Braised oxtail at Rolfs Kok, Stockholm, Sweden

Lunch at Rolfs Kök, Stockholm

Rolfs Kök (Google maps) is a cozy restaurant in what feels like a neighborhood of only wine bars and white-collar offices (isn’t that what Swedes all do anyway – white-collar design work?  pretty sure that’s what the Wikipedia page says.  anyway.)

The place is delicious – short lunch menu, just a handful of options, including a daily special, but Myra told me to get the braised oxtail and truffle potato purée.  The red wine sauce was perfect on both the tender beef and the creamy potatoes.  Simple stuff made well is always impressive, whatever country or continent.

Fika, fika, fika

Stockholm is all about dat fika, a culture of coffee and pastries that seems also to extend to a broad array of other drinks and snacks and sandwiches.  Two forms of deliciousness, one liquid and one to eat.  And folks take their coffee seriously, as much as they do their leisure time.  There are a lot of young families in these shops during the day.  So many baby strollers, and so many dads.  God bless your 18-month maternity/paternity leave policies.  I feel like such an American barbarian in that regard.

People with laptops and also with books.  Homogeneous as all get out, but whatever.  I still ride for coffeehouse culture.  We visited a handful of places – Cafe String (Sodermalm), Drop Coffee (also Sodermalm), Bakverket (Bondegarten), and Snickerbacken 7 Cafe (Norrmalm).

A latte and a peanut butter chocolate rice crispies at Cafe String (Google Maps).

image

Some breakfast pastries and coffee beans at Drop Coffee (Google Maps), also in Sodermalm.  Across the street from the Sandqvist store where I got my backpack.

Mazariner (almond tartlet) and a jam shortbread cookie at Bakverket (Google Maps) in Bondegarten.  The space has a more proletariat vibe, if you will, but whatever, they still put butter in the pastries, don’t they?

image

Mazariner and latte at Bakverket Sodermalm Stockholm Sweden

And later on our trip, we had ourselves a real healthy lunch at Snickerbacken 7 Cafe (Google Maps) in Norrmalm.  It’s a really hip, but lovely space, and gets super busy around lunchtime, humming with meetings and mommy meet-ups and co-working and readers alike.

Stockholm Escapades – Pt 2: Oaxen Krog

The other half of Oaxen is Krog, this polished open-kitchen powerhouse of a fine dining establishment.

We sat at a communal table for six people, sharing the same tasting menu, some with wine pairings and myself with the juice pairing.  Initially, I didn’t know we’d signed up for the communal dinner, but it turned out to be one of my favorite meal experiences – not just in an asterisk’d way (like, favorite meal in a foreign country or something) – but one of my favorite meals.  It was a four-hour marathon, paved with luxurious bites and flavors, blessed with laughter and stories, that showcased the magic connectivity of what good food and drink can conjure at a dinner table of strangers.

We started with some amuse-bouches.  Not all of these I remember, but the bone marrow dish had a really nice clean finish. And I’m always about that head-on shrimp.

Oaxen Krog also served up some luxurious bread – some brioche knobs, some fresh butter, and this warm black bread, savory, sea-salt crunch, syrupy sweet.  Basically cake with butter at mid-meal.  It was cool to share the meal with Swedes who had grown up eating variants of these dishes, obviously more homey versions, to see them wax nostalgic about their childhood food memories and the long-ago places and times that these flavors recalled.  I just love that stuff.  Food with stories, with soul. Continue reading

Herring with fried rye bread, potatoes, sour cream at Oaxen Slip in Stockholm

Stockholm Escapades – Pt 1: Oaxen Slip

One of the small blessings of travel and studying abroad is that you meet and befriend folks from different walks of life, corners of the map which you hadn’t previously visited, people who grew up in different circumstances, with different interests.  In the decade since, my path and theirs have often diverged even further on many levels – jobs, education, geography, experience, love, food.  But it’s also funny how life (and discount airlines offering an undeniable deal) can reconnect those threads.

We were in Stockholm in mid-winter to visit Antony, an Australian friend from my year abroad in Paris who found a career in foreign service and who was now assigned to the consulate in Stockholm.  Stockholm, and Scandinavia in general, was a first for me, so we’d lucked out having a second bedroom in a lovely, light-filled apartment in Kungsholmen as a home base for a few days.

A few of our meals brought us Oaxen, a restaurant on the quiet south side of Djurgarden, past the Vasa and ABBA museums (yes, it’s a thing).  Oaxen is split into two parts, the more casual Oaxen Slip and the two-Michelin-starred Oaxen Krog.  We ate at both, and had a swell time at both.

This post is just for Oaxen Slip, where we shared a meal with two friends who live in Stockholm.  The fried mushroom, meaty and savory, was delicious.  Whoever thought to butter-fry the rye bread is a genius – it inverted the experience of that dish.  There’s a giant boat suspended over your head, which lends both a surreal quality to your dining experience, but also connects you to the idea of Sweden so far as I have any idea of Sweden, a country and a culture long on seafaring and seafood, on craft and simplicity.  None of these dishes felt overthought or overworked – each dish was three or four things done well and in earnest.

Oaxen Slip
Beckholmsvägen 26
115 21 Stockholm, Sweden

Gandarias Jatetxea – San Sebastian, Spain

There’s not much to be said about Gandarias except that it represents a sublime amalgamation of the best things we found throughout the old town in San Sebastian: a lively crowd shuffling for standing room, immersed in good wine and conversation, endless platters of delectable bites on display at the bar (with more stuff from the hot kitchen on order), fat legs of jamon strewn up from the ceiling, good wine flowing from the bar, boisterous and funny bartenders serving that good wine, some indeterminate music in the background but drowned out by laughter and shouts and wine-fueled lines from men and women romancing each other and friends reveling in being in San Sebastian and old-timers watching these rambunctious visitors over a glass of red or white.

Here, we sampled the goods:

House of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Bar House of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Charcuterie Plate Jamon Salumi ChorizoHouse of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Pintxos House of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Crab Tarts House of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Goat Cheese House of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Txuleta Asada Mushrooms Hongos This is by far the most beautiful thing we ate at Gandarias, and one of the culinary highlights of the entire trip, to be honest.  We’d seen the txuletas being passed back and forth in the bustle and din of Bar Nestor and were definitely craving one, and with a little bit more space at the standing bar in Gandarias, we ordered one.  Good god, look at this.  The char, the perfectly juicy red meat, the roughshod crackling of sea salt.  And the drifting smell of that highway of fat rendering in the kitchen.House of Haos Gandarias Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Txuleta Asada Continue reading

Zeruko – San Sebastian, Spain

Right across the street from Bar Nestor is another lively tapas bar, Zeruko.  Due to some freak accident, definitely not by choice, we chose a few healthier dishes, accompanied (of course) by a glass of txakoli.House of Haos Zeruko Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Txicholi This simple sliced tomato salad with onions, olive oil, salt, and olives.House of Haos Zeruko Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Tomatoes This stuffed pepper (tuna salad), with crouton and chopped onions and balsamico.  This happened to be one of Myra’s favorite dishes of the trip, if only because it was surprisingly delicious, or just what we needed at the moment – a common theme throughout our San Sebastian experience, finding a favorite where least expected.House of Haos Zeruko Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Red Pepper Tuna Onions House of Haos Zeruko Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Red Pepper Tuna StuffedBar Zeruko
Calle Pescaderia, 10
Donostia
Gipuzkoa, Spain
(map)

Bar Nestor – San Sebastian, Spain

We only had time for a quick bite at Bar Nestor, which is one of the smaller spaces in Parte Vieja, famous for its tortilla espanola and its txuleta, a beautifully fat-wrapped bone-in ribeye.  So we got something we could enjoy just as much, a plate of jamon iberico, and another plate of roasted pimientos with sea salt (the Spanish version of one of my favorite Japanese dishes, simple shishito peppers done basically the same way).House of Haos Bar Nestor Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Jamon Iberico Ham House of Haos Bar Nestor Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Jamon Iberico Ham 2 House of Haos Bar Nestor Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain PimientosBar Nestor
Pescaderia Kalea, 11
20003 Donostia-San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa
Gipuzkoa, Spain
(
map)

Ganbara – San Sebastian, Spain

Ganbara is a tapas bar upstairs, and downstairs a cozy but bare-bones sitdown dining room serving some of San Sebastian’s most unassumingly delicious seafood.

Each dish is rarely more than a plate of whatever we ordered, minimally prepared, but showcased how unadulterated and fresh the local catch was.  First, this batch of fritters, the gelatinous goodness of some indeterminate fish – this was a teaser courtesy of the restaurant.  Maybe some piece of the belly, or somewhere near a fin or collar.

House of Haos Ganbara St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Fried Fish AioliThese head-on shrimp, seasoned with nothing but rock salt, lightly grilled, the head juices perfectly reduced to a sunrise orange and intensely savory, the flesh light and juicy.

House of Haos Ganbara St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Grilled ShrimpCharcoal-grilled wild turbot.  Don’t mind the mess of flattened fish and crinkled brown skin, the staff takes care of deboning the fish, but the skin is a creamy sheet of umami (to the extent that you can handle the fat). House of Haos Ganbara St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Charcoal-Grilled Wild Turbot

Continue reading

Tapas in San Sebastian: La Cuchara de San Telmo

It’s hard to believe how La Parte Vieja houses so many superb tapas bars within its narrow confines.  La Cuchara de San Telmo is a tucked away in the last back-street of San Sebastian’s old town, next to the Museo de San Telmo.  The restaurant is essentially an extended bar, with a tiny open hot kitchen next to it – the whole affair is cramped and economical, with busy but kind-faced and jovial bartenders managing the rush on busy nights, stopping to chat a bit in slower moments.  Lively and vivacious and filled with the din of convivial chatter and the unmistakable smoke of delicious things searing on the plancha.  Like foie gras.  Which is naturally one of the first things we ordered.  Beautifully crisped with a scattering of crunchy sea salt and a few streaks of buttery apple sauce.

La Cuchara’s dishes were not as deliberately quirky as A Fuego Negro’s, but there was a demonstrably clear command of its repertoire.  We ordered only hot dishes, and the most decadent ones at that.

House of Haos La Cuchara de San Telmo Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Pan-seared Foie Gras AppleDuck confit, with a wonderfully crisped layer of duck skin atop a layer of fat and tender slow-roasted meat.  I can’t think of many things I like more than duck confit, although that love started in Paris.  This version was more condensed, with intensified flavors, especially with the punch of the wine reduction and the expertly crisped skin that was almost like a thin layer of bacon (duck fat brittle?), and much better crafted to snack alongside a glass of wine than a main course.House of Haos La Cuchara de San Telmo Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Duck Confit AppleAnd so we plowed ahead: grilled octopus with quinoa.  The oblong shape of the tentacle made for an  easy balance between briny, meaty flesh and crispy char, and the earthiness of the lightly crunchy quinoa was a new combination I hadn’t ever seen before.House of Haos La Cuchara de San Telmo Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Octopus QuinoaSepia risotto with cuttlefish and goat cheese, although the grain was more like orzo.  The cuttlefish ink was superb, complex, with a slightly acidic, earthy roundness that carries the salinity of the goat cheese and slippery crunch of the cuttlefish to completeness.  Richly satisfying.House of Haos La Cuchara de San Telmo Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Risotto Sepia Cuttlefish Goat Cheese Continue reading

Tapas in San Sebastian: A Fuego Negro

After Paris, we headed to San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque region, locally known as Donostia.  This seaside town is a summertime haven, and in 2011 I visited just after the high season, and immediately fell in love with the surroundings.  That was a very hurried stay, with barely two days in the area, but I managed to visit both Mugaritz and Arzak.  The stupendous arc of the boardwalk around La Concha, the main beach that circles shell-like west to east towards La Parte Vieja (Old Town).  Where last time I barely spent any time in this mysteriously vibrant and cozy corner of the city, which houses some of the world’s best tapas bars.  This visit, I spent my time exclusively here.

The first place we stopped in was the boldly inventive A Fuego Negro, a visually rambunctious bar serving irreverent dishes, whose names are scrawled across a menu board behind the bar in their Basque spellings – lots of x’s and k’s.

A café con leche.House of Haos A Fuego Negro Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Cafe Con Leche Makcobe burger with “txips” – a mini wagyu burger with ketchup-infused sesame bun, fried banana chips.  Intensely beefy, lightly ketchup-y.House of Haos A Fuego Negro Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Makobe Burger Txips House of Haos A Fuego Negro Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Makobe BurgerKit de pikoteo: tuna, piparras (Basque peppers), and thinly-sliced onions.  This was Myra’s favorite here (we ordered it twice) – everything was immensely bright in their freshness, the tuna flaky and meaty, the peppers and onions adding unique undertones of acidity and heat.House of Haos A Fuego Negro Tapas St Sebastian Basque Country Spain Bonito Peppers Onions
Continue reading