes of salt. Alongside we might sip a locally made beer. Then finish up with a bracing cup of good Swedish coffee to send us back on our way.

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Shang Palace

bbq pork at Shang Palace in Paris

Quite a while back, I worked at an Asian restaurant in San Francisco. The food was amazing. Fresh shrimp were cooked up, chopped, then smeared on bread, then deep-fried for shrimp toast. All the dumplings had freshly cooked ingredients in them – no canned peas or frozen shrimp. And each one was hand-rolled. All the meats were well-sourced and cooked daily, then shredded for fillings and claypot dishes. And the seafood was sparkling fresh.

The restaurant hobbled along for a few years then, sadly, closed. There were number of factors, but the one that I heard from most people is that they balked at paying regular restaurant prices for Chinese food.

For some reason, people think that Asian food needs to be cheap. (Last time I was in New York City, I went to a place that is famous for serving dumplings that could be had five for $1. It was recommended by a lot of people and they were so awful I threw them away, mainly because I was concerned about the meat – or whatever was inside – that I was eating.) I don’t know why people will easily pay $20 for roast duck at a regular restaurant but scoff if it’s more than $8 at an “ethnic” restaurant, especially if the ingredients are sourced with the same care at both.

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Paris-Lausanne Tour 2012

Etivaz

I don’t know why, but almost all the pictures from my Paris-Lausanne culinary tour came out kinda goofy. Out-of-focus, askew, grainy, or there’s odd pictures of sidewalks, one of me lounging in a bathrobe, guests eating and drinking (no one looks great when putting a forkful of food in their mouths so those pictures I’ll keep to myself…and I hope they do likewise), lots of chocolates rolling off conveyor belts, and even those scrumptious, insanely good Swiss meringues with double-cream Gruyère tasted (a lot) better than they look here.

meringues and Gruyere cream

The week passed by as a whirlwind of tastes – we moved from one chocolate shop to the next in Paris – Fouquet, Jacques Genin, Patrick Roger, and Jean-Charles Rochoux. Then, when we hit Lausanne, we switched gears, focusing our attention on cheese, air-dried beef, and white wine.

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Milan

Italian Breakfast

Even though it’s just next door, every time I go to Italy, I wonder why I don’t go more often. Before I moved to Europe, I used to wonder why Europeans didn’t travel to other countries more often. And now I’m one of them. I think it’s because just to go anywhere, whether it’s a 45 minutes flight or a 4.5 hour flight, you still need to schlep to the airport, arrive in a new city, find your bearings, and by the time you’ve finally figured out most of the good places to go, it’s time to head home.

babas

It also doesn’t help that when I returned from this trip, two airlines were striking at Charles de Gaulle airport, the RER train was closed for some unexpected (and unexplained) reason, prompting a few thousand of us to be bused to a deserted train station in the middle of nowhere, to wait in the cold pre-winter air until a train showed up nearly an hour-and-a-half later, well after midnight, making the trip from the Paris airport back to the city (which is a mere 23 km, or 14 miles), nearly four hours – or three times longer than the flight to Milan.

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