Travel Report - Reykjavik, Oslo, Svolvaer, Bergen, Copenhagen
Warning: this post runs a bit long.
Having read and used many of the reports on Chowhound, I figured it was about time I contributed. Although my girlfriend and I didn't really try to keep track of all of the places we went, I'm hoping that perhaps the few things I do remember will be of use to other travelers.
We started off our journey at Reykjavik, which truly has a surreal and beautiful landscape. Following suggestions from this board and others, we tried to reign-in our spending by focusing on sandwiches from the supermarkets (10-11 and 11-11) and the free breakfast from our hotel, Nordica (which proved to be one of the best hotels we stayed in - especially for the price we paid).
The alcohol in Iceland is pretty expensive, and this is coming from a New York native. At least when I pay $15 for a cocktail at a trendy New York joint, the place seems like it should be expensive. Regular divey bars here will run similar tabs. Oh, and the pickled herring is definitely an acquired taste. Something about such a salty yet sweet and slimy fish put me off. Ikea actually stocks some of the same canned goods in their stores in US.
In Oslo, the prices were a bit less, by not by much. Again, free breakfasts and sandwiches were our mainstay. We did stop by for a pizza at a nice restaurant (Olivia, I think) in the very touristy harbor area. It wasn't the best I ever had, but was surprisingly good, even when compared to NY's greats. The crust was thin and not too crispy and there wasn't too much cheese. Because of a suggestion from a friend, we did end-up splurging on one meal in Oslo, at the Frognerseteren. This restaurant is located about a 30 minute train ride from Oslo, followed by a 5 minute hike on a dirt road. Some of the literature we read said that this restaurant has been around forever and is credited with bringing back in style the Viking's dragon motif to Norway's restaurants. I didn't get to explore the whole restaurant (we were in a smaller room all by ourselves), but it certainly offers an amazing view of the city from its high perch, which is worth a trip on its own. I ate a reindeer steak that was surprisingly tender, with a smaller piece of wild pigeon, which I wasn't crazy about, both in a great red-wine reduction sauce. My girlfriend had a whole baked trout that was also quite delicious. The waiters were great, in that casual, yet attentive, old-school way that you hope to get at Peter Luger's and old delis in NY.
Our next stop was Svolvaer, a small town on the Lofoten Islands, which is just above the Arctic Circle. Here we had lunch in Bacalao, which is on the harbor in the center of town. I took the opportunity to sample whale, although only in burger form. I'm not sure if it was just because it was a burger, but whale reminded me a bit of a turkey, in that it didn't have much of a meaty taste of its own and simply let the spices dictate the overall taste. My girlfriend had a fishcake sandwich which I tried and liked, enough to buy at a supermarket the next day, heat up and eat back in our rorbue cabin. We also took a few-hour-trip to Henningsvaer, a nearby town dubbed the "Venice" of Lofoten Islands. The comparison was a stretch, but it had a beautiful harbor that seemed to stretch all throughout the town. Here we ate at Nord Norsk Klat, a bar associated with a mountain-climbing school, from which it took much of its décor. Here we had a dish called the Bacalao, which the waitress explained is dried cod, potatoes and onions cooked in a tomato sauce. The dish was very oily, but with a couple of beers it was quite delicious.
The next destination was Bergen, which we found to be far more charming than Oslo. Its young college population also meant more cheap and interesting places to eat. The ones we liked most were Zupperia, a soup place just south of the art museums, Curry Curry Nam Nam, a tiny Indian a few blocks west of the harbor, and Godt Brod, a bakery a block or so north of the fish market. The fish market itself is another place to get tasty and relatively cheap eats. Most of the tables have the same sets of sandwiches, ranging from cold and hot smoked fish to crab and shrimp on delicious rolls. The only thing that put me off was that the sandwiches were sitting out, mostly uncovered, in front of everyone passing and leaning over them, and the salesperson taking the money is the same one that is making and handling the sandwiches, with no gloves in sight. However, I was a little too hungry to care about all of that and wolfed-down a couple of sandwiches anyway.
Our last stop was Copenhagen. The prices here were another bit lower, although by this time we realized the advantages of not having tax or tip tagged on to the bill and became a little less miserly about going out. My girlfriend took me out for dinner at Bleu at the trendy Skt. Petri Hotel. We came too late for the tasting menu, but got to order from the a la carte menu, which you can find on their site: http://www.hotelsktpetri.com/bleu/. Each dish could be ordered in three sizes, so everything was available as an appetizer, an entree or a dish-for-two. We had the scallops, tuna, halibut and duck, all of them delicious. This restaurant certainly had great food, rivaling some of the best I had in NYC, but the whole presentation could use a bit more polish (including making sure their waiters didn't smell like they just ran a marathon and giving the silverware a good wash) to be in a league with any above-average NYC restaurant. Another good restaurant was Peder Oxe. This restaurant had a decent salad bar, great priced and tasting food, and airplane-style attendant-call buttons. The latest feature, ensured that the waiter came only when you wanted them, but, since the call-button was attached to it, left the overhead lamp swinging above the table each time you did. We also ate at another restaurant in the same square, but I forgot its name (maybe Le Malle), and found it to be just ok.
The staple foods I found to be great in all of these cities were espressos, baked goods and smoked fish. We were able to find a great cup of cappuccino practically everywhere we went and at almost any time. Even the self-serve machines in some of the cafeterias and delis were pretty darn good. Now I just wish New York, could get rid of all of its Starbucks and get more Joe’s.
I’m not sure I’ve tasted the real Scandinavian cuisine during this trip (I think I did that at Ikea and the AQ Café at Scandinavian House in NYC), but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, both food-wise and otherwise. And I’m sure if you go to any of these wonderful cities, you will as well.