Thursday, July 17, 2014

Finally, Noma!

After waiting over three months for this meal -- and really, years if you consider how long we've wanted to go -- I was a little worried that Noma wouldn't be able to meet our high expectations, so it was a relief when it didn't disappoint.  (Happy Fourth of July to us!)  I can't say enough complimentary things about the staff, the beautiful space, and the overall experience.  The dining room is among my favorites ever, with its light wood beams and panoramic wharf views out the open floor-to-ceiling windows.  Everyone was unfailingly friendly, from being extremely gracious about our almost twenty minutes late arrival (we did have the concierge call, at least), to taking photos of us in front of the restaurant, to providing a great bar recommendation near our hotel when we had basically closed Noma down after midnight and wanted one more cocktail.  (The only tiny service nit: I found the horde of staff standing together to greet us when we arrived to be a bit overwhelming.)  In particular, manager James Spreadbury was wonderfully attentive, offering great advice on drinks and generally answering our questions/making conversation with us.  (Incidentally, as I discovered afterwards, he has quite the inspirational Noma origin story.  Makes me want to show up on the doorstep of a beloved restaurant and see what happens.)

(A note on getting reservations: I found the process to be relatively straightforward.  Although it was annoying to set an alarm for 3:50 a.m. in order to log on to their website just before 4:00, only to end up in the mid-600s in the online queue.  By the time I got through forty-five minutes later, dinner tables for two were gone -- I think lunch was still a possibility -- but there was plenty of four-top availability.  Luckily Nick and Harriet agreed to join us; having their company made the evening all the more fun.)

The view from our windowside table (taken as the sun started to set, well into the savories):
I hope that bridge is finished by the time we make it back to Copenhagen someday; we could have walked from our hotel if it had been.  (Speaking of hotels: I am a fan of neither the Scandinavian double duvet nor the lack of well-functioning air conditioning, although I acknowledge that I may be an outlier on the latter.  My best night's sleep of the trip was our first night in London, when jetlag rendered me unable to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit properly and I set the thermostat to 16 degrees.  Even Adam was cold!)

After confirming the dietary restrictions that I had previously emailed and asking a few clarification questions (yes, we will eat insects), we were off.
red currant and green strawberry

Oh kohlrabi, my pick for Vegetable Most Likely to Nonplus CSA Recipients.  I liked the warm soup, which also included (I think?) gooseberry and green strawberry.  Adam thought it was just okay.  Cute presentation.
Nordic coconut
More fun was the crispy fried moss with it dip of mushroom cream.
moss and cep

Beautiful flower tarts were our first "wow" bite, thanks to a surprising seaweed emulsion lining the rye crust.
flower tarts

I liked the peas at the time -- how can you not like fresh, sweet peas and radishes? -- but it hasn't left a strong memory as I write this a week and a half later.
peas and radishes

Sadly, the printed menu included pickled and smoked quails eggs, which sound awesome but we didn't get to try.  No idea why.  However, the charred roses were cool, an interesting combination of smokey and floral.  (The huge open window next to our table allowed delicious grill smells to periodically waft over us.  Excellent.)
flatbread with wild roses

Another favorite snack: deep fried cabbage leaves sandwiched with sea beans and watercress puree.  I'm not sure I've ever had crispy cabbage before; its delicate fried crunch was balanced by the brightness (and more substantial, but still crisp, texture) of the filling.
white cabbage and samphire
The frozen monkfish liver coated our mouths as it melted with a taste that haunted us long after the actual liver had dissolved.  I just wanted the flavor to go away; Nick and Adam agreed.  (I just reread a four-year-old post on Eleven Madison Park where I had a similar complaint about the mouth-coating grossness of spherified fish.)  Thankfully, this was the only unpleasant bite of the meal.  Harriet seemed much happier with her carrot fruit roll-up.
caramelized milk and monkfish liver

But then, the highly anticipated ants! These ants are one of the most surprising, coolest things I've ever eaten.  Nick, who had previously eaten them (raw) at the Noma pop-up in London, had raved in advance about their lemongrassiness, but I was still amazed by how the tiny ants packed such delicious, acidic flavor.  (In keeping with their local ethos, Noma uses no citrus.)  Probably my favorite of the snacks, due to the novelty of the ants and the interesting combination of charred cucumbers -- grill me anything and I'll probably like it -- citrusy ants, parsley flowers, and scallop "fudge" for dipping.  I wouldn't want to eat that briny fudge on its own, but the whole combo was great.
cucumber and dried scallop

I love leeks, I love grill char, and the cod roe sauce was a great way to salt the onion.  Although we were told that the outer leek was just the vessel and we were only intended to eat the pre-sliced rounds in the center, Adam, Nick, and I all hacked at the inner layers of the leek with our tiny wooden spoons to enjoy an extra few bites.
burnt leek and cod roe

Note on bread: apparently I never took a photo of the bread, which was probably my least favorite dinner bread in Copenhagen.  (But that's like being the shortest starting player on a winning NBA team.)  The butter was great: one a very white sheep's milk butter, like a mild, soft sheep cheese, and the other a yellow, kind of curded cow's milk butter that seemed almost like a buttery fresh ricotta.

Action shot!  I thought that this was a beautiful, delicate dish.  The shrimp inside the little leaf ravioli were incredibly sweet, balanced by nice acidity from either the leaves or the sauce (or both).  (I believe the flowers are beach mustard.)  Adam was less of a fan, although I think Nick agreed with me.
shrimp and goosefoot, radish and yeast

I could have sworn we were told that this was turbot liver, but maybe it was pressed roe?  Whatever part of the fish it was, it had a meaty taste and texture that we loved, and which contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the raw cherries.  Fantastic.
sour cherries, turbot roe and seafood

Harriet's sub due to her non-fish-eating:

More ants!  Nick's came on beef tartare, but ours came on a delicious bed of grilled onions and fermented pear.  Clearly I'm partial to the ants -- I want a shakerful with which to season at home! -- but I loved this one too.  Sour-sweet pear, sour ants, roasty-sweet onions -- just delicious.
onions and ants

This must have been the low point of the savory courses, because the beets didn't leave a strong impression.  I think I liked the sour berries.  I recall discussing how sloe berries can be used to make gin, but I don't know if that was because the dish tasted gin-y.  (So basically I'm useless here.)
beetroot, sloe berries and aromatic herbs

If this appeared on a brunch menu, I would want to order it every time.  Rich, dense egg yolk and potatoes lightened just enough by elderflower and rose hip pulp.  Excellent haute comfort food.
cured egg yolk, potato and elderflower

A lovely, relatively simple combination of beautifully cooked turbot and vivid green flavors of nasturtium and wood sorrel.
turbot and nasturtium, cream and wood sorrel 

Another sub for Harriet, although I don't remember what it is:

Between the savory courses and dessert we were encouraged to go outside (with our wine, of course), where we enjoyed the perfect weather and beautiful sunset from a picnic table, admired the building, explored a weird (sadly locked) blue geometric dome, and goaded Nick to harass the bees.


Then back inside for dessert.  I really enjoyed the little rhubarb rose; I'm a big rhubarb fan and enjoyed the tang added by the creme fraiche.
rhubarb and sorrel, creme fraiche and Spanish chervil

Perfectly ripe (of course) raspberries and an interesting (in a good way) fermented rye cream:
raspberries, cream and rye

After dessert, we moved to the cozier lounge area for a few final sweets and more booze.  An assortment of flavored eau de vie: pear, raspberry, apple, and barrel-aged apple.  I like the second and fourth a lot, but they were too strong for us to drink more than a taste each.

This sweet bread, with a spread of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, was amazing.  It tastes as though it has been soaked in caramel, but apparently the caramel is mixed into the dough just before baking.  Harriet and I both loved it.  (Sadly for Adam, he doesn't remember it!)

Seaweed paste (I think) Danish.  Interesting, but couldn't rival that caramel bread.

In addition to wine pairings, many of which were excellent, we also did a juice pairing, with varying success (for example, cucumber was unfortunately weighed down by whey; pun definitely not intended).  With our last glasses of wine in hand, we were given a leisurely tour of the (sadly by then empty) kitchen and upstairs prep and planning areas, which boast an impressive collection of neatly labeled ingredient containers and brainstorming boards (and the occasional cautionary poster).  (The space -- lined on one side with tables for staff meal -- would make a great setting for a low-key, small, delicious wedding.)  How fun it must be to play up there.

By the time we came back downstairs it was past midnight; as we paid the bill I think we were the only diners left downstairs.  A bit more chatting with James, chef de cuisine Dan Giusti (who had been showing Julianne Moore and her husband around while we were having our own tour), and other staff -- who answered patiently as I peppered them with last-minute questions about additional ingredients that weren't listed in the menu descriptions --  a great recommendation to go to The Union, and we piled into a cab in search of our nightcap.


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