Skip to content

Archive for

No Horsemeat Jokes

Malmo ikea

So I went to Ikea in Sweden. The first thing people
say is "It's the same, right?" Well, yes. Not exactly. There's an empty parking lot, for one. On a Friday afternoon, I practically had the place to myself. I've never been to an Ikea where you can walk freely with no bumping or interference. Then again, I've never been to one outside of the NYC area. Maybe as with Trader Joe's, the shopping experience increases in pleasantness the farther you stray from Manhattan.

Conceptually, you've seen it before; there are facsimiles
of rooms set up with furniture to browse, and unless you're Chinese you
probably don't make it your second home
. They do have the 2013 Stockholm
, which isn't available in the US yet (I'm seriously digging the green
velvet sofa and bright yellow curio cabinet).

Ikea summer buffet

The cafeteria, though? It's different. First off,
you can have sparkling wine if you want. You can't be an American and put ice
in your soda because there is no machine. There is also a self-serve smorgasbord
with things like gravlax, pickled herring, hard-boiled eggs and Jansson's
Temptation, a potato anchovy casserole that I thought was for Christmas. The
so-called Summer Buffet did not look as Pinterest pretty as the promotional shot would
have you believe. The service staff was not Scandinavian, which made me think there must be good Turkish food somewhere in Malmo. 

Ikea swedish dessert buffet

Desserts get an entire standalone display. Of course
there were cinnamon rolls, kanelbulle, (I prefer the Danish term kanel snegle,
cinnamon snail, even though I think that's a gross name for a vegan lunch

Ikea kakaoball

The kakaoballs were notable to me because they taste
exactly like an Idaho Spud, recognizable if you're a Northwesterner or regional candy
aficionado. They also came in much larger domes and everyone seemed to have one
on their trays.

Ikea lunch in sweden

How does the standby meatball meal compare? Well, I
was dismayed on my last local visit (Paramus, not Red Hook) to see that the
boiled new potatoes, red, skin-on had been replaced by mashed. In Malmo you get
a choice of mashed, boiled or french fries, except the potatoes are full-sized
and naked. All else was universal.

Malmo ikea sign


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.)

Relae menu

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.

Relae langos

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.

Relae raw beef, anchovies, ramsons

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.

Relae new radishes, egg

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.

Relae asparagus, sunflower seeds, mint

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.

Relae steamed danish enoki, sand leeks

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).

Relae hindsholm pork, nettles, cucumber

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

Relae rhubarb, buttermilk, potato

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


I never thought I'd be eating Vietnamese food next
to Western Beef on the Brooklyn-Queens border. The regional chain's
Metropolitan Avenue flagship–sprawling, no nonsense, with a large selection of
Latin American, Caribbean and Eastern European products–has always been my
favorite NYC grocery store since I first moved to the city, i.e. Ridgewood (barely
qualifying as The City) fifteen years ago. (It's where I took my photos when I
was inexplicably featured in Elle
a few years back.)

Western beef limes
Sixteen limes for $2? Come on.

Western beef european specialties
European specialties may as well be big plastic
bottles of Russian beer.

Western beef quarter waters
There is even a house brand of quarter waters (and
malta–too gross to show).

Bun-ker street view

The organics showed up not too long ago, and then I
braced for my canary in the coalmine: Fage yogurt (Chobani always hits first,
sitting alongside Tropical and Yoplait). What I didn't anticipate were niceties
creeping up outside the gate. Step out of the parking lot, turn to your right,
and Bun-Ker is embedded in the neighboring industrial strip like a daytime-only
sandwich stand, previously the only food in the immediate area. I do not bemoan
this breed of gentrification.

The only thing keeping the small restaurant–it
seats twenty at best–from being impossibly packed is the long haul from the nearest
subway, the Jefferson L and general lack of additional nearby attractions
(there are some Bushwick bars). I don't expect the same person spurred to try hinterland
banh xeo to be excited about hanging out in Western Beef's meat locker.

Bun-ker crab spring rolls

Crab spring rolls are one of five starters and semi-healthily
satisfy an urge for fried food. The accompanying cilantro, mint and Thai basil add
fresh herbal notes and crab is lighter than the ground pork you more commonly
find mixed with glass noodles and stuffed into these shells.

Nothing is flashy either. Producers aren't
name-checked, but you know you're eating something more carefully thought out
than at one of the many interchangeable Vietnamese restaurants in old Chinatown
or Elmhurst. (Seeing bo bo chicken made me feel guilty about the factory-farmed
chicken thighs–and skirt steak and pork shoulder–warming in the car trunk
while eating.)

Bun-ker suon nuong xa

The slices of pork loin, not chops, in the suon nuong
xa, are straightforward. Lemongrass shines through, though it's the char from
the grill stands out.

Bun-ker bo luc lac

Bo luc lac a.k.a. shaking beef comes with a watercress
salad, a traditional combination. (I've heard this is sometimes served with
french fries in Vietnam, sort of steak frites, sort of lomo saltado. All I know
is that I want it.) Once again, I was enamored with the smokiness, and how the seared
cubes, super tender, got sweetness and crunch from the crushed peanuts and
fried shallots.

The menu is relatively brief, sticks to familiar dishes
without being rigidly classic; the vegetarian banh mi features havarti and
smoked gouda and there's a Thai massaman short rib curry. Part of me would like
to see a few lesser-known offerings (then we could call it the Vietnamese Pok
Pok) but the more I think about Bun-Ker, the more feelings it gives me–swayed
by context, admittedly.  It would just be
likeable, not remarkable in the East Village or Park Slope (and more expensive). Scrappiness lends some charm.

Bun-Ker * 46-63 Metropolitan Ave., Ridgewood, NY

Corporate Culture: Pret A Manger

Pret beets & berries

So I haven't been granted any previews of The Elm or
The Butterfly. But I did get a peek (and almost typed sneak peak because it's been
seared [seered?] into my brain from repeated viewings) inside a Pret a Manger test
kitchen and an early look at their new summer salads launching on Monday. You
know I have a soft spot for international chains, plus I regularly eat at Pret

Pret salmon

I learned a few localization tidbits:

  • Americans want more salads. I don't think we're accustomed to the boxed
    sandwich thing that's so common in the UK.
  • We also want to add our own dressing and toss it together, hence the new
    plastic clamshell (recyclable) instead of the cardboard box of yore.
  • A new prosciutto sandwich is in the works. The British version is full of
    mayonnaise, naturally, while we may get brie on ours even though the Italian
    and French comingling seemed illogical. We don't care about culinary accuracy.

Pret quinoa

I like a substantial salad, which usually means a
meaty component, so I was most into the Italian Prosciutto & Quinoa (also
containing hard-boiled eggs, edamame, peas) and the Wild Salmon salad with a
tzatziki dressing (suggested dressings is also a new thing). The three other
salads feature falafel, beets and berries, and vegetables plus quinoa.

And yes, I bemoaned the loss of my old long-gone
favorite the Chicken Provencal No Bread Sandwich, which was really just a
smaller, less expensive salad. It's never coming back.


All of a sudden there are an awful lot of places in
Greenpoint to find nice cocktail and small plates of food. Want a Hemingway
daiquiri and seasonal bar snacks? No problem.

 Glasserie, like much of new Brooklyn, is whitewashed, woody, hodge-podge. Less common,  the restaurant at the very tippy-top of the borough (it's practically Queens) is sprawling with multiple rooms;
nothing feels cramped, early 1900s old-timey (the vibe is almost macrame and ferns) or overly precious, style-wise or on the plate. Staff is very friendly. You might hear The Smiths.

Glasserie lamb tartare, olives & bulghur crackers

The menu is not boring. There's no burger or overt
kale usage. It leans more Middle Eastern than some of the other area
tahini and labneh are all sides–with hints of Spain. The minted lamb tartare, cut with waxy green olives, is paired
with bulghur crisps, a flavor pairing echoing Turkish cig kofte, but brinier
(Lamb and bulghur also come together in croquettes.)

Glasserie clams, harissa & couscous

Clams are said to be flavored with harissa, but aren't
particularly spicy. The couscous, which acted like bread crumbs, was the more prominent

Glasserie red potatoes, spanish cheese & egg

Roast potatoes were more grounding, heartier, and creamy from
Spanish cheese (maybe Tetilla?) and a poached egg seasoned with za'atar. 

Glasserie old pal

Maybe it was just the Copenhagen comedown, but $9 cocktails
seemed more than fair (less gentrified parts of Brooklyn are price-creeping past the $10 mark). I've seen people refer to the Old Pal (rye, both vermouths, Campari) as a cold weather cocktail, but I think the spicy brown spirit given the aperitif's bite suits this wet, transitional season just fine.

Glasserie * 95 Commercial St., Brooklyn, NY


The Bling Ring

Nugget ring

#9, the best of the worst.

Photo: jay lawrence goldman via junebugweddings via buzzfeed

Pack(age) Rat: Budget Kattemad

Budget kattemad

I think I said I would stop buying cat food while
abroad. I had to make an exception for this sardine-flavored can of Danish kattemad, though.


Meyers Deli

Not everything on bread is smorrebrod, of course.
Meyers Bageri, one of Copenhagen's top notch bakeries (my airbnb rental had two
Claus Meyers books on the shelves, one bread, one sweets; I couldn't read
either, though the photos were convincing) has an outpost in the basement of
department store, Magasin du Nord. It was not my intent to stop in, but it had
gotten to 3pm and I couldn't settle on anything for lunch and didn't want to
waste money on an outdoor tourist cafe. (Actually, I was in this part of town
to find a McDonald's, but felt like eating real food rather than tracking down
a novelty on this particular afternoon.) The deli had some nice looking
sandwiches. In particular, Lun Flaeskestegs. This is as close as I'd get to
traditional roast pork.

Meyers deli lun flaesketegs sandwich

There were thick slices of meat, still rosy in the
center, juicy and fatty with strips of cracklings, separated and added-in for
extra crunch. Pickled red cabbage, cucumbers and slivered red apples added
tartness and texture, and a creamy sweet mustard sauce bound it all together. This
was a serious sandwich, almost too much for one sitting (I would've asked for
half to go, or rather takeway, as the rest of the universe says, but wasn't
sure if that was couth).

And the potatoes, which made it a real meal, weren't
throwaway. I had to stop myself from eating all the crispy skinned wedges that
had a richness that could only come from being submerged in quite a bit of

Meyers deli lun flaesketegs close up
Crackling close-up

I was asked if I wanted mayonnaise and I wondered if
it was because they assumed an American would prefer ketchup (you shouldn't; I'm
sure it was house made, but it was watery and weird) . Maybe, maybe not, though
I'm pretty sure the cashier checking to see if I needed ice for my bottle of
Pelligrino was trying to accommodate US tastes. (I'm fine without ice, though
my travel companion was dismayed at its absence from the Ikea cafeteria.)

Meyers deli lun flaesketegs sign
It was only after decompressing a bit in the nearly empty seating area that I
realized 125 DKK was $22. Ouch. That was one expensive sandwich. You could try
and reproduce it on the cheap–the recipe is online with the translated
headline "Have you pig left over?"

Meyers Deli * Nytorv 13, Copenhagen, Denmark

Grøften & Schønnemann a.k.a. Things On Bread

If your only exposure to smorrebrod is Copenhagen
import, Aamanns, you might get stymied when figuring out how to order the
open-faced sandwiches in a more traditional, albeit touristy, setting.

Groften menu

At Grøften, inside Tivoli Gardens, you're presented
with a checkbox list, broken down by topping type–seven herring variations,
alone–and each with the choice of rye, caraway or white bread. (Locals know
which pairs with what and there are definitely rules. I didn't want to be the
blueberry bagel ordering foreigner.) Is this like dim sum? Pick away, share? Using
price as a guide isn't reliable since nearly everything ends up costing more
than you think it should anyway. Is a $16 sandwich plenty for one or barely a
snack a la Aamanns?

Groften smorrebrod

We decided on two each, which I now think was too
much (see Schønnemann, below), plus, meatballs, which was definitely way too
much. Yes, there is actually a slice of bread hiding beneath the tuft of
shredded horseradish, sweet pickles, remoulade and fried crumbled onions (a
garnish so popular it's sold in little plastic tubs at Ikea). Oh, and roast

Groften tartare smorrebrod

Beef tartare, egg yolk and horseradish was
straightforward as can be. Capers, chopped onion and turmeric-tinged pickled
vegetables, similar to piccalilli, came in little glass bowls for all the sandwiches
but  made most sense with the slab of
chopped raw meat. The same sandwich with black caviar is called "løvemad,"
or lion's snack in English. Cute either way.

Groften fried herring smorrebrod

Fried herring was a little more subdued.

Groften meatballs

Frikadeller, a mixture of pork and veal, I'm pretty

As my first restaurant meal in Copenhagen, I was a
little surprised (not unhappily, as I love smoking on vacation) to see you
could still smoke indoors since Scandinavia always struck me clean-living–maybe
it's the propensity for biking? (It was also not unusual to see parents pushing
strollers with cigarettes in hand, a practice that would be certain to induce
severe shaming in many parts of NYC.) This was an anomaly that wasn't repeated
at any other restaurant I visited, though.

* * *

Schønnemann is also a traditional purveyor of things
on bread, mostly rye. There's nothing wrong with old-school Danish food; I
would highly recommend a little stodginess in lieu of  seaweed broths and charred cucumbers for one
meal. Luckily, we were seated closely, NYC close, to a Danish twosome who made
sure we ordered right. (I ended up spending Saturday hanging out, barbecuing
and drinking at their "kolonihave" outside the city and was all the
better for breaking out of the New Nordic confines that can limit the

Schonnenmann beer & aquavit

House brews, referred to as "lunch beer"
by our waiter, and a delicate walnut aquavit are a great way to start off an
afternoon. (While I'd recommend eating some regular food in Copenhagen, I can't
say I'd advocate multiple shots of thick salty black licorice liqueur flavored
with pomegranate, which I was exposed to later.)

Schonnenmann  herring salad

Herring salad, yes, on top of a thin, chewy slice of
nutty rye. We were told we should've asked for more bread so you're not just eating
fish, beets and sour cream.

Schonnenmann  veterinarian's midnight snack

Just one smorrebrod apiece, the normal way of doing
things. I had been previously charmed by lion's snack, and this, the
veterinarian's midnight snack, was no less poetic. That translates to a thick
spread of pate, salted beef similar to sliced corned beef, aspic and raw
onions.  This is my kind of sandwich. Dark bread and liverwurst? Yes.

Schonnenmann  the harbourmaster

The Harbourmaster, cured salmon, chives, dill,
potatoes, red onions and smoked cheese, also had an impressive name. The lime
seemed odd to me.

Make sure to have another beer, don't look at the exchange rate too hard, have a good time.

Grøften * Vesterbrogade 3, Copenhagen, Demnark

Schønnemann * Hauser Plads 16, Copenhagen, Denmark



Kings County, Copenhagen

Kings county beer

Danes are just like us. They like to name things
after Kings County (apostrophe, no apostrophe, whatever).

Nespresso & soda machines

They have Nespresso and seltzer machines on their

My counter

My counter with the lower-end Nespresso machine that
I took as a freebie (though not exactly free in reality since those pods are
65-cents each and gauge you like razor blades or printer ink) but never blogged
about and requisite SodaStream. (I keep my blender hidden away because it
never gets used.)

Beer, coffee, and water aside, there's little in
Copenhagen to tickle the fancy of an American culture enthusiast. Yes, there is
a Hard Rock Cafe attached to Tivoli Gardens, and Burger Kings and McDonald's
show up in and near transport hubs, but this is no Bangkok or Dubai.

Nasty danish

Even homegrown chains were lacking. Joe & the
? Eh, I didn't even take a photo. Sunset Boulevard?  Maybe. I'm not sure if The Spot is local. I was bummed that their machine to make Daim ice blended coffees was broken, but they did make up for it a bit by using "nasty" in their ad copy.

Max hamburger

Max Hamburger is Swedish so it doesn't count.

Vesterbro, a.k.a. the Meatpacking district, still a
little red light, supposedly great for clubbing (certainly not for late night
dining–try finding anything other than shawarma after 10pm on a weeknight, and
when a friend helped me by putting out a Facebook call to locals for "bars
that stay open past midnight," suggestions were for places closing at 1am,
which technically answered the question yet was not what I meant. Even in
middle America bars are open until 2am during the week) also had the
distinction of housing a mall, Fisketorvet, a.k.a. Fish Market, just across the
train tracks, a block from my apartment.

The president

There is a restaurant called The President that
serves a Nixon Burger and has footballer statues dangling puppet-style in
Carlsberg jerseys.

The first lady beef sandwich

Instead, I opted for The First Lady, across the
walkway, because it was classier, called itself a gastropub and had burgundy
flocked damask wallpaper. What I thought would be a roast beef sandwich turned
out to be kind of a patty melt, or more accurately, a hamburger sandwich. At least that was actually a cherry tomato and not a marachino cherry, one thing Denmark has over China. This
is where I was introduced to remoulade, the beloved mayonnaise spiked with
pickles and mustard, served with everything.

My first-impression takeaway (why does the rest of
the world say takeaway instead of to go?) was that there is a certain sterility
in Copenhagen, a downer more often attributed to a place like Singapore (one of
my favorite cities in the world). Everything is a little too easy (plus
expensive) which lends to a dullness. If I have to make one reference to
Denmark consistently being the happiest country in the universe, I'll make it now.
I've heard theories on that (where I can't recall) and one that I'm inclined to
agree with is that Danes have lower expectations so it takes less to make them
happy, whereas Americans expect the universe and are consistently disappointed.
Simplicity and security does not make us happy.

More later on New Nordic in springtime, i.e. you'd
better like rhubarb, buttermilk, ramson a.k.a. ramps, nasturtium, necks (pork
and poultry), seaweed, sorrel and nettles.

Read about even less food-related bits here.

Or look at some photos: