Thursday, June 10, 2010

Iceland Day 1: Reykjavik

It's 0:21 (just after midnight) as I start today's blog post. I'm listening to the new Jónsi album and following along to Bill Simmons's live chat of game 4 of the NBA finals. Internet = perfect cultural bridge for an adopted Korean-American in Reykjavik, Iceland. That gorgeous building is the Church of Hallgrimur, a Lutheran church about a mile from my hotel. It's stunning. I wish I were a better photographer. Tomorrow I am going to try to replicate (pay homage to) shots I've seen online.

Today all the withdrawals my body made from the energy banks came due. Fortunately, I kinda figured this would be the case so I kept it agenda-free. I slept in until after noon, which was surprising given that the mattress/pillow are like a combined 107 years old I think. Hooray for no back pain!

I left my hotel and headed west (though I didn't even have that orientation when I started the day). I walked around downtown taking in the sights and realized one huge reason why women legitimately love shopping more than most men ... there's a heluva lot more of it to do. Not that I'm in the market to come home with lots of clothes or stuff in general (no space in luggage really), but the ratio of women's stores to men's stores has to be at like 10:1. No hyperbole required. And the men's stores are standard dead-tek, neo-bullshit clothes. The women's boutiques look far funkier and more local, which for many in Reykjavik means black on black on black. Amanda, you might feel underblacked.

Stuff that caught my attention today:

The above church. That's a statue of Leifr Eiricson in front; he's the discoverer of Vinland. The United States gave Iceland this statue in 1930.

The number of Indian restaurants, at least three today; I think the only cultural fare that outnumbers is that is Irish pubs, which I'm up to four.

Handprjónasambadi∂ the home of the Handknitting Association of Iceland and where I bought some great gloves. I also got a tax refund from the store which I need to remember to redeem at the airport. This was their version of a stimulus enacted several years ago, probably around 2005 when their economy cratered and which coincides with the country's attempted massive aluminium (aluminum to us) production growth. Pekke the bus driver told us last night that the government sees further increased aluminium production as part of the savior to rescuing Iceland.

B5 bar and bistro. From NYT in January 09: The shelves of liquor behind the bar at B5 (Bankastraeti 5; 354-552-9600) are bathed in glowing lights of different hues: orange, yellow, pink. And the big front window provides a great view of a street.

By 2ish p.m. I was famished. I'd been walking for nearly an hour up and down hills and had barely eaten in probably 18 hours. I go inside and of course it's four Americans. They were all in town for a wedding, btw, how cool is that!? If I ever get married I seriously might have to do the out-of-the-country thing. Granted for them it's because she was from Norway.

At a bistro I was hoping for the Icelandic twist on American pub food, instead I learned that B5, which is known as one of Reykjavik's hottest spots, has a small burger joint as the kitchen. There are few options, so I get a surprisingly good veggie burger with LTC. They also made excellent fries. But now the fun starts, which for me means sampling the locals' alcohol. If you're one of my students, STOP READING NOW.

The bartender recommends Polar Bear beer but says that Gull (pronounced /gulg/, which mean "gold") is the most popular. Honestly, they were both pretty weak. They taste almost Coorsish in terms of lack of flavor. I mean nothing objectionable, but just not much there, period. "Arnie" whose Icelandic name "Arnijul" I never quite mastered pronouncing despite many tries, says he doesn't like beer so admits his recommendation wasn't so strong.

But the drinks I'm most intrigued by are Topas and Opal. The former Fine Living Network had a show called Three Sheets in which comedian Zane Lamprey toured the world trying out local drinking customs. On the Iceland show he tried these two liquors which are based on very famous children's candies. He wasn't a fan. I am not either. Opal is exactly like flavored children's cough syrup. Topas is just slightly better (little sweeter but with a weird aftertaste). Arnijul's website is here, btw, he's a super nice guy who is in favor of legalizing pot, likes Michael Pollan and is also a bit of a conspiracy theorist. However, also a damned good bartender (friendly, knowledgeable about LOTS of stuff) who lives next to the Prime Minister!

Rest of afternoon is a long walk around the city until I got here.

After this gorgeous view I get lost a little. At least my lack of bearings has me completely unprepared when I end up near the Opera house which has become one of my landmarks. Back to hotel for loooooong nap. I wake up around 7 p.m. and then decide I should stir myself out of bed and get dinner, which brings me to my first MUST.

Silfur. It's a high-end seafood restaurant that rivals Craft for preparing one of the best meals I've ever had. I went with a three-course dinner for 4.900 kronur add in the glass of wine (not so great) and coffee and it was just 6.400 or $49, are you kidding me?

Appetizer: Saffron shellfish soup with fried Icelandic langoustine, scallop & mussle. Um, this might be the best soup I've ever had. I am not a lobster fan, but the langoustine (mini lobster) was succulent and the saffron broth was so rich, yet not heavy at all. Btw, the meal started with an amuse, that was some kind of blended-it-was-almost-creamy fish. Maybe arctic char quasi-mousse style?

Main course: Grilled monkfish served with Icelandic “smælki” potatoes & curry sauce. Excellent. The curry sauce was just about perfect. Given my palate, I wouldn't have minded some heat, but the flavor was great and it complimented the fish rather than overpowered it. Also served with some grilled (?) fruits and veggies on the side. Sadly, I don't know what ones, but they were great.

Dessert: Waffle with strawberry ice cream and baileys ice cream with skyr pannacotta and passion. Yes, that's what the menu said. Just "passion." If so, then all desserts must be prepared with passion. The strawberry ice cream was so tasty and I don't even like ice cream and combined with the waffle was like a perfect breakfasty dessert. The pannacotta was lucious and the bailey's ice cream was actually a little tame comparatively, but still solid.

The service was outstanding and very very friendly. Oddly, credit card receipts don't come with a blank for gratuity. When I asked the waitress said that they have them, but you have to tell them before they ring it up otherwise they have to do it again. I obviously wasn't going to be a heel so thankfully cash was of course cool.

I passed on some local delicacies: whale and foal. No way I'm eating Shamu or pick-your-favorite-horse-from-literature.

In the end one of the best meals of my life for just $65. So worth the splurge. Tomorrow though, I'm toning it down and plan to try Icelandic pizza. I am skeptical.

Incidentally, it was brighter leaving the restaurant after 11 p.m. than at pretty much any time since I've been here. The clouds drifted away and I wore sunglasses.

Tomorrow is one of the two intense pubcrawl nights. I am likely passing, especially if I book a tour for Saturday morning. I already have one booked for Sunday morning so for sure not partying hardcore Saturday night. The guy I was in college, grad school, Albany is officially dead.

1 comment:

conbon said...

no pictures of the food?!! shame on you.