Recently in Dining & Travel 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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Ciel de Paris

paris view from ciel de paris restaurant

Most people already know that a good view doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with a remarkable culinary experience. But I’d gone to Ciel de Paris many years ago and found the food pas mal. And to top it off, it was reasonably priced, which is so often not the case in places that tend to attract out-of-towners. But what’s truly the draw here, aside from the 70s decor, are the views from the top of the Tour Montparnasse, which are unparalleled in Paris. The views are even better than the views from the Eiffel Tower, since you get to peer down on the famous tour, which was once just as reviled as the blocky Tour Montparnasse currently is.

Unlike those philistines that didn’t like the Eiffel Tower when it was built, I think I am the only one in Paris that doesn’t mind the Tour Montparnasse. The black rectangle lurking in the background of Paris isn’t nearly as objectionable as a number of some of the recent modern buildings, such as Les Halles (which is currently getting a makeover) and the Opéra Bastille.

ciel de paris table window

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Change

change

One of the things that you need to have when shopping for food in France is a big, sturdy shopping basket. You also need to have a bit of patience because the lines can be long, and lines in Paris are like airplane restrooms; when it’s your turn, everyone behind you disappears and suddenly, you seem to have all the time in the world. But more important in Paris than having a big pannier, and an even bigger bladder (because few markets have a place to, uh, “go”), is that you also need to have plenty of change.

France and America have a curious relationship. Each is fascinated with each other and have a camaraderie that’s built on admiration, a little of frustration, and a soupçon of envy. For every American that rattles on about “free health care” (no matter that it’s not free, it’s paid for by – or from – a percentage of your earnings) there is a French person exclaiming how much they would love to live in New York City because of l’energie.

(No matter that if you walked right into someone as if they weren’t there, as happens in Paris, they’d certainly get a real “New York Experience” from a real New Yorker.)

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Verjus Sandwiches

pulled pork sandwich

A friend who’s been living here quite long time once wondered aloud to me, why Parisians sandwich-makers weren’t more creative. I never really thought about it; because I buy sandwiches so infrequently, I’m really happy to have a simple, classic jambon-fromage with a smear of butter on a baguette. But I suppose if I ate sandwiches daily, like so many people now do, that I’d also want a little diversity between the slices. (In my defense, I’ll sometimes see if I can get goat cheese on my sandwich, rather than the usual Emmenthal.)

That probably explains in popularity of the Subway chain in France, who offers something different from the French classics. According to their website, they now have around 66 outlets in Paris. But I’m not joining the lines, though, because it’s where I had one of the worst sandwiches of my life back in the states. You’d think it’s pretty hard to f-up a sandwich. Thankfully, things have taken a turn for the better.

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