On Travel: The Surprising World Class Cuisine in Reykjavik

The past few weeks have been so crazy that I haven’t even had time to feel guilty for not blogging.  I wrapped up my time as Associate Creative Director at Big Fuel, had a wonderful first three weeks as Copy Lead at VaynerMedia, then boarded a plane bound for Iceland at the end of a work day.  The idea was to write every night about that day’s adventures, but I’ve been so spent at the end of every day that that hasn’t happened.  It’s day four, and I finally snuck away to a small wifi cafe for an hour before horse riding through Icelandic meadows and mountains.

Let me derail my original subject for a moment: there is something incredibly fun about writing in a foreign cafe.  The bright  colors of the cafe walls to offset the dark parts of the year, the smell of the deliciously strong Kaffi, and the enchanting rhythm of the Icelandic language: I could sit here and listen all day.  I’ll be sad to leave Reykjavik tomorrow, but only a bit.  It’s hard to be sad about anything when you have Bergen and the fjords of Norway to look forward to.

One more thing of note: my body has no idea what time it is.  I didn’t fully believe it, but it literally never gets dark here.  Twilight approaches around 1am, right around the time that the big parties really start to rolick in the plaza outside my hotel window, but dark never takes over.  I can’t imagine what it must be like on the other side of the year, when night is at its most triumphant.

Oh right, that thing I was planning to write about.

I expected to find many things in Iceland: glaciers, hot springs, waterfalls, mountains.  What I didn’t expect was world class cuisine.  I’d been told about the national junk food (hot dogs, and for the record, they are delicious,) but I hadn’t been told about the incredible national delicacies: minke whale, lamb, mussels the size of unshelled peanuts, and fish fish fish.  Here, I’ve eaten more creative concoctions than I’ve seen even in New York, and all served by beautiful, humble people who take great pride in their unique dishes.

Here’s a run down of the restaurants so far:

The Icelandic Cafe

At first glance, this looks like a rundown bar, but the menu reveals that it’s anything but.  Choices include tiny tasting pots and full meals of foal, seared minke whale, and lamb.  While I couldn’t bring myself to eat a baby horse, my family ordered a sprinkling of dishes, and I did try almost everything else.  The highlights:

  • Creamy fish soup
  • Traditional meat soup with huge hunks of lamb and root vegetables
  • A pot of seared minke whale with wasabi potato puree (yes, I do feel slightly guilty about the whale, but they are hunted humanely and within a protected number each year, so please don’t leave angry comments.)
  • Seared salted cod

The Puffin Pot never arrived, but I was so full that I didn’t complain.  My brother is determined to try Puffin before we leave, so it may be on the menu tonight.

[Rub 23]

Sushi is becoming very popular in Iceland, thanks to the abundance of fish.  But the sushi at [Rub 23] has a distinctly Icelandic spin.  Take, for example, the Surf n’ Turf roll, filled with local lobster tempura and wrapped in beef carpaccio, or the Ten Ten Three Tempura Maki, made with tempura lobster, arctic char, salad, and chilly tamago.  If Sushi isn’t your thing, you can pick a fish or a meat and a rub.  And you shouldn’t leave without trying the blue mussels.  I’m not sure if the picture does it justice, but they’re huge, creamy, and dream worthy.

The Fish Market

This is the famous one that the travel writers gush about, and for good reason: it was the single best meal I’ve ever had in my life.  We took the suggestion of the happy table next to us and ordered the nine course tasting menu: four appetizers, sushi course, three entrees, and a dessert platter. It was a great decision. I can cook, but I can’t dream of cooking like this.  As the meat and fish is all local and sustainable, the menu changes almost daily, but here’s what we had:

  • Minke whale sashimi with wasabi cream cheese.  The whale was lightly seared, but not enough to be considered cooked.  It was infinitely better than the pot we’d had two nights before.  It was decadently rich and melted in your mouth.
  • Rock shrimp tempura
  • Icelandic blue mussels with lobster broth and bonito flakes
  • Crispy spinach salad with grilled pears and oranges, fried quail eggs, crunchy sesam seeds and soya roasted hazel nuts
  • Sushi course: salmon sashimi, raw scallops with eel sauce, raw tuna, and a salmon roll.  All delectable.
  • Salted cod with lime zest, potato puree, dried cranberries, and celery salad
  • Grilled salmon with parsnip, apple, and fennel salad, radish and crispy fried lotus root
  • Grilled fillet of lamb with sweet potatoes, shank of lamb confit, and balsamic marinated portobello mushrooms.  An interesting thing to note here: I’m used to lamb being prepared as a savory dish, but here it was sweet, understated, and insanely good.
  • Dessert: flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee topped with fruit, white chocolate cream cheese mousse, and four types of ice cream: coconut, chocolate, passion fruit, and Icelandic black raspberry.  The perfect end to the perfect feast.

My hour is up, and I have to run.  I’ll edit this post later, as it’s insanely long, but will put it up now, because I can’t wait to talk about the food!

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