If you can't get into Noma, odds are you'll quickly
find a short list of alternatives, many alumni ventures. Relae, helmed
by former sous chef, Christian Puglisi, is bound to come up. (Geranium, Radio, Fikebaren, Bror and soon-to-open, Amass, too.)
It's casual–blonde wood, tablecloths, printed-out paper menus (pardon my scrawling), self-serve
silverware, Joy Division might be playing–like a
nice weeknight dinner restaurant, if your weeknight dinners had seven courses with
French biodynamic wine pairings. Next thing you know, you've spent over $500. Oh,
Denmark. You also happy, tipsy, thinking about seasons and place.
Actually, you don't start thinking about late spring
and local ingredients until your second encounter (Bror in my case) with this relatively recent style of
modern Scandinavian cooking. I've seen others' insane itineraries; one blogger who
arrived in Copenhagen as I was leaving was going to Noma and Relae on the same
day and doubled-up daily. I'm no longer that gung ho even though I understand the American urge to
cram as much into our precious days off as possible. (I almost cried, not
figuratively, upon hearing about the five-week Thailand vacation being planned
by the train conductor who befriended me in Copenhagen.) I've learned that two,
maybe three tops, is enough Michelin stars for one week or you start losing
perspective. Even in different guises, no matter how well executed, one can
only eat so much rhubarb, ransom, nettles, cucumber, nasturtium, seaweed, necks and
collars in a short time frame.
With that said, I really liked Relae. I would, and
have already, recommended it. One aspect of note, and I don't know if this is a
Nordic thing, was the literallness. If they say seven courses, they mean seven courses,
no amuses, interim desserts or mignardises like you'll encounter with tasting
menus elsewhere. Another Nordic quirk, if you happen to be visiting this time of year is amount of natural light during dinner. Since the sun doesn't set until close to 10pm, you can eke out some photos without relying heavily on candles or overhead lamps.
This snack, a Danish take on langos, fried
bread with an herbed yogurt spread, had to be tried since my dining companion was
in Budapest the day before. It was the only starter on offer and not part of the
675 kr menu. Add in a glass of organic sparkling wine, and this was definitely not like anything
I had in Hungary.
Raw beef, anchovies, and ramsons (paired with Sorga
Blanc '10 –La Sorga, Rousillon). I do sometimes wonder if something is askew with
my palate because I don't find ramps to have a very distinct flavor, despite
everyone's mania for them.
New radishes and egg (Cul rond '11–Domaine de
l'Octavin, Jura). The "yolk," a salty translucent sheath, is hiding a
dollop of stiff fluff (ok, it's foam) that needs to be mixed into the aggressively
bitter and peppery sprouts for the full effect.
Asparagus, sunflower seeds and mint (Temp fait le tout '11–Remi Poujol, Languedoc). This is where I got it, the appreciation of
vegetable-forward dishes, strength in simplicity. Asparagus and sunflower seeds
don't sound like the most convincing plate of food, but this was the standout of
the meal. The asparagus tasted like itself but was far from austere, bathed in
a browned butter that was so complex I assumed cheese and lemon were present (they
were not). The seeds gave the dish body and little Grape Nut-esque nuggets added
extra crunch and toastiness.
Steamed Danish enoki and sand leeks (Katori 90, nama genshu–Terada Honke, Chiba, Japan). The mushrooms, greens and sweet, smoky sauce made
from charred, pureed onions also out-performed their basic nature. The sake was a wise pairing (even though I was practically still feeling the effects of a 1.8 L bottle split among three on Memorial Day weekend, just a few days prior).
Pork from Hindsholm, nettles and cucumber (Le boit
sans soif '11–Jean-Francois Chene, Anjou). And yes, there is meat; slices of
naturally rich pork with a very tart jumble of greenery.
Blå kornblomst and green herbs (Plume d'Ange
'10–Etienne Courtois, Soings en Sologne). It very rarely happens, but I forgot
to take a photo of the cheese course, which isn't really a cheese course at
all, but a pulverized blue cheese with herbs peeking through like
Rhubarb, buttermilk and potato (Ze Bulle–Chateau Tour Grise, Samur). I'm not sure how the potato sweet came to be a
Danish thing, but I know Noma has a plum and potato dessert. Unfortunately,
desserts after a procession of dishes and wines, don't always make a strong
impression me, no fault of the pastry chef. I did appreciate that it was light.
Relae * Jægersborggade 41, Denmark, Copenhagen