Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ut I Blainn at the Perlan - Reykjavik, Iceland

Our second day in Iceland included a city tour of Reykjavik. One of the listed places we would visit on the city tour was the Perlan, set atop a hill on six water tanks that supply the city with hot water. 
The Perlan.
As I researched the best restaurants in Reykjavik, I came across  an article in Culturetrip.com that named the restaurant at the Perlan as one of them. It notes that the Perlan is a "striking glass dome structure...one of the city's most recognizable buildings." The restaurant "sits on a revolving floor on top of the city's hot-water storage tanks and provides breathtaking 360-degree views of Reykjavik." 
Just under the dome in the Perlan.
Looking out at downtown Reykjavik with two water tanks in the foreground. 
Since our itinerary called for lunch between our morning whale watching cruise and our city tour, which began at 1:00 p.m., I called our travel agent and asked if she could arrange for our lunch to be at the Perlan and have the guide meet us and start our city tour there. 
Our table right next to the dome windows. 
Ut I Blainn is the restaurant in the dome on the fifth floor of the Perlan and normally requires groups to be 20 people, but agreed to accept our group of 10 people for lunch. We had to decide on a group menu and settled on one that included: (1) soup of the day with sourdough bread and butter; (2) steamed cod with white onions, fried potatoes, beurre blanc (a hot emulsified butter sauce made with a reduction of vinegar or white wine and gray shallots into which cold, whole butter, is blended off the heat to prevent separation); and (3) a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and blueberries. 

The day in Reykjavik was sunny, but cool, and the glass dome of the Perlan gave us access to that sun and its concentrated warmth and was a beautiful spot for a nice, leisurely lunch. 

The bread, like all the bread we got in Iceland, was fantastic. Hearty with great butter. 
The soup was very bland and I didn't care much for it. I ate a couple of spoon fulls and quit. I don't even recall what kind it was.
The steamed cod was amazing. It was fall-apart tender, about as tender as it could be and the beurre blanc was very flavorful. It was pretty light, perfect for a big lunch. 
The chocolate brownie and ice cream were pretty good, but it was the cod that stood out. 
We finished lunch with a walk around the deck on the outside of the Perlan with its views of Reykjavik. Ut I Blainn is a good restaurant for its setting and with good enough food not to detract from that setting. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Grill Markadurrin - Reykjavik, Iceland

I made group reservations ahead of our trip for Grill Markadurrin (or Grill Market) in Reykjavik. It was listed as one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik by culturetrip.com, which noted that the restaurant was housed in what had been an art nouveau New Cinema (Nyja Bio) from 1920 to 1998 before it was destroyed by fire. 
The front door (open).
The sign on a post on the courtyard leading into the restaurant. 
Sign on a post.
The kitchen, or at least one of them. 
We were seated downstairs, down a large winding staircase.
Culturetrip notes that Chefs Hrefna Rosa Saetran and Gudlaugur Frimannsson, two of Iceland's best, have a variety of meat, fish and game dishes, including plates for the adventurous, like minke whale, puffin and reindeer. Guide to Iceland listed it as no. 9 on its best restaurants in Reykjavik, Time Out listed it as no. 1 of its 9 best restaurants in Reykjavik, Tripadvisor currently rates it is #30 out of 343 restaurants in Reykjavik, and Savored Journeys listed it as no. 1 of the 10 restaurants they recommended in Reyjkavik. 

I was particularly excited to try their grilled whale steak, an appetizer. It was minke whale, and as described by our waiter, only lightly grilled for a few seconds on each side, then served with wasabi and soy vinagrette. It had an amazing look to it, dark brown with large patches of orange on top (perhaps fat?). It was already cut into thick slices and as I pulled the slices apart it revealed a very rare, very red inside. Amazing. It was very beef-like, served like sushi, with generous portions. With minke whale back-to-back (I'd had it the day before at Tapas Barrin), I liked the fully cooked version better at Tapas Barrin (it brought more of the flavor out), but the sushi version was still marvelous. I ate part of it with the wasabi and soy and part without. Particularly when it first came out and was a little warm, I liked it better plain. 

One slice of the whale next to the wasabi and soy.
For my entree I ordered horse tenderloin, "the most tender part of the horse," cooked medium rare (I was informed by the waiter that there was no choice in that matter). It was expensive, but still quite a bit less than the top-end beef steaks they were offering. I've eaten horse several times, in Japan, China and Kazakhstan and the day before in Reykjavik, and this was a very different preparation from what I'd seen before. The loin was cooked in one big chunk and I cut it open to reveal a very pinkish/red center, probably more rare than medium rare. It was good, but I would probably rate it as my least favorite of all the horse dishes I've tried. It was not as tender or flavorful as other horse meat I've had and I was actually a little disappointed. It was very good, but my expectations were very high, because all the horse I've had before that was fantastic. 

Horse with fries and grilled vegetables.
The tenderloin cut in two.
That was my meal, but I got bits and pieces and views of other's dishes. Bill and Esmee share with me a piece of grilled monkfish with bell pepper, mandarin and garlic as well as wild eider duck from a salad. 
Monkfish - I've only tasted it a few times. It was good, but a little overdone for my taste. Very mild.
The duck was also very mild and extremely lean. I believe it was smoked. 
Our bread and butter were the most unusual combinations I've ever seen. 
The bread came out on a large rock.
The butter came out on a piece of slate. One dollop of the butter had salt scattered over it and was way too salty. One had no salt and was too mild. And I don't recall what the other was covered with (perhaps pepper, or pepper and salt). Surprisingly, I did not really connect with any of them, although the bread was very good. 
Judy had a grilled fillet of lamb which I tasted and it was okay. 
Mark and Lori had a a wonderful looking dish of beef tataki, which is either raw or barely cooked beef, cut up into small pieces, then covered with sunchokes, truffle dressing, coriander and chili and beautiful little edible flowers. I didn't taste it but the presentation was marvelous. 
Beef tataki
They also got a dessert platter with fruit, ice cream and sorbet. The photo I have doesn't do it justice, it was beautiful. It included pineapple, dragon fruit, some sort of melon and several kinds of ice cream and sorbet. 
Judy got a dessert of toffee filled with chocolate cake and accompanied by salted caramel ice cream. The ice cream had a chocolate knife piercing it with Grill Markadurrin emblazoned on it. Judy gave me a small taste of the cake and it was marvelous. 
Finally, Bill and Esmee got grilled corn with butter and lava salt. I didn't have any but the presentation was wonderful. 
Having experienced the best meal of my life at Tapas Barinn the night before, where every dish was good and a number were exceptional, my experience here was probably skewed. My minke whale was exceptional and the fruit dessert and beef tataki looked exceptional, although I don't know how they tasted. Otherwise, I was underwhelmed, probably because my expectations were so high. I would love to go back and try some more dishes and give it another try. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Tapas Barinn - Reykjavik, Iceland

We recently had what I consider to be the best meal I've ever eaten. It was a group meal for my partners and our spouses at Tapas Barinn in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was a set course of tapas we'd arranged for ahead of time, what they call their "Icelandic Gourmet Feast." 

All ten of us sat together at a large wood table in the basement. It was kind of dark and rustic and we got kind of loud.  
The first thing they presented to us was a complimentary course we had not ordered: raw lamb marinated in a licorice sauce (we learned that Icelanders love licorice and found many varieties of it in the stores) presented on a large black lava rock the owner had collected from a black sand beach on another part of the island. It was stunningly good: a little sweet and very tender with a clear licorice taste. One of the excellent, five star, dishes of the evening. 
One of the more unusual meal presentations I've ever seen. 
Raw lamb marinated in a licorice sauce. 
From there, we had an additional eight courses. The presentations were creative and each course was very good, and some were fantastic. The ingredients were fresh, and some of the ingredients were very exotic, menu items unavailable in other parts of the world. 

Our next tapa was smoked puffin with blueberry sauce. Puffins are small birds with colorful bills. Iceland has more of them than any other place in the world. In fact, four of us took a boat tour earlier in the day to view wild puffins. The strips of smoked puffin breast, in the center of the plate, were covered in grated cheese. The puffin breast was relatively stiff and not particularly flavorful. The blueberry sauce was mild. The impact of this dish was largely the unusual meat and the colorful presentation. From a taste standpoint, it was three stars, one of the least flavorful of the evening, but the unique subject and presentation made it a four star dish.  

Close-up of the puffin breast meat. 
The next tapa was initially a disappointment. The set-menu called for Arctic char with candy beet salad, asparagus and elderflower-hollandaise sauce. I've eaten Arctic char a few times and loved it. I was really looking forward to it fresh from where it is sourced. Instead they announced that they were out of char and would get wild Atlantic salmon instead. The disappointment turned to astonishment at the first bite. The salmon was crisp on the outside and virtually raw and smooth in the center. Incredibly tasty. You can see how fatty it is from the photo. Perhaps the best salmon I've ever eaten. I asked if it was prepared sous vide, and then grilled, but no, it was only grilled. Amazing. One of the best dishes of the evening, five stars. Although Atlantic salmon sounds common, the Atlantic salmon we always eat at home and in restaurants is farmed. This was wild caught, probably the first wild Atlantic salmon I've ever eaten (at least since my youth when I wouldn't have known any better). 
Grilled wild Atlantic salmon. 
Four small lobster tails resting in a clay bowl of warm garlic butter with a lemon slice on top was the next tapa. Although not among the best lobster I've eaten, I like it a little less well cooked, it was well seasoned with a different presentation than I've ever seen and was still very good, four stars. 
Our second lamb course of the evening was beer-glazed with a beer-butterscotch sauce and cauliflower puree. The lamb was rare, the sauce was relatively sweet and the cauliflower was smooth and tasty. Like licorice, butterscotch, let alone beer-butterscotch, is not a combination I would think of accompanying with lamb. Not as good as the raw lamb above, but still great and four stars.
Lamb in beer-butterscotch sauce.
The next tapa was line-caught and pan-fried blue lingcod in lobster sauce. Blue lingcod was another first for me. It had an interesting firm and varying texture. Unlike the salmon which was smooth inside and crunchy on the outside because of the way it was cooked, each bite of lingcod had a multiplicity of textures based on the structure of the fish, from smooth to fairly stiff. Like a dish with multiple flavors, except this was mouth-feel of textures. The texture and not the flavor was what stood out to me as I ate it. Lingcod is apparently quite strong, but the lobster sauce was the prominent taste and it was quite good, four stars, although toward the bottom end of the other four star tapas we ate.  
Blue lingcod in lobster sauce. I did not have a flash on this photo and it did not turn out well. 
The next tapa, minke whale with sweet mashed potatoes, was probably my favorite of the night, five stars. It was my first ever taste of whale, which was exciting, and it was amazingly good, it tasted like nice, rare beef. The sweet mashed potatoes were went along with it very well, smooth and sweet.

Close-up of the minke whale. 
The last savory tapa was fillet of Icelandic foal (young horse) with truffle mashed potatoes. The Icelandic horse, which is unique and beautiful, is the only breed of horse in Iceland. Horses cannot be imported into Iceland, and if a horse is taken out of Iceland, it cannot be brought back in. I've eaten horse before, in Japan, China and Kazakhstan, and it has all been very good. This may not have been as sweet and tender as some horse I've had, but it was still excellent. I give it four stars.
Icelandic foal
The last tapa, dessert, was white chocolate "skyr" mousse, with passion coulis (a thin fruit puree). Skyr is a fresh sour milk cheese consumed like yogurt. It is light and a little sour, but in this case, also sweet with the white chocolate. It also came with passion fruit sherbet or ice cream and amazingly, a cape gooseberry, which I've never tasted before, still wrapped in its leafy pouch. The dessert was four stars. 
 To reiterate, this meal had everything: quantity, wonderful taste, beauty, and exotic and rare ingredients. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Restaurant Rokluben - Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Kangerlussuaq is said to have the only international airport in Greenland (although we flew into Ilulissat from Reykjavik, Iceland). It is a former U.S. air base and a current Danish air base. Flights into Greenland come only from Iceland and Denmark. It is also the most inland town in Greenland, making it the best destination for a visit to the Greenland ice sheet
This is a view of our plane (we took from Ilulissat) from the terminal. The terminal on the other side belongs to the Danish military. 
Our travel agent booked us a two course meal at Restaurant Rokluben, the best restaurant in the Kangerlussuaq area, before we took an excursion out to the Greenland ice sheet. It is 5 km from town on the shore of Lake Ferguson. It is serviced by a shuttle bus from the airport that runs back and forth. 

I ended up being frustrated by the booking of our travel agent because they ordered us a course of halibut when I'd read about Rokluben serving reindeer, whale, muskox and other oddities. I wish I'd been more aggressive in seeking alternate food choices when we arrived. As it was, I did ask for a side course of muskox tartar, something that was recommended to me by one of the representatives of AirZafari who had eaten there. 

I've mentioned previously that I am not fond of halibut, it is just too bland. However, Greenlanders have a penchant for salt, given their need to preserve everything, and this halibut was so salty I could not eat it, which is saying something because I like things salty. It had a nice marinade of some sort of vinegar and some broccoli and mayonnaise, but I only ate a few bites. 
The muskox tartar was a completely different matter. It was covered with some sort of herb and had a little mayonnaise and some dried tomatoes. It was only lightly seasoned, if at all, and it was what Greenlandic food rarely is - fresh. Kangerlussuaq is the gateway to this area of Greenland's caribou and muskox hunting, and thus has access to the most fresh meat of this type. It was very moist and I actually would have liked it a little more seasoned. No gaminess whatsoever, just very mild, high quality meat with no hint of fat.  
Muskox tartar
A clearer view of the meat - with much of the topping removed.