Amass and Ekstedt: reviews of two more great restaurants

Our first eagerly anticipated dinner was at Amass in Copenhagen’s Refshaleøen area which seems to a gentrifying industrial park (where Reffen is, too). I love that kind of locale. Because cabs are very expensive in Copenhagen and because T and I like pretending we're locals, we took the metro and then a bus (the 9A, which would become a regular for us) and then walked the short remaining distance to the restaurant complex. This would be nothing remotely interesting except that I had on a mini skirt and 4" stilettos, a) because I didn't know what Copenhagen expected re: dress code in nice restaurants, and b) why not? I love to dress up? It was a date. Etc.

It should be noted that while I wore that mini skirt again later on our trip, I did not wear those infernal yet truly magnificent heels. #cobblestones #4" #publictransportation  In any case, Amass had this genius and lady-centric stairwell, so I was in good stead there (LOL. Puns.) 

Seriously. Why is this not de rigueur? 

Seriously. Why is this not de rigueur? 

As we would experience so many times on this trip, the service at Amass was a perfect blend of friendly, knowledgable, and uber-skilled. The servers worked as a team; you never knew who would bring you what, but each knew exactly where you were and what you wanted, and it was just a touch of magic. The nightly menu is a fixed one of various size: we chose the largest in terms of course number and never once regretted it. 

view from our table

view from our table

We started with a pappadum-like crisp made from potato skins and dusted with green garlic and fennel powder, served with a potato-skin dip drizzled with fennel oil. 

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Then a fennel broth with mustard green oil and flowers, an insanely fabulous bread made from fermented potatoes, yogurt, and flour alongside kale-two-ways dip. I must have this bread in my life again. And, as another aside, that gorgeous vessel in which the dip was served? Yes, it's made by a Danish father and son ceramics team, Aage and Kasper Würtz, and you can bet I attempted to buy one (per my tendency to buy beloved items from restaurants). Not possible BUT the pottery was sold at Illums Bolighus, and I pilgrimaged to the: Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Arlanda airport locations. Only to be denied. I did purchase two plates and a bowl -gorgeous- but I really wanted this extreme-wall bowl. Alas. 

Then onto a fava bean and cherry with lemon miso salad, and then a tiny 'burrito' of cured mackerel with cured egg yolk and horseradish wrapped in a Swiss chard leaf. The latter was a standout item. 

On to what was absolutely one of my favorite-ever dishes, roasted beets with black and red currants and beet reduction vinaigrette. Y'all, I cannot even describe the marriage of earthy, sweet, tangy, and smoky in this treat. Lawd!

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Then, a rare cut of beef aged approximately 978 years with flowers and more (honestly, by this point I was just going with it) and then a s'more and then, a top-three highlight, malted barley cream with rhubarb sorbet and gratinee of herbs. I really do not know what to say about the malted barley cream except that I wish it were a mandated daily staple in my life. That is written/said with zero exaggeration. 

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It was the best meal we had in Copenhagen and certainly one of the most memorable of our lives. If you are in Denmark's capital area, do make a point to eat at Amass. You do not need stilettos. Just bring an empty stomach!


Ekstedt, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Stockholm’s Östermalm district, was one of the very best meals Tom and I have ever enjoyed. Opened by chef Niklas Ekstedt in late 2011, the eponymous eatery manages to offer exceptionally creative dishes crafted from the best quality local ingredients while remaining warm, friendly, and utterly without pretension. We looked nice but didn’t have to dress in an overly formal way, which we often feel makes a dining experience even better.

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Ekstedt offers a fixed menu each night --five courses with the option to add on two additional dishes. You are welcome to add a wine pairing or order drinks a la carte, and the restaurant lets you know in advance that you should plan to spend roughly 3 hours enjoying the meal. You are also, in advance, welcome to note any allergies or dietary restrictions you have so that they can accommodate your needs. I don’t eat offal or baby animals, for example, and they had beautiful and equally delicious replacements for, say, the smoked reindeer heart that was chopped into the “Nordic taco” Tom started with. I had some gorgeous forest mushrooms.

The service was the smoothest choreography of professionalism, deep knowledge of the menu, and sincere enthusiasm for taking diners through the culinary tour: the kitchen and wait staff are having fun, and it shows. The lighting is dim enough to be relaxing but not to hide the food or strain middle age eyes, and the music is a compilation of old hits. If I had to succinctly describe the décor, I’d call it rural Nordic industrial.

Following our taco amuse bouche, we had a beautiful concert of dishes including two Norman oysters, smoked, with butter, apple, and nasturtium nestled in a pile of seaweed; endive, mussels, sunchoke (was it smoked?), juniper-smoked pike perch, and an ethereal foam of some sort; 
hay-fired mushrooms with sweetbreads (I got something other than sweetbreads!); and a rhubarb sorbet with strawberry something and a sublime nut butter and toasted nuts.

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It was a truly spectacular, inspiring, memorable meal and was worth every penny. If you’re heading to Stockholm and want to treat yourself to something special, make an advance reservation and go to Ekstedt!

Kagges: restaurant review and a big reason for travel

On our last night in Stockholm, we went to Kagges, a year-old restaurant in Gamla Stan. It opened in 2017 and was recently awarded a Bib Gourmand, a well-regarded honor also bestowed by Michelin. One of my New Orleans cousins had suggested we go; coming from a serious eater like he is, I'd immediately made a reservation and am so glad I did.

As soon as we walked into the tiny spot, with seven seats at the bar directly in front of the kitchen and perhaps ten other tables, we felt relaxed and at home. Given the choice, you won’t be surprised to know that we chose to sit at the bar. Tom ordered an IPA crafted by a brewery in Stockholm, and I started with a glass of cold Albariño recommended by the hostess/sommelier. We were brought the most sublime bread -Tjockbulla, made primarily of mashed potatoes; it hails from the chef’s small town- and smoked butter. I could have eaten 97 of the magnificent rounds. And we also got a darling amuse bouche- tender potato rounds with some ridiculous roe mousse and nasturtium leaves. Divine.

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We decided to each order the Kagges choice, the four best dishes of the day, and were not disappointed!

Smoked and lightly charred cabbage with a Swedish creme fraiche (from one farm 100 km away; this was the airiest, creamiest, velvety'est creme ever and one of the chefs told me the taste changes with the seasons as the cows eat more or less grass! How cool is that?!) and lots (!) of roe and brown butter.

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A tomato salad with two forms of the same Swedish cheese (one fresh, one aged) and lots of fresh herbs.

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Cured mackerel with some sort of incredible potato cream that had been put into a whipped cream dispenser and frothed out plus salad.

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And guinea fowl with bone-broth gravy (OMG!) and more salad, this one with a shallot-lemon vinaigrette to die for. "An hour on the shallots and then lemon zest and juice. Then butter, not oil" I was told.

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At this point, I was extremely tipsy in the happiest, friendliest way and had been chatting with the three chefs extensively about all their methods and recipes and hometowns and such. I mentioned to one that the bone gravy was so good I could lick my plate. He reached over to the utensil rack and handed me a spatula. Is that not marvelous?

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That right there tells you everything you need to know about Kagges. It wasn't as perfect as Ekstedt in terms of the food (although I have no complaints), but it managed to be seriously delicious and dedicated while not taking itself too seriously. I asked the chef who gave me the spatula while telling me about his hometown and managing several stations including a salamander how he seemed so unfettered and calm. "It's all about being from the forest," he said, and for some reason that made absolute sense to me. He said Stockholmers were busier and could be intense (meanwhile, this American from DC felt like the whole of Scandinavia was on some sort of relaxing agent, bless them!) but that being from the forest made him totally tranquil.

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Meanwhile, the couple at the other end of the bar from us ^^ seemed to be enjoying their meal as much as we were and had also provided helpful translation regarding degree of bitterness in a "bitter beer" Tom was considering earlier in the meal. It make me feel happy to see everyone in Kagges so satisfied.

I asked Kalle, the main chef/one of the owners if I could take his and his team's picture (there are only five of them total and one had the night off), and they said "Sure, come back here with us."

Kalle, the guy from the forest, another forester and the one who told me about the shallot/lemon/butter vinaigrette, happy Em, and the hostess/sommelier. Is this not a fantastically fun photo?

Kalle, the guy from the forest, another forester and the one who told me about the shallot/lemon/butter vinaigrette, happy Em, and the hostess/sommelier. Is this not a fantastically fun photo?

As I headed back around the bar, I got to talking with that couple. It both helps and is enormously humbling that most everyone in Europe can speak English so well, and next thing I know they've asked if we want to go out for an after-dinner drink with them. Despite our having a 5:45am wake-up call and the man needing to work the next day, we said heck yes! So, Tom, Helen, Per, and I settle our checks and wander through the not-dark-but-late night to a bar with outdoor tables where we got beers (wholly unnecessary for me but really, you only live once). I swear I think we were outside the restaurant before we properly introduced ourselves. 

They are the most delightful people, and Helen and I are already planning to mail each other seeds from our garden. We talked about politics in our respective countries and travel and welcoming people into our lives, and after Tom and I bid them farewell and began walking home, I thought once again about how food draws people together and gives us opportunities to meet and connect with others in ways we wouldn't otherwise have. 

The world is so big, and it is an enormous gift to get to visit parts of it, to meet folks from places I'd never heard of until I met them, to swap recipes and stories, to learn about their families and travels and education and interests. Thank you, Helen and Per, for the generosity of your time and company.

At the airport, Tom noticed that my passport was the thick one, the one with extra pages. He chuckled, and I said I ordered those because of hope and adventure. Although we didn't fall deeply in love with any place on this recent trip, we are bigger and better for having gone and experienced a different way of so many things. America is falling the fuck apart right now. It's wrenching and horrid, but the world is big and full of wonderful people, and I find some peace in that. 

BARE Vestland restaurant in Bergen, Norway

Yesterday, Tom and I had one of the best meals of our lives: lunch at BARE Vestland, in Bergen, Norway. We’d read about the restaurant in the New York Times recently, and with a free day in Bergen decided to take advantage of the noontime hour.

Bergen, the second largest city in Norway after Oslo, sits on a peninsula on the country’s southwestern coast. It is by far the most urban place we’ve visited and has a distinctly coastal and also industrial feel. It boasts an historic city center and a thriving fish market, and is surrounded by seven mountains, or fjellene.

After taking the funicular to the top of one, Mount Fløyen, Tom and I left the kids with the rest of the family and headed back down the steep face. First stop, Det Lille Koffe Kompaniet.

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Run by a mother and daughter who bore a striking and beautiful resemblance to one another, Det Lille was the best cup of coffee I’ve had on this trip so far. Raccoon, in Alesund, and a tiny stand in Amsterdam on day 1, were solid seconds, but Det Lille, you are doing it right and with charm. Three lovely cakes still in warm, aged springform pans sat on the counter. A man had just delivered them from a nearby kitchen. They looked as if they'd just sprung from Nanny's oven. I ordered a slice of the pistachio almond cake but when the mother went to cut it, she found it wasn't quite done. We shared a laugh, she refunded my money, and the man wrapped the cake back in its pan and outer layer of foil and hurried it back from whence it had come. This would never, sadly, happen in America. I loved every moment. As it turns out a slice was $9 US so I probably didn't need it that badly. Norway is stunningly expensive. 

As we sipped and sighed happily, we strolled through Bergen’s Bryggen area and made our way to Vågsallmenningen, near Fresco Hall. Three steps down to a door in a subtle exterior and through into a dark, sleek yet cozy interior.

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Bare Vestland is a hyper-locally sourced small-plate establishment. And it offers an extensive selection of beer, which felt as if they’d be perfect matches with the menu. I chose a Porter style and Tom a Saison, both made by 7 Fjell bryggeri. They were sublime.

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To go alongside them we ordered the: sourdough bread and oxtail butter; radishes, turnips, and tarragon cream; lightly smoked fish with cauliflower, lemon, and dill; chicken confit with broccoli and lovage; and Plukkfisk, a Bergen specialty of mashed potatoes whipped with white fish and topped with bacon and leeks. Each was a revelation.

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Every bite was better than the last, and we cleaned our plates. The turnips and radishes were bright, tangy, devoid of bitterness and fibrousness; utterly fresh and of the season. I wanted to bathe in the tarragon cream.

The fish was so lightly smoked that the center of each piece was raw. The exterior was speckled and shimmery from heat, the whole like a work of sashimi art. Green dill oil slicked it elegantly.

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The chicken confit was sublime: tender, moist, completely chickeny in the best way (it was a local organic chicken). And the Plukkfisk was of the gods. Highbrow comfort food that I will most definitely be replicating. 

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Stuffed, we nonetheless ordered dessert: almond cake with strawberry, rhubarb, meringue, and sour cream. 

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Truly, we were blissed out. While Bergen had some lovely sights, it didn't speak to my soul in any way except at BARE Vestland, where food and the love of preparing it thoughtfully and with great attention to detail and locality gave me a marvelous sense of place and character.