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).

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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?

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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.

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

The Tasting Menu at Eleven Madison Park – NYC

Eleven Madison Park is a gorgeous, gorgeous restaurant.  Pristine, clean lines, a flood of soft natural light.  I’d read a little about Eleven Madison Park’s history, steeped in the Danny Meyer tradition of enlightened hospitality, and its rise into the upper echelon of global fine dining.

It is one of New York City’s 3-Michelin-starred restaurants, now helmed by chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara, who bought out Danny Meyer some years ago and who have combined to somehow even further elevate the restaurant’s reputation.  Everybody I knew who had gone spoke in hushed, gushing tones about the immaculate service, almost more so than the food.  Their other restaurant at the NoMad is one of my favorites, with one mean roast bird.  If their more casual spot is churning out brioche-and-truffle-stuffed roast chicken, I had high hopes for what the flagship could show me.

House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Dining RoomThe meal started with a mysterious choice among four flavors.  Ignore the photo below.  I chose maple, which would appear at various points throughout the meal.

House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Flavor Choice The other theme to the tasting menu was an ode to New York’s culinary history.  A savory black-and-white cookie to start, with a cheddar filling.House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Savory Black and White Cookie AppleAnd then the decadence began.  An oyster with the creamy smoothness of savory vichysoisse, speckled with caviar.

House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Oyster Vichysoisse Caviar Scallops, with a shower of apple snow.House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Scallop Apple Pine Water Chestnut 3 House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Scallop Apple Pine Water Chestnut 2 House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Scallop Apple Pine Water ChestnutA duo of beef: first, a beef tartare dotted with caviar and packed on both sides with a luxurious spread of smoked bone marrow, tucked into a neatly cleaned segment of bone.

House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Beef Tartare with Caviar Smoked Bone Marrow House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Beef Tartare with Caviar Smoked Bone Marrow 2Then, a prominent ode to the New York deli: wonderfully marbled pastrami with pickles, rye, mustard, and a syrupy maple soda.

House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Pastrami House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Pastrami Sandwich House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Pastrami Pickles Rye Mustard House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Pastrami Pickles Rye Mustard 2 House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Maple SodaThe the next course: seared foie gras with sunchokes, hazelnuts, and Solera vinegar.  I liked the plating and the combination of sharp vinegar, crunchy toasted hazelnuts, and buttery sunchoke puree.  An elegant two or three bites, enough for a rich splash, a vignette.  And on the heels of several rich courses, it was perfectly proportioned.

House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Seared Foie Gras Sunchokes Hazelnuts Solera Vinegar House of Haos Eleven Madison Park Flatiron NYC Tasting Menu Seared Foie GrasAt some point, I think it was here, that we took a guided break to step back into the kitchen. Continue reading

Paris, A Moveable Feast, Part 1: Verjus

As part of a ten-day jaunt at the end of the year in 2013, Myra and I ate our way across Paris, my favorite city in the whole wide world.

We had great cause for celebration than any other time that I had been in the City of Lights, as we’d just gotten engaged.  So each meal started with a nice glass of bubbly.

Verjus was our first stop, and for the first meal post-engagement, it was as near perfect as I can remember.  Maybe because we were famished and a burger would have been the best burger in the world.  But where I could remember through the haze of joy and jetlag and hunger, each dish was soulful, a creative departure from the next, building intricately course on course, the timing and the service were warm and attentive and unrushed despite the late hour, and the joyful murmur of the dining room a serendipitous cocoon of sound for our happiness.

House of Haos Verjus Paris France ChampagneBurlap bread baskets: House of Haos Verjus Paris France Bread BasketScallops two-ways – seared and tartare, with watermelon radish, fennel, and citrus.  It was the perfect first course, the intensified savoriness of seared scallop in balance with the tart cross-sections of fruit and the chopped pieces of raw, briny scallop, tender and buttery against the radish’s earthy crunch. House of Haos Verjus Paris France Watermelon Radish Orange Scallops Seared Tartare House of Haos Verjus Paris France Watermelon Radish Orange Scallops Seared Tartare 2Ricotta agnolotti with crushed nuts and cantaloupe:House of Haos Verjus Paris France Ricotta Agnolotti Clams with artichoke puree:House of Haos Verjus Paris France Clams Artichoke PureeWild boar confit, slow-poached egg, flower petals, hearts of palm, mustard seeds.  Not since Maui had I had wild boar, and that had been slow-cooked underground for a whole day, supercharged with an intensely smoky gaminess.  This version was slightly more understated, but still wonderfully rich with that feral pork flavor, tempered by the mildness of egg yolk and mustard seeds.House of Haos Verjus Paris France Wild Boar Confit Slow-poached Egg Mustard Seeds Continue reading

Lunch at ABC Kitchen – Flatiron, NYC

Dan Kluger’s ever-popular ABC Kitchen on 18th St has that wanderlust typical of Jean-Georges restaurants, a menu dotted with worldly flavors and international details.  On top of that, the restaurant is gorgeous, set to the backdrop of an upscale home furnishing store (ABC Carpet & Home), with expansive beams of exposed rafters, clean white tables and chairs, large tabletops of funky wood slabs, a semi-open kitchen adorned with trays of fresh flowers and seasonal vegetables.

I dropped by a few months ago for lunch with a friend, and got the three-course prix fixe, which started with tuna sashimi (marinated in ginger and mint) with some diced chives and vinegar.   This was as good as the first plate at Sugarfish, good (but not great) tuna with a strong acidic punch.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Tuna SashimiThe rest of the food took a bit to get to us, so the kitchen sent a dish of roasted kabocha squash (with fresh ricotta underneath) on toast to tide us over.  There with a bit of acidity in this as well, with apple cider vinegar sprinkled somewhere.  Mildly sweet, the topping a nice pillowy texture, although the bread I found a bit too tough (rustic?) for my taste.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Kabocha Squash Toast RicottaThen the other stuff arrived.  A side of roasted brussels sprouts with mustard vinaigrette.  I loved the vinaigrette, and the extra-browned outside crust, although the insides were overcooked to a bit too close to mushy.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Roasted Brussels SproutsHousemade ricotta ravioli with a runny egg inside and pork ragu.  I loved how that luxurious creamy texture was achieved in different ways – the warm ricotta, the melting egg yolk, the fatty ragu with herbacious notes ringing the edges – and how the pork was the most textured of the entire plate.  And how wonderfully large this ravioli was, and how it largely held its composition even as I scooped out each cheesy spoonful.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Ricotta Ravioli House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Ricotta Ravioli 2For dessert, my friend ordered chocolate gelato and I had a slice of concord grape tart with frozen sugared grapes.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Chocolate GelatoI love the flavor of concord grapes (it’s my preferred jelly for PB&Js, if that’s any indication.  It’s probably not an indication for you, but just nod and walk away).  The pastry staff concentrated that love into sugar-crusted pie form and served it to me on a plate.  That’s how I felt anyway, after devouring this. House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Concord Grape TartABC Kitchen (lunch menu)
35 E 18th St, New York, NY
(212) 475-5829
(Yelp)
ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Hong Kong Wandering – Ms. B’s Cakery

Gough Street in Central (near Sheung Wan MTR station) is a cool stretch of road, at once low-key (skewing slightly to the residential) and studded with popular food and retail shops.  On the west half of the street, past the immensely popular beef brisket house Kau Kee (where the usual line stretches a block or more), is Ms. B’s Cakery, which makes delicious desserts and cakes with funny names.  DSC_0514-001The store itself, despite the flash sign out front, is quite small, with almost wall-to-wall refrigerators showcasing the sweets (but you can’t say the inside space isn’t colorful).DSC_0518DSC_0516-001Bright is a big theme for Ms. B’s, even in the packaging (still elegant and well-designed though).DSC_0541-001One of the bakery’s signature (mini) cakes: Better Than Sex.  Despite its short stature, the design is still irreverently sensual, topped with crunchy caramel and salted toffee against a backdrop of chocolate cake.  A bit rich for me as a stand-alone, but one bite was certainly delicious.DSC_0544 Continue reading

Corton – NYC (Tribeca)

In another round of ridiculous October meals in New York, my friend Yang and I dropped by Corton, the two-star French eatery by Paul Liebrandt in Tribeca, that does exclusively tasting menus (of which you’re supposed to choose one of two, the seasonal or the regular one).  Tasting menus (ones as elaborate as Corton’s, anyway) are a marathon, requiring pacing, patience, lots of conversation, and a willingness to be at least a little pretentious about examining the food, which mostly just involves me chewing and nodding my head slower and with more pregnant pauses.  But to be fair to Corton, it’s definitely more approachable and less intimidating than its Michelin stars and creatively austere menus might suggest.

We settled into Corton’s regular tasting menu, which began with a smattering of snacks and amuse-bouches:

One of the amuse-bouche, really just a morsel of (potato) cracker, was filled with a rich Mornay sauce (think Béchamel on crack) with an overwhelming cheesiness.  and the cupcake-like snack was interesting in terms of presentation, with a soft cake set atop a bed of dark powder so that when you pick each one up, it took some of the seasoning powder with it, and as you place it in your mouth the bottom, with the powder, is the first thing that hits your tongue.  A good idea that I hadn’t seen often before, albeit probably pretty narrow in practicality. Continue reading

Mr. Willis – Shanghai

Mr. Willis came recommended from a few of my Shanghai friends, comfort-food home to Australian chef Craig Willis, former executive chef at a popular Shanghai chain of cafes called Wagas.  We headed there on Saturday night, slightly dressed up enough by typical Shanghai standards for this to constitute a date night.  For reasons described later, this delicious dinner became for me the Wayne Brady dinner.

Upstairs after three short but narrow woodlined stairs, the restaurant is in a Wagas-owned complex on Anfu Lu surrounded by food and aromas: the first floor is La Strada, Mr. Willis’ sister pizzeria, and the second floor is Mi Thai, a relatively new classics-plus-fusion Thai joint, and Sushi Raku.

Continue reading