Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sverige Part I of II (or III)

Stockholm. Not exactly known as a culinary destination, but this trip wasn't supposed to be about food. As it turned out, we ate pretty well. And despite being in one of Europe's most notoriously expensive cities, along with a current exchange rate that makes the dollar feel like a third world currency, we managed on a relatively modest budget.

First, a word of warning to crazy food nerds thinking omg Scandinavian food is sooooo cool right now (as one of those food nerds I'd like such a warning): new Nordic cuisine was not in the cards for this trip. There was a slight dabble, and I'll get to it, but this was really just about spending time with my girlfriend's family, not about partaking in the food world's latest fascination. Not that I wasn't a bit curious--it's just that with prices hovering around of $400 per person for food and drinks at those places I wasn't that curious. This type of plated landscape just doesn't get my blood pumping. That said, had I known about the small menu at Mistral before the trip I might have given it a shot, but really while I'm glad to see new Nordic trends trickling down to "regular" restaurants (more foraged foods, funky presentations, chefs with neat long hair and nice hygiene), I didn't feel a huge need to spend my limited time or funds exploring that realm. And besides, we still ate a ton of wild stuff--sorrel, elk, reindeer, dried brown chanterelles, nettles--it just didn't cost nothing.

So now to the meals, most of which aren't pictured. This might be pretty boring, because I'm using these posts to keep track of just about everything we ate on the trip, but this blog has always been pretty diary-like (diaretic?).

First, we had an epic layover in Newark, and I had a chance to re-live some of my New Jersey youth eating Portuguese food there. We went to Sol Mar where we had octopus clay tile style (?) with potatoes and olives and a chicken and rice stew made with chicken blood, both off of the specials menu and both excellent. We also had some seriously salty sausage that was set ablaze on the bar, and some nice Portuguese red wine and espresso. Everything being served in the restaurant looked good, the portions are insanely generous, and service was super nice. It certainly beat waiting and eating at the airport, and the cab ride was totally reasonable.  After lunch we walked up Ferry Street to Teixeira Bakery for pasteis de nata and little round cookies that were like Portuguese biscotti. I had never had pasteis de nata before--they were unreal.  Ironbound is just where it's at.

After the Jersey binge we arrived in Stockholm early on Saturday morning, heading right to my girlfriend's brother and sister-in-law's place in Blasut, a residential neighborhood on the edge of the city. Stuffed from the prior day's Portuguese meal and over-the-top food provided by Scandinavian Airlines (which included things like booze, smoked salmon, and organic butter over the course of a dinner and a breakfast), I accompanied the girlfriend's sister-in-law and niece on the short walk to the niece's school in the adjacent neighborhood of Enskede (pronounced something like: ein-hweah-da) , one metro (T-bana) stop past Blausut. After dropping the niece off we went to what turned out to be my favorite place of the trip, and a place we went to over and over again.

Gamla Enskede Bageri. Not only have I never been to a better bakery with a cafe, I've never been to a place that serves better espresso either. Baking and making coffee are two different arts. It was a treat to see one place so successful with both in a comfortable, laid back light filled cafe. I had lots of great espressos on trip, along with plenty of pretty rough coffee. This place was the best. And everyone working there was super nice.
Well made lattes and mini sandwiches were the standard. Gamla Enskede Bageri's were the best.
The bakery is set up with small individual sections for the baked goods, cafe foods, and coffee along with some seating. It's small but airy. For those who care, the shots are pulled on a sweet La Marzocco machine. One time we were there the barista actually apologized for the beans being too fresh--too much foam rather than crema (that really can be a problem). "It's a luxurious problem to have" she said. A very Stockholm problem I thought. Anyway, the espresso was perfect, as it was on each visit. If you're a Chicago person, taste wise think more Intelligentsia than Metropolis. Very new school. If you're more into regular coffee, there's enough gear there to satisfy any brew method fetish. The tea selection is serious too, if that's your thing, and there's wine.

In the food area they've got a soup of the day, little sandwiches (pictured above) on their amazing wholesome bread, and lasagna (lasagna was everywhere?!?!?). The sandwiches may look ordinary, but like the espresso they're perfect. Great ingredients combining to exceed the sum of their parts.

In addition to the soup, sandwiches, and lasagna, the bakery takes care of any fika needs as well. Fika, if you're not aware, is like tea time for professionals. Ideally twice a day, fika consists of drinking coffee, eating a pastry, and hanging out. I guess in warm weather countries there are siestas. In the north it's fika. Fika is awesome.

kanelbulle, cinnamon and vanilla
For fika, or breakfast, or whatever, Gamla Enskede Bageri has kanelbulle, cinnamon buns. There's also a vanilla version, flavored with cardamon. These pastries are available everywhere, from the train cafes to convenience stores, but we didn't have better than the ones here. They're soft and buttery and perfumed of their flavor. A coffee cake would be embarrassed to be in the same room as kanelbulle. It has no equal. That it's hard to read this without at least thinking about Cinnabon makes me sick--the toilet water at a proper kanelbulle bakery is superior to anything from Cinnabon. Probably healthier too.

I can't explain enough how much I loved this place. Whether picking up a hearty walnut bread to go with dinner, grabbing an espresso, or eating breakfast or lunch, the place was perfect. They've created a warm environment and offer products that are beyond reproach. It's also right by a T-bana stop, so I can't imagine a visit to Stockholm without a stop there.

fika, ftw
For dinner that first night we enjoyed some of the walnut bread with pickled herring (sill), smoked herring, cheese, butter, and crispbread (knacke). Good, healthy bread and dairy was a trip constant, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The next day we had an early lunch at Nystekt Stromming, an outdoor stand selling fried herring in a square outside the Slussen T-bana station. I went with a deluxe plate--a rookie mistake unless you are a professional eater with an abiding love of mashed potatoes. A wiser person than myself would order a knacke (pronounced, sort of: kaneck-keah), which is a piece of hard bread with a normal portion of fried herring and some toppings (dill, onions, etc.). Either way, the place is not life changing but it's quality food and the best I've had from a non-restaurant in a while. And sitting by the water in the Slussen square is hard to beat. The deluxe plate might be nice for 2?

After the Slussen herring stop, we went to Rosendals Tradgard, a small part of which is pictured above and below. It's a huge park where some farming takes place, and there's a cafe where you can eat in greenhouses or sprawled out in a super old apple orchard. Since the apples were blooming we chose the latter, enjoying fresh baked organic snacks and cold beers surrounded by couples and families enjoying a beautiful spring day. The food at Rosendals isn't cheap, but it's very high quality, and the rest of the experience there is free, so the value is there. It's urban farming at a whole new level.

After returning from Rosendals the girlfriend's sister-in-law, a native Swede, decided we should get all Scandinavian with it, so we foraged for nettles in the neighborhood. We blanched the leaves for just a second or two and processed them in the food processor with olive oil (yeah, yeah, we should have used the local canola), pine nuts, and Vasterbotten, a Swedish hard cheese to make a nice little pesto for a pasta dinner. I also ate some of the nettle leaves raw, which is great for shock value, but completely painless and delicious when the leaves are folded properly.

The next day was up and out early for a trip to a relatively primitive cabin in Isala with some solid traditional food.
Isala, Sweden
To be continued.