Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eating And Drinking (And Spending) In Oslo (UPDATED)

At Bar Boca

In March, Daisy and I took a trip to Oslo -- our first -- to catch one of our favorite comedians, Louis CK, in concert at the Oslo Spektrum. The show was fantastic. It was very impressive to see Louis come out, stand alone on a bare stage under a single spotlight, and make 8,000 people laugh for 90 minutes nonstop.

My doppelganger, Louis CK

Of course, while we were in Oslo, we ate and drank in some cool places.

Daisy's a big fan of the Harry Hole books by Jo Nesbø, so we checked out a few of Hole's watering holes, including the Underwater Pub and Restaurant Schrøder. The former was very cool, all dark wood and cozy little tables hidden in nooks and crannies. We happened to be there on a Thursday night, when professional opera singers come in and perform for free. The latter, however, was a bit of a letdown. The atmosphere was nonexistent and the food just passable. Of course, we ordered Harry's favorite dish: stekt flesk og duppe (slices of fried bacon, mashed turnip and boiled potatoes). Not sure what he sees in it, but what are you going to to? At least it was reasonably priced, by Oslo standards.

Stekt flesk og duppe

The Underwater Pub

We also enjoyed a few expertly made cocktails at tiny Bar Boca in the hip Grünerløkka neighborhood and enjoyed shooting the breeze with the manager, who was behind the bar mixing drinks and making a fresh batch of raspberry syrup from scratch. I liked that place.

Making fresh raspberry syrup at Bar Boca

We also enjoyed a few pints at a bar and jazz joint we just happened upon called Herr Nilsen at C.J. Hambros Plass 5, right in the center. It was a warm and welcoming place and seems like a fantastic club to see some live music.

Our best meal of the trip was at a restaurant called Von Porat in the Mathallen indoor food hall, which I'd read about on a blog called the Nordic Nibbler. The Nibbler described it as a restaurant that "serves no nonsense modern Norwegian food made from local ingredients. It's the sort of restaurant that Oslo has needed for a long time – simple, honest, and above all tasty food that won't break the bank."

We weren't disappointed.

(UPDATE: I just received an e-mail from Von Porat that reads: "We regret to inform you that von Porat restaurant will be closing its doors due to the imposibilty to bear future economical challenges." Achhhh!)

Ivan Zednik of Von Porat (the place is named after a Norwegian heavyweight boxer from the 1920s) told me that the restaurant tries its best to use only locally grown produce and present the possibilities that are hiding behind the Nordic climate, which is quite challenging due to the long and cold winters. The restaurant also prides itself on its vegetarian options.

"Our vision and goal could be formulated as new Nordic gastronomy where season, simplicity, and clean taste stand in the center of our focus," Zednik says. "We like to add that our modus operandi is to buy from local and small producers and show that Norway and the entire north has much more to offer than snow, darkness, and oil."

The Mathallen food hall

Our meal started with flat bread with creme fraiche, dill and salmon roe, followed by a salad of beef cured with fennel seeds and sugar and served with pickled vegetables, raw beet root and smoked butternut squash puree. Then it was a dish of cod served with kale cooked with apple vinegar, and served with potato and steamed mussels, and then another course of turkey breast poached in milk and turkey leg confit, served with sauteed parsley root and pickled and sauteed Jerusalem artichokes. Dessert was exquisite: coffee ice cream with toasted salted almonds, accompanied by a meringue with a biscuit crumble and frozen dried black currant powder.

We liked the atmosphere of the place, looking down as it does from the mezzanine on the bustling market. And for what you get, it's a reasonable price. Our meal, including drinks, came to about $250 (although I was shocked to see that the bottle of Saison beer from the Nøgne microbrewery that I ordered with my main course and which was recommended by the waiter ended up costing me $22.50).

Yes, $250 for two is a reasonable price for a nice dinner in Oslo.

Let me just say that Oslo is the most expensive place we've ever visited. A pint of regular old beer is around $13. I had a regular old hamburger at an outdoor cafe in Grünerløkka that cost me $30. A cocktail at Bar Boca is around $20. You just have to laugh and hand over your cash if you're traveling to Oslo.

The best bargain of the trip may have been our double at the Radisson Blu Scandinavian Hotel. Our top-floor room had a panoramic view of Oslo, including the distant Holmenkollen ski jump, and was around $150 per night, which included a magnificent breakfast. The hotel was also, conveniently, the last stop for the bus we took into town from the airport.

Oslo has a great vibe. Lots of young people sitting outside at fashionable cafes in the sunshine, even when it was below freezing; a nice city park; a developing waterfront; great culture (including a magnificent new opera house); and good food and drink.

I'd like to go back in the summer, when it must be a different place. For now, we've tasted Oslo, and it tasted good. Just be expected to pay through the nose for a bite of it.

Flat bread with creme fraiche, dill and salmon roe

Salad of beef cured with fennel seeds and sugar and served with pickled vegetables, raw beet root and smoked butternut squash puree

Cod served with kale cooked with apple vinegar, and served with potato and steamed mussels

Turkey breast poached in milk and turkey leg confit, served with sauteed parsley root and pickled and sauteed Jerusalem artichokes

Coffee ice cream with toasted salted almonds, accompanied by a meringue with a biscuit crumble and frozen dried black currant powder

Bar Boca

 Restaurant Schrøder

Being serenaded at Underwater

A $30 hamburger in a cafe in Grünerløkka 

Oslo's impressive $700 million opera house on the waterfront

The Underwater Pub, one of Harry Hole's watering holes

At Herr Nilsen (that's about $25 worth of drinks there)

Inside Herr Nilsen

Country Of Cool Fonts (Continued)

More in my series of old Prague signs written in cool, seldom-seen (or never-seen) fonts. Somebody's got to document this stuff.

See more in this series here and here and here and here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Let's Ride

My Honda Shadow 600 on a beautiful spring day.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

That's The Thing

Cooking Classes With Chef Davide Lagomarsino

Artichoke heart and Reggiano salad on beef carpaccio.

Chef Davide Lagomarsino has cooked for former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as movie stars like Nicole Kidman, Robert DeNiro, and Russell Crowe. A few weeks ago, Daisy and I cooked for him.

Or rather, he taught us how to cook for him.

Lagomarsino is Italian but worked for many years in Australia, where he ran his own critically acclaimed restaurant, Zeffirelli. In 2008, he moved to Prague, where he was chef at La Bottega di Aromi before opening up his own restaurant in the most unlikeliest of places: in the wilds of Prague 6, on Horoměřická, near the village of Nebušice.

For those of us who live nearby, La Gastronomia Ligure is a godsend, a place where we can get a good cup of coffee, Italian meats and cheeses, pasta, and Italian specialty items, as well as breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Davide says he's expanding this summer to include a wood-fired oven out back with outdoor seating.

I gave Daisy a gift certificate for a cooking class at La Gastronomia for Christmas. It took us a few months to finally cash it in. We chose a menu that included grilled marinated vegetables, artichoke heart and Reggiano salad on beef carpaccio, beef filet tagliata grilled with rucola and Parmesan, and aubergine with chocolate and amaretti.

All in all, the four-hour class was great fun. What's not to like? We started with glasses of prosecco, and after each course was prepared, in La Gastronomia's gorgeous new kitchen, we retired to the dining room to eat our creations and drink some fantastic wine that had been specially paired to complement our dishes.

Davide is a great teacher, if a little hard to keep up with sometimes. He's a passionate guy, and he speaks pretty fast!

Our fellow classmates were also very cool. We'd never done anything like that before, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I hope Davide continues to do them. He's got a few more listed on his website: a beef and fish dinner on May 20 and a veal and pasta menu on June 1.

Beef filet tagliata grilled with rucola and Parmesan and marinated vegetables.

Enjoying the spoils of our labors.

Aubergine with chocolate.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brown Bread & Irish Whiskey Ice Cream

Finally got a chance to make Brown Bread & Irish Whiskey Ice Cream. I'd fallen in love with the idea of that delightful combination after being alerted to the recipe on the food blog Farmette. It took me a few months, but with my birthday as sort of a belated excuse, I finally got around to putting a batch together last night.

This morning, I had ice cream for breakfast.

The carmelized brown sugar covering the bread crumbs is heavenly, and the whiskey is definitely a noticeable presence. My own quibble (other than the incredible number of calories a single serving likely has, what with 450 ml of double cream) is that the consistency was quite melty. It's not churned or stirred in an ice cream maker. The batter is simply frozen overnight. So the texture is quite delicate.

The recipe says to whisk the batter "until it holds its shape," before pouring it into a container. I'm not sure my batter ever really held its shape. I tried hand whisking and using an electric mixer. I will say that my version does look remarkably like the version in the photo that accompanies the blog entry.

Anyway, it's delicious. Try it yourself. Let me know how it turns out.

Before freezing.