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 p.m.at 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.

Colorado’s Commonwealth Coffee Praised

Thrillist.com selected 15 top new roasters in the US.

Thrillist-logoThrillist.com, which specializes in list s of XX top this or that in the food or beverage realm published a list of what it considers the “15 Best New Coffee Roasters” in the land — new meaning launched in 2013 and 2014. Of Denver’s Commonwealth Coffee. Thrillist.com wrote:

“The bean: Guatemala Finca La Providencia. The volcanic soil around Lake Atitlán gives it incredibly sweet flavors like strawberry, orange, and honeysuckle.
Known locally for slinging espresso from a bike-mounted machine outside one of the 21 best ramen shops in the country, Commonwealth pays their farmers a premium price of up to 75% of wholesale price, and also spares no expense with their meticulously designed custom packaging. The rest of the country has taken notice, and after a year in business you can find them in California, Texas, New York, Missouri, and Utah.”

The accompanying map shows another location in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, giving additional credence to the name. Then again, Missouri is on the locations list but not on the map. Oh well.

In Colorado, you’ll find Commonwealth Coffee at Two Rivers Craft Coffee, 7745 Wadsworth Blvd.,
Arvada; Wild Goose Meeting House, 401 N. Tejon St., Colorado Springs; Mercantile Market and Provisions, Union Station,  1701 Wynkoop St. Denver; Little Owl Coffee, 1555 Blake St. #150. Denver; Berkeley Supply. 4309 Tennyson St. Denver; Black Black Coffee, 3459 Ringsby Ct, (inside Drive 1 Building), Denver; Downpours Coffee, 3937 Tennyson St., Denver; Little Bird Bake Shop, 11 Old Town Square #121, Fort Collins;.

Denver Harvest Week Events

GrowHaus is the setting for sustainable meals & fun events.

EatDenverHarvestWeek-logoDenver Harvest Week (five days, actually) is back from Tuesday, September 23 through Saturday, September 27, with more than thirty of EatDenver’s restaurants hosting a series of pop-up dinner parties at the GrowHaus (4751 York Street).  Proceeds go to support the efforts of EatDenver and The GrowHaus. On the schedule are one brunch and four dinners, all cleverly themed, prepared by different chefs each event will be accompanied by hand-crafted cocktails, local brews and wines. Being sustainable and taking place in an indoor farm mean that guests must all bring their own place settings (plate, cutlery and wine glasses — a prize for each evening’s best place setting.

The party begins with passed appetizers and cocktails crafted by some of the city’s best bartenders.  Then, guests are be seated at large community tables. I’d be tempted to go because I love the GrowHaus concept and a number of the chefs/restaurants, but I am not one for enforced merriment. Personally, I am put off knowing that “Everyone is encouraged to join the fun with outfits to match the party’s theme,” and that “themes have been created to encourage guest participation and guarantee that a good time is had by all.” But don’t mind me. It’s a great cause for those who like themes and costumes.

The tug o’ war between wine and beer is the theme Tuesday’s “The Duel in the West.” Wednesday, it’s “GrowLove: Buddha’s Vegetarian Delight!.” On Thursday, the theme is “The Feast of Hunters and Gatherers.” A DJ spins ’80s music for Friday’s “Footloose & Farm Fresh.” The week wraps up with Saturday brunch themed “Egg-a-Hole Brunch.” Click on the link for each meal for details including time, participating restaurants, what’s included and cost.

Note: I have no idea why WordPress is crossing out all of my links. The seem to work, so do try.

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.

P1100606

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 year-round, but even the most adventurous visiting eaters reportedly 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

Herring & Cookies for Breakfast

Icelandic breakfasts a bit different.

VisitIceland-logoSeveral days in Iceland preceding the start of the Society of American Travel Writers convention in Reykjavik have, so far, been a series a one-night stands. A different accommodation every night and only slight variations of European buffet breakfasts. First was the small privately owned Alba Guesthouse in Reykjavik on our own and then three different hotels in proverbial middle-of-nowhere locations on the southern Iceland “volcanoes and waterfalls” tourist route, as organized by Gudmundur Tyrfingsson, a local tour operator.

The Alba Gueshouse in Reykjavik sets out its breakfast buffet on, well, a buffet. The slice-it-yourself bread there is the best I've had in Iceland.
The Alba Gueshouse in Reykjavik sets out its breakfast buffet on, well, a buffet. The slice-it-yourself bread there is the best I’ve had in Iceland.

Breakfast is always buffet-style, and it always includes a couple of juices, cold cuts, sliced cheese of no particular distinction, tomatoes and cucumber, hard-boiled eggs, a bit of fruit, cereals,  toast, butter, jams/marmalade, coffee, tea — and herring. The latter is excellent, especially on the Scandinavian flatbread that we can buy under the Ry-Krisp label.

“Digestive” cookies are a sweet way to start the day.

The fish is pickled with sliced onion — not too salty, not too oily, no sour cream but delicate and just right. One morning there was the option of DIY waffles. I kind of like the morning cookies on the breakfast buffet. Chocolate chip cookies that look like, but taste different from, Chips Ahoy but better still, cookies with chocolate that remind me in taste and texture of some Pepperidge Farm flavors but are labeled as “digestive.” I can live with that.

Meanwhile, we still do have one more hotel breakfast on this itinerary, so there may be a smaller, larger or different selection before it’s over.

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.