Letter from Copenhagen

From the old hot new foodie center of the past 15 years (northern Spain) to the new hot new foodie center: Copenhagen. Despite advanced planning and some serious connection pulling, I was unable to land a reservation at “THE” restaurant: Noma. However: no Noma, no problem. Three nights: Two good and one great meal.

I was also excited to be joined by my new dining companion: my older daughter, who is spending the fall semester of her college junior year studying in Berlin. Didn’t take much persuading to meet me in Copenhagen!

First stop: Thursday dinner at Relae. Founded in 2010 by two chefs who worked at Noma (and one who spent time at El Bulli), Relae is nearly 100% organic, including the wines. The restaurant is Spartan with wood tables. The interior is conscious visual reminder of their food approach: ingredients and flavors stripped down to their essence. They only offer tasting menus, but even that is stripped down: a 4-course Omnivore version, a 4-course Herbivore version or a 7-course combination. Of “course”, we went 7 courses. Highlights were Hokkaido Pumpkin with seabuckthorn, Turnip & Nasturium and Cabbage, Basil, Egg Yolk. The wine list was a blast to learn about: I literally had never heard of any them! They were from all over Europe and all certified organic. Selected a wonderful blend of Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Syrah from Le Casot Des Mailloles.

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Vietnamese might not be the first thing that comes to mind when coming to Copenhagen, but sometimes out-of-the box can be a winner. Le Le started 10 years ago as a street food vendor. Lele is now a full-blown restaurant and very happening and fun bar. Food was authentic with clean, bright flavors. The spice and heat were there, but not overpowering. The big surprise? The owner is a serious wine lover. A remarkable wine list –- at very modest mark-ups. It was hard to restrain my wine urges, but decided to go with a known quantity: Jacques Selosse “Initial” Champagne. I would consider returning for the food, but coming back for the wine list is a no-brainer. A great place to spend Friday night in Copenhagen!

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Saturday night was the anticipated highlight: Geranium. A Michelin 2-star that my Danish friends claim they like better than Noma -– despite Noma’s reputation. While I can’t comment on Noma, given my reservation failures, I can say unequivocally that Geranium is in my top 10 meals ever. What a fabulous counterpoint to Mugaritz in San Sebastian.

A tasting menu with 21 courses. But, and I’m not making this up, the dishes were really just tastes: the flavors were great and there was not much use of cream or butter, so we left feeling satisfied but not full. The progression of tastes, flavors, textures and temperature was exceedingly well designed. Hard to pick a favorite dish, as the gestalt of the meal made it so memorable: the sum of the parts was more than just additive. That said, four highlights for me were the “charred potato”, “seaweed and razor clam”, “dillstone” and “egg yolk and buckwheat flowers.” I’m leaving out an important element: the service was impeccable. They were attentive but not hovering. Nice touch: the chef (of whom there were many) brought the dish out that he or she made. The kitchen is partially open to the restaurant and everyone gets brought in to chat with one or more chefs. Lastly, the wine list was exceedingly well curated, albeit on the young side. They offer a wine pairing as well as a juice pairing. We ordered a juice pairing to share, and “supplemented” that with a lovely 2007 Roulot Meursault and a terrific and spicy 2006 reserve Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone.

I have to find an excuse to get back to Copenhagen, even though it is not on my normal migration routes. It is a beautiful city with very friendly people. It is very bicycle-centric and, unlike the U.S., many major streets have both sidewalks and appropriately wide, physically demarcated bike lanes.

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The next day….. off to Berlin.


Steve Dow

One Response to “Letter from Copenhagen”

  1. fabulous, intimate reviews steve.
    you’ve just bumped copenhagen to
    the top of my wish list.
    and geranium here I come! who needs
    thank you for sharing your deep
    appreciation of food and the land it comes from.

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