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.
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.
A tomato salad with two forms of the same Swedish cheese (one fresh, one aged) and lots of fresh herbs.
Cured mackerel with some sort of incredible potato cream that had been put into a whipped cream dispenser and frothed out plus salad.
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.
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?
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.
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."
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.