Stockholm Sweetheart

Even in the winter, or maybe especially in the winter (unclear on this distinction, frankly), Stockholm is a beautiful city.

It’s a wonderful walking city, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the snow.  Everything’s actually pretty close, and worse case, you’re thirty minutes from the next thing.  And there’s all this water and open sky.  Reflections on ‘flections on ‘flections.

View of Djurgarden from the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm Sweden View of Djurgarden from Fotografiska, Stockholm Sweden Stockholm, Sweden Look at this badass motherfucker.  Courtesy of a gallery of old school portraits at the Fotografiska.Fat chef, Fotografiska, Stockholm, Sweden Orchid in Kungsholmen, Stockholm SwedenDjurgarden, Stockholm, SwedenDropped by the Vasa Museum, where they have a reconstruction of an actual ship from a bunch of centuries ago when they made ships out of wood.  Also, whoever made this particular ship fucked up real good because it sank after a few miles.  By a few miles, I mean less than five miles.  That’s about as good as those origami boats I used to make in third grade and put it in some sink water.  But it does look like a pretty badass warship.

If it could only float.Vasa Museum, Stockholm, SwedenShipbuilding tools at Vasa Museum, Stockholm, SwedenAnd of course, Stockholm has some cool shops.  Check out this dope poster.  City of champions indeed.Poster in Sodermalm, Stockholm, Sweden

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

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

Paris, A Moveable Feast, Part 5: Snacks à la française

Paris takes snacks to a whole new level.  Pierre Hermé macarons, for starters.House of Haos Pierre Herme Paris France Boite de MacaronsAfternoon tea at Ladurée on Rue Napoléon:House of Haos Laduree Cafe Tea Paris FranceMillefeuille pralinée, up close and personal:House of Haos Laduree Cafe Paris France Millefeuille PralineOne night we cobbled together an indoor picnic from La Grande Epicerie, with pâté de campagne, pickles, cherries, grapes, bucheron, pecorino with black pepper, and a half-round of Brillat-Savarin.House of Haos Paris Picnic Pate de Campagne Pickles Cherries Goat Cheese Brillat Savarin Pecorino PepperA rainy afternoon spent in the tea room at Mariage Frères:Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAnd a nice cappuccino at The Broken Arm:House of Haos The Broken Arm Cafe Paris France House of Haos The Broken Arm Cafe Paris France CappucinoPierre Hermé
4 rue Cambon
75001 Paris

Ladurée
21 Rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris

La Grande Épicerie de Paris
38 Rue de Sèvres
75007 Paris

Mariage Frères
30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg
75004 Paris

The Broken Arm
12 Rue Perrée
75003 Paris

Tsukemen TETSU – Shinatatsu Ramen Plaza, Tokyo

Near the Shinagawa JR station (and in the general vicinity of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel), there is a “Ramen Road,” otherwise known as the Shinatatsu Ramen Plaza, a collection of ramen shops that runs along the sidewalk.

While we waited for our airport train (of course we chose a later train to give us time to visit Shinatatsu), we stopped by for a fill-up.  I’d already decided in advance on a bowl of tsukemen from Tetsu, but that didn’t spare me from the agony I felt walking past each of the other six ramen shops before reaching the safe haven at the end of the block (that would be Tetsu).House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Outside

According to Ramen Walker, Tetsu’s contribution to the innovation and popularization of tsukemen, which used to be served cold (a summertime noodle dish), was to serve the dipping broth hot.  Whatever associative body that hands out awards for tsukemen gave Tetsu the nod for best tsukemen in 2008 and 2009, according to the Tokyo Times.

We had a slight wait when we got there, having been just beat out by a smattering of salarymen, but we got our tickets for two orders of the house special chashu tsukemen.  Once we got seated, the staff snatched up our tickets and we watched the line action behind the counter.

House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan 1 House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan 2 House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Condiments Our tsukemen arrived in three parts.

House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Chashu TsukemenThe noodles were wide and chewy, perfect for the thick, deeply emulsified tonkotsu broth, which was supremely funky, fatty and fishy (all of those attributes are good, by the way).  Aromatically, there was a strong dose of bonito and perhaps other seafood in the broth, which appeals to my personal taste but also helps balance out the richness of the tonkotsu base.House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Tsukemen Noodles Continue reading

Oh My Beef – Fukujukan at Takashimaya, Osaka

After wandering the underground food court at the Osaka Takashimaya at Namba Station, past all those meat purveyors with ridiculous displays of perfectly marbled meat, we couldn’t leave the city without squeezing in a round of Japanese beef.  So much so that we skipped on a dinner at Honkogetsu, a two-Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant, and spent the night avoiding thinking about our transgression.

Fukujukan, on the ninth floor of Takashimaya’s upstairs food court (a collection of restaurants, really), specialized in beef, either grilled or in shabushabu.  In particular, Fukujukan had Matsusaka beef, one of the triumvirate of well-known Japanese beef types (Kobe and Yonezawa being the other two), which come from a black-haired cow.  The meat is distinguished by an intense level of marbling and, partially resulting from this, a buttery tenderness.  I mean, just look at this (the frontmost piece is the highest-quality.  There is a five-point scale to rate Matsusaka beef).House of Haos Fukujukan Takashimaya Osaka Japan Special Black BeefAnd this.House of Haos Fukujukan Takashimaya Osaka Japan Black Beef 2And the obligatory plate of vegetable skewers.House of Haos Fukujukan Takashimaya Osaka Japan VegetablesThe kicker was that the grill, a beautiful slab of perforated stone, was greased with piece of beef fat melted over its surface.  I think I just watched this process with my mouth wide open.  Shock and awe.House of Haos Fukujukan Takashimaya Osaka Japan Beef FatHouse of Haos Fukujukan Takashimaya Osaka Japan Stone Grill Continue reading

Lunch at Kashiwaya – Osaka

Kashiwaya was my first three-star Michelin restaurant in Japan, and part of why I wanted to visit was its unique background: the kaiseki restaurant had been in existence and within the family since 1868, although only in its current incarnation since 1993, redesigned by its head chef, Hideaki Matsuo, a student of theoretical physics, and his wife around the nuances of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony when they took over the restaurant.  Relais & Chateaux has a really interesting short Q&A with Chef Hideaki.

Getting to Kashiwaya is a bit of an oddball walk southeast from the subway (Ryokuchikoen, on the red line, or Kandaimae, on whichever line that is).  It’s in a completely nondescript suburb, with low-slung homes and a profusion of uniform, narrow streets crisscrossing the easy hills of northern Osaka.

When we finally found its gate, it was a bit like stepping into the garden of a ryokan somewhere farther up in the mountains: surprisingly tranquil, lush, the presence of moss and stone paths, sliding doors and paper windows.House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan CourtyardWe were greeted by Chef Hideaki’s wife, our amazing hostess (whose name I unfortunately forget to ask), who then surprised us by ushering us to this sliding door, suspended in the middle of the wall.  I couldn’t stop smiling, thinking how ridiculous I looked trying to squeeze my fat ass into the tatami room.

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Sliding Door 2And then, somehow, we were inside, and the door slid closed, and there was nothing but the enclosed serenity of the space, the distance hum of the world outside our shoji window, a beautiful marble-topped table and floor-level chairs, light-colored wood running the lengths of various edges, and these mysterious white doors.

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Tatami Room

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Sliding Door 1We soon found out what the door was for, as kimono-clad Mrs. Hideaki slid it open to enter the room, kneeling and in the traditional way of using her right hand to set our table while her left gracefully cupped the loose fabric of her sleeve.  She spoke fairly good English, which was a nice surprise for us, and gave us a small cup of hot black tea to start the meal.House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Black TeaThe first course was a small bowl of crab, with baby greens and a yellow flower in almost an ohitashi style (with a light gelee instead of the dark dashi marinade).  This came with a bit of simply steamed baby taro, incredibly sweet chestnut, and two edamame.  Restraint was a fairly consistent theme to the meal (aside from it being lunchtime).

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Crab Salad

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Taro Chestnut EdamameNext, a soup of grilled conger filet with leek and, surprisingly, yuzu rinds, which in the heat of the soup transferred their intensely aromatic citrus essence to both the soup and anytime I put my face near the bowl.  I love yuzu, so no complaints on the sensory overload, which contrasted with how visually composed and subdued the rinds appear.

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Conger Eel SoupA fresh plate of sashimi.

House of Haos Kashiwaya Osaka Japan Squid Sea Bream Sashimi Continue reading