Tallinn Estonia in the dead of winter
We will be in Tallinn in several weeks traveling from sunny Southern California. We would appreciate any insight regarding restaurants not to be missed during our 48+ hour stay. We will be staying in the old city but willing to travel to find the most interesting locations. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
No luck from Chowhound, but here are some tips for future travellers. We asked the staff at Restaurant Ask in Helsinki, who turned out to have gone to Tallinn for a staff trip the previous weekend. Ask was our favourite dining spot in Helsinki, so we felt we could trust their recommendations.
The old city of Tallinn is a beautiful place but also a tat-ridden hellhole with human inhabitants dominated by drunken Eurotrash bachelor parties, fat tourists in backpacks and sensible shoes, and Estonian touts dressed in mediaeval garb (so easy to avoid). In this unpromising environment there was one superb restaurant: Restoran Leib, tucked away on a pleasantly ramshackle terrace on the city walls. It served Estonian cuisine with a local/ seasonal emphasis. The flavour profle was simple and clean, very ingredient-driven. We had a smoked trout soup (delicate cream broth with a little mound of barely smoked trout) and a cured duck salad (flavourful, well composed). Both our mains were off the grill: an intense, perfectly cooked beef liver with rich gravy and deliciously assertive broccoli, and a superb trout salad with a rich medley of flavours. Dessert was the house recommended creme brulee, competently made, with a base of black bread and a topping of sharp blueberries.
The other recommended restaurant was Neh, about a 10 minute walk towards the harbour. This is the sister restaurant of a famous country house establishment with its own farm. We started with a shared platter of meats and dips, great black bread and lovely butter. Mains were a baked cod with jerusalem artichokes - sticky and rich, and really needing the sharp berries to cut through. My companion had the beef tartare starter as his main, light and delicious and scattered with ramp capers which punched well above their weight. The star of the meal was a black currant mousse, although the house recommended rhubarb crumble was also expertly done.
Before Tallinn, we spent a few days in Laahemaa national park, where the restaurant in Altja village was good rustic food prepared with finesse. We had some great herrings in sour cream, a lovely sorrel soup and perhaps the highlight: kama, made of a mix of grains in sweetened sour milk, which they served both as a drink and, folded with whipped cream, as a dessert. All this in a beautiful rustic environment, with great walks nearby and a fantastic wooden swing (capacity: 6 adults). Don't be put off by the fact that they serve the occasional tour group and you may have to wait an hour or two as the kitchen gets overwhelmed and turns diners away.