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. 

1 comment:

  1. For me, the unique and artistic presentations were a big part of what made this such an amazing meal. It was definitely good food, but it was all so BEAUTIFUL.