Category Archives: Europe

Iceland Eats on Show at Culinary Fest

Jaw-dropping scenery, Viking culture and centuries-old history of Iceland plus fresh fare.

IcelandFoodFest-logoI wouldn’t even mention this if I weren’t so taken with Iceland, but I am, so I am — if you get my drift. The 14th annual Food ‘n Fun Festival in Reykjavik from February 25 to March 1 brings together chefs who ply outstanding culinary skills, fresh natural ingredients, Icelandic outdoor adventure and the island nation’s famed nightlife to create the ultimate recipe for fun.  Renowned chefs  from America, Europe and specifically Scandinavia join forces with Reykjavik’s best restaurants to vie for the title of “Food & Fun Chef of the Year.” Think it’s trivial? This honor gained respect in the culinary world since Rene Redzepi, owner of Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen, won the award in 2004.

Competitors include Hussein Mustapha, chef de cuisine at Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, a conceptual gourmet restaurant also in Copenhagen; Adam Dahlberg from Adam & Albin Matstudio, a gastronomic hotspot in Stockholm; London’s Robin Gill of The Dairy and The Manor, and James Beard Award winner Douglas Rodriguez from the U.S. Each chef is assigned to one of the participating restaurants to prepare a special menu consisting only of Icelandic ingredients. The menu is then presented by the chefs to the public during the festival week.

Among the restaurants hosting festival events this year are Dill, Apotek, Kjallarinn, Lava at the Blue Lagoo, and Smurstodin. There’s a lot of serious cooking going on, so I’m not sure where the “fun”  comes in. On the last day of the festival, the chefs compete head-to-head with three courses, again all made solely with Iceland ingredients such as Arctic char, grass-fed lamb, fresh caught cod and haddock, local plum tomatoes from a geothermal greenhouse and an Icelandic yogurt called skyr. 

New Cookbook from ‘5280’ Magazine

5280-cookbook-CoverSomehow, 5280s food editor Amanda M. Faison managed to find time to edit a cookbook — not a trivial undertaking. Not surprisingly called 5280: The Cookbook and subtitled “Recipes for your kitchen from Denver and Boulder’s most celebrated chefs,” the recently published book is sure to appear on every local cook’s shelf. Amanda is at the Tattered Cover on East Colfax on Wednesday, November 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. for a talk and book signing. Ryan Warner, Colorado Public Radio’s host of “Colorado Matters,”  interviews Faison and chefs Dana Rodriguez (Work & Class) and Kelly Whitaker (Basta, Cart-Driver), so it will also provide a sense of being in CPR’s studio. Of course, the direct topic 5280: The Cookbook but there will be plenty of discussion about Denver and Boulder’s vibrant—and ever-changing— restaurant scene. As a bonus, Rodriguez and Whitaker are bringing sample samples. The bookstore is at 2526 East Colfax Avenue, Denver; 303-322-7727.


Denver’s Upcoming Taste of Iceland

Food, music & art  form from North Atlantic nation in the Mile High City.

IcelandNaturally-logoI’ve just returned from Iceland, so I’m still a little obsessed by that wonderful little island nation. I soaked in the fabled Blue Lagoon, but I never got a chance to eat at the Blue Lagoon’s LAVA Restaurant. My loss, because it is considered one of Iceland’s best. My re-entry will be eased if I make it to try the special menu of authentic Icelandic cuisine served at Rioja from September 24 to 27.

Chefs Jennifer Jasinski, Viktor Örn Andrésson and Kuklinski.
Chefs Jennifer Jasinski, Viktor Örn Andrésson and Tim Kuklinski.

Viktor Örn Andrésson, the fabled restaurant’s head chef (and 2014 Nordic Chef of the Year), is flying in to prepare this special meal showcasing the best of Icelandic cuisine. He will work with Rioja’s owner/chef Jennifer Jasinski, whose accolades include James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest and Colorado Chef of the Year, and Rioja’s Chef de Cuisine Tim Kuklinski to offer the menu below ($65 plus $25 for optional wine pairing). Rioja is at 1431 Larimer Street, Denver. For reservations, call 303-820-2282. And if you don’t happen to be in Denver, Taste of Iceland events are also scheduled for Seattle, October 9 t0 12, and Toronto, November 13 to 16.

Taste of Iceland Menu at Rioja

F  I R S T • Arctic Char
Blow-torched and lemon-cured Arctic char
Beetroots, cream cheese, horseradish, chervil

S E C O N D • Icelandic Cod and Langoustine
Slowly cooked cod and dried seaweed ‘söl‘ from Stykkishólmur
Lightly smoked langoustine salad, apple, black salsify, pickled onion

T H I R D • Icelandic Free-Range Lamb
Roasted rack of lamb and slowly cooked lamb shoulder,  sun chokes, watercress, mustard, mushrooms and Madeira sauce

F O U R T H • Icelandic Viking Skyr
Skyr and red currant mousse, chocolate cremaux,
Marzipan cake, marshmallow, skyr and lemon ice cream

Music, Cocktails & Yard Storming

Denver’s Icelandic experience includes several other events. Music lovers can attend the free Reykjavik Calling Concert on Saturday, September 27 at 7 the 3 Kings Tavern. Mixologist Chris Sage conducts craft cocktail classes at Rioja’s sister restaurant, Bistro Vendome, featuring a variety of cocktails using Reyka Vodka and Icelandic ingredients. Classes from September 25 through 27 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. are free but are limited to 20 guests (21+ only) per class. Reservations are required (and might already be filled), but call 303-825-3232 and try.

BarbaKnit,jpgIceland is a nation of sheep (the four-legged kind) and therefore, also of knitters. Artist and knitter extraordinaire Linda Björk Eiríksdóttir (also known as BarbaKnit) invites experienced knitters and novice knitters alike to a free yarn storming party on Saturday, September 27 from 12 noon to 3 p.m. at the lawn just east of the McNichols Building at Civic Center Park (144 West Colfax). Guests will create an all-new art installation by “yarn storming” park trees with a splash of color and texture. Guests are encouraged to bring their own knitting needles, crochet hooks and yarn or any other fabric lying around. Linda is available to teach guests easy ways to get started in the wide world of knit art.

Italian Elegance in Iceland

 Kolabrautin is an elegant aerie with a harbor view.

The restaurant sign inside Harpa IS vertical. Reflections trick the eye.
The restaurant sign inside Harpa IS vertical. Reflections trick the eye.

The Society of American Travel Writers did not fill 2014 convention attendees’ dance cards every minute, and on one free evening, my husband and I and three friends were going out together. The consensus was for Italian food, and upon several recommendations, we ended up at Kolabrautin. I don’t know what the name means, but neither it nor the food is stereotypically Italian. The small menu offers a selection of dishes that aren’t of the rough, red sauce tradition from southern Italy but a refined, contemporary style that takes advantage of Iceland’s abundant seafood and quality lamb and beef.

Kolabrautin is located on the 4th level of the Harpa Center, a spectacular convention center, concert hall and more. The harbor views are excellent, and the décor is elegant modern Scandinavian. The whole package is a distinctively Icelandic combination.

Simple, classy table settings foretell of fine food and fine service.
Simple, classy table settings foretell of fine food and fine service.
The gleaming open kitchen is where the magic happens.
The gleaming open kitchen is where the magic happens.

Many of our fellow diners seemed to be on expense accounts — tables where what appeared to be businessmen predominated. We were the down-market bunch, ordering judiciously and, in my case anyway, enjoying a small portion of deliciousness rather than pigging out on less refined food. Since it was our anniversary — a romantic dinner for five, of course — I ordered a glass of Proseco to begin. We also shared a bottle of wine.

Excellent bread served on a board, with fresh Icelandic butter.
Excellent bread served on a board, with fresh Icelandic butter and optional salt.
The kitchen sent out this lovely amuse, even though we were five low-rent diners.
The kitchen sent out this lovely amuse, even though we were five low-rent diners.


The waiter said that the spaghetti with langoustine, chili and garlic was spicy. It wasn't, but it was very good.
The waiter said that the spaghetti with langoustine, chili and garlic was spicy. It wasn’t, but it was very good.
Pan-fried cod with cauliflower, broccoli and crispy potatoes. You can't go wrong with cod in Iceland.
Pan-fried cod with cauliflower, broccoli and crispy potatoes. You can’t go wrong with cod in Iceland.
Rotolo di pasta with house made ricotta, spinach and porcini sauce.
Rotolo di pasta with house made ricotta, spinach and porcini sauce.

Price check: ISK2529-3950; primi, ISK3400-3850; secondi, ISK3980-5980; desserts, ISK1800, and a four-course set menu, ISK1800. You need to check current exchange rates.

The address and phone are Austurbakki 2,  101 Reykjavík, Iceland; Tel. +354 519 9700.


Authentic Icelandic Feast

Sjávargrillið serves upscale Icelandic cuisine.

Hsjavargrillid-seafoodákarl or kæstur hákarl fortunately is not on the menu at Sjávargrillið, a Reykjavik restaurant that specializes in Icelandic fare. I write “fortunately” because  hákarl is fermented shark that has been pressed in the sand for up to 10 weeks and then hung to dry for four to five months. It is usually described as having a rotten-fish taste and a peculiar ammonia-rich smell. Icelanders eat it eat year-round, but even the most adventurous visiting eaters can’t handle it. I was glad I didn’t have to try.

Owner/chef Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson.
Owner/chef Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson.

Enough about what I didn’t eat. This post is really about a restaurant called Sjávargrillið and the fine meal I had there. The Taste of Iceland is one of several four-course tasting menus devised by owner/chef Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson, who was the 2010 Icelandic Chef of the Year while with Restaurant FiskfelagidHe soon went on to establish his own restaurant, Sjávargrillið. We ate in the atmospheric, low-light lower dining room, paneled with driftwood that Gustav and a friend collected. The exquisite dishes come from his creativity in interpreting traditional ingredients in a contemporary way and presenting them meticulously. Continue reading Authentic Icelandic Feast

Vienna: Carb-Loading & Loving It

The breads, the pastries, the noodles and oh, the taste.

carbsLiving in carbohydrate-averse Boulder, I felt a delicious thrill of the forbidden when I again realized that central Europe hasn’t yet abandoned traditional foods. The Viennese seem immune to the current American dietary no-carb obsession. Yes, I know that for people with celiac disease, wheat products in particular a really are a problem, and diabetics and those with other issues must keep control of their intake.

For the rest of us, cutting out carbs completely is optional. I hold to Michael Pollan’s advice not to eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, and I truly enjoy the Austrian specialties that my grandmothers both made, served and ate. During a short trip, I indulged. Did I ever! In addition to flour, sugar, heavy cream, chocolate and cooked fruit abounded. And was it all ever good! Here are some images from Vienna in no particular order:

Nudeln mit Eier, the
Nudeln mit Eier, the “noodles” are rough-cut dough that is dropped into boiling water, cooked, drained and scrambled with eggs. A small green salad comes with this dish.
Typical basket of different kinds of rolls, at least one of which had coarse salt on the surface.
Typical basket of different kinds of rolls, at least one of which had coarse salt on the surface.

Continue reading Vienna: Carb-Loading & Loving It

RIP Philippine de Rothschild

Grande dame of Bordeaux wineries passes.

Baroness de Rothschild
Baroness de Rothschild

Philippine de Rothschild, revered as the grande dame of Bordeaux wine and part-owner of the legendary Chateau Mouton Rothschild vineyard, died last week at the of age 80. Baronness de Rothschild was the controlling shareholder in the family-owned Baron Philippe de Rothschild house, which produces the Mouton Cadet claret, the gold standard of Bordeaux wines. She and her three children together owned the wine houses of Chateau d’Armailhac and Chateau Clerc Milon.

She helped modernize and diversify the estate’s wine production, developing partnerships with vineyards in California and Chile. Her artist instincts kicked in and she was also responsible for choosing the artists who illustrated the labels of Chateau Mouton Rothschild collector wines,  working with such famous painters such as Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon.

She was the only daughter of grand prix racing driver and banking heir Phillipe de Rothschild, but she made a name for herself as an actress using the stage name, Philippine Pascal, before being called up to take over the family estate after her father died in 1988. She had married twice.