Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sverige Part III: Dining Out

Sadly, we couldn't eat every meal in.  But thanks to the internet and some good luck we managed to eat out pretty well.  I've already covered my love of Gamla Enskede Bageri a few posts ago--that was by far my favorite place in Stockholm.  We also had great coffee at Il Cafe in Ostermalm, a neighborhood with a pretty solid hipster quotient.  Il Cafe was very Italian in style with great mini sandwiches in both Swedish and Italian varieties.  It also carried fantastic looking breads.  Really, any cafe that looked like it would serve good espresso and espresso based drinks did.  Their gear and beans are second to none, and they take things seriously without being all stuffy about it.  Maybe it's the fika culture?  Two other spots worth checking out are Non Solo Bar and  Mellqvist Cafe and Bar, which are right next to each other and in another neat area not far from a pretty cool looking park.

Gamla Enskede Bagari
As much as we tried, we did not live on coffee alone.  We also ate at Stockholm's two major markets--the grand Saluhallen Ostermalmstorg and the slightly less fancy Hotorget Market.  Both markets have West Side Market style fruit and vegetable stands outdoors, and all sorts of foodstuffs inside.  We didn't do much shopping for home at the markets, but we did browse and grab some food to eat there.

Saluhallen is a paradise for a food lover without budgetary constraints.  Great European fish (surprisingly to me, the general quality of fresh fish in Stockholm wasn't all that impressive), gorgeous aged beef, game, cheeses, prepared foods . . . all sorts of stuff.  It also had restaurants right in the middle of everything.  From upscale to cafe-like, the options to grab a bite  for sit down or takeaway are serious.  While the pictured place (below) caught my eye--just about everyone was eating the same thing, a perfect piece of steamed snow white cod topped with an equally prefect little quenelle of dayglo orange roe--it just seemed a bit too special occasion for a quick lunch.  So we ate at one of the more cafe-like places in the market.  I went with a Danish-style pork liver pate on brown bread, and the companion had an impeccably prepared shrimp salad.  Totally satisfying, especially followed by a trio of French oysters cracked open at one of the fish stands.  It's worth noting though that those oysters, from a premier vendor, don't come near the quality of our cold water oysters.  So while seeing a case filled with different varieties of Normandy oysters may seem super awesome, the reality wasn't all that special.  Regardless of the oysters, this market is a must visit for any self-respecting food nerd.  Expect to see many camera toting fellow tourists.

Fancy place in Saluhallen Ostermalmstorg
Hotorget was a little different.  A little more for the common man, it kind of reminded me of La Bretxa Market in San Sebastian; i.e. a little too fancy for it's own good.  Maybe we're just spoiled by the WSM.  Regardless, there was some nice fish and cheese there, and again some quality restaurants.  There's doner and classic Swedish food, but I chose the much internet-lauded fish soup at a spot right across from the market's best fish stand.  For like $15 you get a huge bowl of a bouillabaisse type thing with a generous scoop of aioli, bread, and a lame salad.  The soup is complex and beautiful.  No seafaring creature is safe from it.  And it's got this never ending thing going on too--while I was on line a fish monger walked over and handed the cashier, who's stationed right by the soup pot, a huge chunk of super fresh cod to toss into the pot.  While not exactly cheap, this soup has got to be one of the best values in the city.  I grabbed some oysters there too--again fine, but not remarkable.  Sweden may have healthcare, bike lanes, education, public transportation, and interior design down, but we've got them beat on bivalves.  Yay for us.

For a nice night out, we went to Matbaren (Food Bar), the less expensive sister to Matsalen, both located in the opulent Grand Hotel.  The gentleman with his name on the door, Mathias Dahlgren, has serious accolades and was in the house (must be nice to have two spots in one hotel--it is a big hotel though).  There's a fair amount on the web about Matbaren, so I'll keep it short.  The butter and crackers served at the beginning of the meal are as good as people say they are (as is the bread served with the meal), the staff was super knowledgeable, the wine list interesting, and you get fantastic little treats at the end of the meal.  We had a bowl with nettles, asparagus, egg, and morels, and another with pickled herring, egg, beets, and potato.  All just slightly modernist.  We also got crab dumplings and a dress-your-own salad where we were presented with the option of Swedish rapeseed (canola) oil or Spanish olive oil for seasoning.  There was also Sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper.  The canola was recommended, and I'm all for it.  Maybe the corporate salad dressing makers are on to something--canola works great, particularly with super fresh lettuces and vegetables.  For a $20 salad it would have been nice if they dressed it for me, but still, well played.  We also got a cheese plate with mostly Swedish cheeses and rose hip jam--great cheese plate.  Total cost for some champagne, wine, and all that plus modest tip--$210, a relative bargain in Stockholm almost-fine dining.  We did sit at a bar--but it was a very nice bar.

Swedish meat
For a real not-to-be-missed Stocholm dining experience we went to Pelikan.  Bourdain recommends it, and so will anyone else you ask in that city.  Traditional food in a wonderful location--make sure to sit in the old part of the restaurant.  We had cured salmon with potatoes with dill sauce, meatballs, and a another meatball-like dish.  Everything is reasonably priced (although oddly the cheese plate costs the same as the one at Matbaren, but we didn't get it at Pelikan so no review on that), service is fine if a bit brusque, and overall it's just a great place to eat and drink even if the food isn't life changing.

Another great spot for breakfast or lunch is Bla Lotus in Ostermalm.  A solid choice for the granola eating crowd and just a real cute spot with pretty good outdoor seating on a relatively quiet street.  Tasty and pretty healthful food.  Everything in the place looked good.  And again, great coffee.

I'll conclude my dining out in Stockholm post with these words of caution:  Even when hungry on the street, you can do better than the street dogs.  Yes, spices are added to the dirty water.  Yes, there are enticing sounding varieties including the French dog and chorizo.  And yes, the ketchup and mustard are dispensed by things that look just like udders.  But, although the Swedes do many things well, and many things better than us, the street dogs over there just didn't stack up, at least in my opinion.  Your mileage may vary.  Just stop somewhere for a coffee and kanelbulle instead.


DineWise Coupons said...

I've been to Non Solo Bar and I have to say it is quite a place.

steve said...

One of my biggest complaints in the time we lived in Copenhagen was the lack of markets like the ones you visited in Stockholm. There were some very small farmer's markets and I suspect more now since we left in 1996. But they rally lacked big markets. It just meant that I had to ride all over town to find the special items at smaller shops. And most of the fish in Denmark is exported, maybe the same in Sweden. But I did like the french oysters for New Years Eve.