2014 was a good year for food. It was a year that involved an unprecedented amount of travel, due to the record number of friends getting married this year, and many of their ceremonies took place internationally. As a result, this created many opportunities for interesting meals–breakfast sushi at Tsukiji market or unripe strawberries in Copenhagen are not experiences that can be easily had back at home.
While the international meals were memorable, the majority of my favorite meals took place in New York, and Kansas City and New Orleans weren’t too shabby, either. Honestly, with so many chefs training at the same restaurants and then setting shop elsewhere, you can find really good cooking anywhere. But that also means that many of the meals and food trends seem all too similar. It’s amazing how many small plates, Brooklyn-esque farm-to-table restaurants exist in the world.
I personally preferred those meals that still retained their regional traits to the ambiguous New World Global cuisine that proliferated everywhere else. So my favorite food moments in 2014 crosses many borders and price points, a reflection of the glamorous and janky meals that were unique to the cities I ate them in. In no particular order, here is a round up of my favorite foods in 2014.
1. the z-man sandwich from oklahoma joe’s in kansas city
2. the melt-in-your-mouth sea eel from nakamura in tokyo
3. the epic peking duck dinner at decoy in new york
4. the ricotta gnocchi from the eddy in new york
5. the husk meringue with corn mousse dessert from cosme in new york
6. the duck carnitas from cosme in new york
7. the duck fat rice with kale and chinese sausage from tuome in new york
8. the beef tartare from manfreds in copenhagen
9. the breakfast sushi from tsukiji market in tokyo
10. the omakase at sushi nakazawa in new york
11. the whitefish donburi bowl from ivan ramen slurp shop in new york
12. the kale and wild mushroom risotto from gato in new york
13. the lobster ravioli from cherche midi in new york
14. the #1 bagel sandwich from black seed bagels in new york
15. the butcher’s steak at st. anselm in new york (my pictures were so crappy and not post-worthy, but i would highly recommend that you brave the no reservation policy and make the trek out to brooklyn for this amazing piece of meat)
For our last day in Copenhagen, we decided to take it easy and enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch at Manfreds, a casual wine bar affiliated with Relae. It happened to be gorgeous out, so we sat at the picnic tables outside and nibbled through the 5 small plates that were part of the “chef’s choice” lunch special. At 175 Dkk ($35), it was a relative steal compared to all the fine dining foraging premiums we had paid the days prior.
I was a little worried that the Relae association would mean more strange flowers and herbs in the horizon, but luckily the food here was a little more traditional and accessible. You can’t escape the foraging aspect entirely–they did throw in marigold flowers and pine needles–but these wild herbs were used to lightly season, rather than subvert, the dish.
Ruoxi sighed upon learning that the first dish was a plate of carrots–he is clearly more of a meat person. The carrots were nicely dressed in some olive oil and mustard, which helped make the vegetables seem more substantial. The marigold flowers were bright and surprisingly citrus-y, and the golden, nutty pistachios were delicious.
This soup was extremely refreshing–a light, cold puree that didn’t rely on tons of cream for some substance and flavor. The crispy bread pieces were very crunchy and satisfying, giving the smooth soup some nice texture.
3 dishes in, and still no meat on the horizon! Ruoxi was eating more and more bread by the minute. The summer cabbage and grilled pork was my favorite dish in the chef’s lunch. I loved the grilled char along the outer edges of the cabbage, and all the leaves tasted very fresh and crunchy. The mild, creamy dressing was very pleasant, and the crisp, rich pork nuggets were fantastic.
We surprisingly did not come across any eggplants in Copenhagen until today. Our first encounter was a very pleasant one. The roasted aubergines were very plump and substantial, and the decadent herb creme sauce emphasized the heartiness of the vegetables.
…and finally, a proper meat dish! A plate full of venison in venison sauce and sprinkled with pine. Only it was extremely gamey. I felt like I was eating dense venison liver full of iron. The pine needles did nothing to help offset the wild flavors. Needless to say, most of the venison went uneaten.
After 4 small vegetable plates and an unsatisfactory meat dish, we decided it was necessary to add on the beef tartare. It was the right call, because the tartare was brilliant. The meat was in such fine shape–a pinch of salt and pepper was all that was needed to bring out the flavors, which was on par with anything cooked. The thick layer of creamy horseradish sauce was so rich and rewarding, while the bread crumbs and watercress helped keep the richness in check.
If you’re keen to do the wine pairing, just note that Manfreds tends to choose wines with “natural” characteristics. You’ll taste volcanic ash, granite and all types of terrain in each sip, but it goes very well with the meal. We were satiated and slightly buzzed by the end, and we took a moment to savor our food coma, since we were in no hurry to leave this wonderful city.
Manfreds Jægersborggade 40 2200 København + 45 3696 6593
During one of my dessert courses at Geranium, we were invited to dine in the kitchen, where we sat at a small two-top table that displayed three impressive Bocuse d’Or trophies. I suppose that’s the equivalent of having a famous actor invite you over to his house and admire his three Oscars. It was a slightly strange gesture, and a little self-promotional on Chef Rasmus Kofoed’s part, but I can definitely see why he won all of them.
My lunch at Geranium was one of the most impressive meals that I’ve had, ever. Far surpassing Per Se in every manner, and even my beloved Blue Hill Stone Barns in some aspects. Each course was so inventive and beautifully presented, twisting and unfolding like a gorgeous pop-up picture book. It’s an absolute must if you are considering a special occasion meal in Copenhagen.
The restaurant is on the 8th floor of a rather unattractive and corporate-looking building complex, but things are much better inside. As we stepped out from the elevator, a very Nordic looking man with white blonde hair greeted us and showed us to our table. It’s a very intimate dining parlor, furnished in a modern and austere color palate of black and gray. The aerial view of the city that the windows provide adds a nice atmospheric touch to the experience.
We went during lunch, and you have the option of choosing a full length lunch course that lasts 3 hours for 1,250 Dkk (roughly $250), or the abbreviated lighter lunch tasting menu that lasts 2 hours for 950 Dkk ($190). Neither option is all that cheap, but I will say that I ordered the shortened version, and I didn’t feel like it was that different from the full length version. Whatever you choose, there are many, many courses that come out for several hours.
As soon as you sit down, even before the actual tasting begins, a series of dainty, elaborate snacks arrive at the table. The common theme here is an emphasis on local ingredients, particularly vegetables and wild herbs, all incorporated in a highly stylized manner. Here is a brief description of all the snacks that were served, accompanied by photos taken by the very talented Ruoxi Chen!
Crispy grains from kornly. This was a cheese cracker that had been shaped into a piece of grain and served in a field of grass. It tasted like a very wispy bread stick.
Milk, fermented juice from carrot and sea buckthorn. The focal point of this snack was carrot, served two different ways. One as a delightful ball of hard candy with a sweet preserve inside, the other as a fermented juice infusing a very mild milky cheese with what tasted like liquid rye.
Pickled pear, lemon verbena and pine shoots. This snack was very crisp and clean in taste. The pear had been sliced very thin and pickled to saturation with bright lemon flavors.
Jerusalem artichoke, rye and walnut. The presentation of the artichoke was like something out of an autumn fairy tale. A small, whimsical tree held the crisp Jerusalem artichoke sticks in its winding branches, while a walnut filled with mayonnaise awaited beneath.
Dried flowers and dried apples. Two translucent and edible sachets filled with dried apple and flowers arrived on a silver platter. It tasted like those Kasugai gummy muscat candies, only more floral.
Charred potato and lightly smoked sheep milk butter. The kitchen played up the charred aspect of the dish, in which the potatoes appeared to be downright burnt, like lumps of coal. Despite the intimidating appearance, the potato itself was warm and fluffy inside, and the skin was wonderfully smoked and blistery. When placed in the spoonful of rich milk butter, it tasted like the world’s smallest but tastiest baked potato.
Cep soup and egg yolk in vinegar. The warm and frothy mushroom soup was full of earthy, savory flavors, while the vinegar balanced out the broth with some acidity. It was an interesting sensation swallowing the soup in one shot, with the initial lightness from the foam giving way to the extremely deep and dense sensations of the raw quail egg.
Celeriac with seaweed powder, skyr and fish roe. Again, the presentation was like something out of a fairy tale, although one with a darker tone, like an evil tree branch from Maleficent. The delicate celeriac root paired well with the yogurt sauce, which was saturated with fantastically briney flavors from the fish roe.
The proper courses hadn’t even arrived, and already we had tried eight different things. The plates that followed were slightly larger than the snacks, and incorporated more proteins.
Tomato water, herbs and jellied ham. The tomato water tasted like a very nice consommé. It was light with a nice acidity to it, while the jellied ham provided the water with some salt and savory weight.
“Dillstone”, mackerel, horseradish and granita from pickled cucumber. This was another course that wins high marks for presentation. A small bowl of dark and green pebbles arrived, and I was expecting the edible green ones to taste like hard candy. They were actually soft when bitten into, like a jelly bean filled with dill-flavored mackerel. You were to dip the stones in a separate bowl with horseradish cream and icy granita. There were so many creative ways of incorporating different spicy and pickled layers in this dish.
Bread with emmer and spelt. The arrival of the bread basket marked a brief interlude in the tasting. The tiny bread rolls looked like golden, grainy financiers, and they had a bit of a cheese flavor to them like in a popover. The onion flavored butter that came on the side was delicious.
Onions and chamomile flower vinegar. I am not a big fan of onions, but I have to give the kitchen a lot of credit for making this strong vegetable very palatable. The preparation de-emphasized the offensive and sharp flavors of raw onion. The white ones were grilled and very meaty, while the red ones were tasty and pickled.
Grilled langoustine in juniper aroma with red elements. The servers arrived with the raw langoustine in a field of Christmas tree branches. They then proceeded to quickly flame torch it before our eyes, and placed the langoustine on top of a pool of red beets and cherry sauce. The langoustine was so remarkably fresh. It was silky and raw on the inside, while the quick flames provided the meat with a slightly smoky and firm skin. I would say this and the dillstones were my two favorites.
Lamb, herbs and pickled strawberries. A small little bush of herbs arrived, hiding the lamb and strawberries underneath. The braised lamb had the crumbly texture of hamburger meat, which I thought was ideal for picking up all the flavors of the tart strawberries and herbs surrounding it. The meat itself wasn’t gamey at all, even without the assistance of a strong herb, which I found impressive.
This marked the completion of the savory courses, and the start of the desserts.
“Forest floor in July,” wood sorrel, beech leaves and woodruff. This strange and convoluted name does not do justice to this amazing dessert. It sounds like you’ll be eating a bowl full of pine needles, but really you were served an excellent bowl of white chocolate. It was incredibly creamy and very subtle, like a delicate vanilla panna cotta, only the powdered wild herbs made it a little more complex and interesting. The granita was again used to good effect here, providing the dessert with an additional layer of texture and flavor.
Yoghurt with red branches and dried sorrel. This was the dessert course that we had consumed in the kitchen with the trophies. It tasted like a mild custard, and the candied beets and sorrel were crunchy and sweet.
And of course, to finish, we were served the last dessert, green egg with pine. It was a short and sweet way to end the meal. The small chocolate egg was cold, helping to cleanse the palate of the medley of flavors and experiences it had gone through. But it was impossible to wipe the memory of the palate completely clean–the scenes from this very memorable meal will continue to play out in my head, blooming continuously like the perennial geranium itself.
Geranium Per Henrik Lings Allé 4, 8 DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø +45 69 96 00 20
My meal at Relæ, a restaurant in Copenhagen run by two former Noma alums, Christian Puglisi and Kim Rossen, was very challenging. It was one of those meals where everything tasted unfamiliar and had no frame of reference to any sort of food I’ve had in the past. It’s very similar to the experience of watching a very strange art house film, and at the end of the movie you’re wondering what on earth that was all about (did anyone feel this way about Melancholia or that Macbeth movie from the 1970s?).
There was no easing into the strangeness. A small plate of what looked like a bright green tongue covered in a strip of raw cucumber arrived. This strange morsel was actually “hip rose,” or the fruit of a rose plant, which apparently is edible. It was an extremely fleshy fruit with a squelchy sensation when you bit into it, like a very fat and large lychee without any of the sweetness. It was tangy and refreshing in the way that pickles are in the summer. The novelty of ingredients and sensations that was revealed in this amuse-bouche was a telling harbinger of what was to come.
Even the bread was a little different. Two slices of sourdough bread arrived alongside our sparkling wine aperitifs. There was a nice rustic crunch to the crust, while the inner bread was especially glutinous and almost sticky in nature, similar to the consistency of Korean dduk rice cakes. The whole time I kept thinking perhaps they mixed rice flour in there? It tasted great, especially with the excellent olive oil.
There are two 4-course tasting options–the omnivore and the herbivore. It’s pretty obvious that one includes meat and the other doesn’t. I felt like the herbivore option would be a better representation of New Nordic foraging cuisine, so I went with it, even though some of the dishes seemed a little out there…
…like this first one. Unripe strawberries covered in a thick green nasturtium sauce. This dish definitely raises a lot of questions. The first one might be, what do unripe strawberries taste like? Imagine wringing out all of the sweetness of the berry so that you are left with only a tart and blanched out fruit. It is a very strange sensation biting into a strawberry that isn’t juicy or sweet at all. And what on earth is nasturtium? It is a regional flower, which grows right across the street from the restaurant, if I wanted to check it out, and its flavor reminded me very strongly of dirt. I felt like I was digging up young, unripe strawberries from the soil. Needless to say, this course was a very difficult one to finish.
The first course in the omnivore option was a venison tartare with peas and mint. This was a much more palatable dish. Venison can be a very gamey meat, but it had a very mild flavor here, and it was impressively flavorful with just a few touches of salt and oil. The peas almost seemed like they had just been picked from the pod, and hence their texture was extra crunchy and the taste a little bitter. It was a nice contrast in savory flavors and different textures.
The second course, which was the same for both the herbivore and omnivore option, was a plate of sunflower seeds served in melted kornly, a smooth goat cheese made in Denmark, and lightly seasoned with some pine needles. The seeds had been pressure cooked, which rendered them soft while allowing them to swell up from absorbing the surrounding moisture. I felt like I was eating sunflower grits or sunflower mac and cheese. The kornly itself tasted like a sharp cheddar, similar to the cheese they use on Cheez-It crackers, which is a strange comparison, but it’s the most illustrative one I can come up with. It was definitely a lot more accessible than the unripe strawberries, that’s for sure, extremely comforting and filing, but very rich.
The third herbivore dish arrived, a literal bouquet of green leafy vegetables dressed in a grilled goatcream. Grilling cream is definitely a cooking technique I’ve never come across in any restaurant in the States. As a result, the dressing assumes a lot of smoked flavors, making it appear as if the vegetables had been grilled, yet they clearly hadn’t. I felt like I was eating a really fresh and delicious Caesar salad right off the grill. And it really is meant to be eaten as a bouquet, because so much more flavor is extracted when eating the vegetables together rather than in separate parts. Otherwise you will miss sharp floral notes or a piquant pine needle.
On the omnivore side, the third course was a pork served with pickled rhubarb. The pork meat was especially marbled and full of tendons. It was prepared well, and again it only needed minimal seasoning since the meat itself was flavorful on its own. Rhubarb usually has a mild flavor, so it was interesting that it assumed the sharp flavors and textures of a cooked, caramelized onion in this dish. The components were placed on top of a dark, au jus like sauce, which I think may have been pig’s blood, but it didn’t have that off putting, iron-y characteristic at all.
The final course was dessert, a vanilla ice cream with dried raspberry and caramelized mustard. This being Relæ, you knew that this wouldn’t be such a simple and straightforward dessert. The ice cream itself was nice and creamy, but the dried raspberries were again devoid of any sweetness and were instead very bitter. I supposed the staff did not want us to leave things on a sweet note, the aim is to challenge and befuddle, and I certainly was very puzzled by how this ice cream wasn’t sweet.
My first foray into New Nordic cuisine was an eye opening one. I’ve never consumed so many flowers and wild herbs in one sitting, many of which I had to look up on Google to find out what they were. I can’t say that I loved the flavors of each course at Relæ, because several of them were very challenging, but I do remember each one distinctly. Food that is mediocre or safe recedes in the background, but Relæ’s definitely makes you take notice, forcing you to consider ingredients as edible that you typically wouldn’t, and there’s great value in that.
Relæ Jægersborggade 41 2200 København N (+45) 3696 6609