February 20, 2014

NOMA: A DISPATCH FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

View from Christianshavn
Here we have an exclusive report on Copenhagen's famed NOMA restaurant, by a favorite Trail of Crumbs contributor, Janella Fox. Janella is a creative consultant/content producer based in Los Angeles. She has worked in fashion, music, art and entertainment and is the co-creator of  RUBIFOX and FIVE-TO-SEVEN.

You wouldn't expect one of best meals of your life to start with a single red orb on a stick and end with crispy pig skin while sipping coffee with strangers. But mine did.

This happened recently while spending some time in the very charming and very agreeable city of Copenhagen. Just days before leaving for the trip, a friend offered to secure me a reservation at René Redzepi's NOMA, aka THE best restaurant in the world from 2010-2012 and commonly known as being virtually impossible to get into, even a year in advance. I accepted the offer while at the same time assuming there was no chance in helvede it was going to happen. But within a week of my arrival, an email arrived from the kind PR manager of the restaurant confirming that there was a standing reservation for me in 2 days time and would I accept. There was no saying no. Some kind of divine intervention had occurred and the ultimate culinary pilgrimage was in my future.

We arrived to an old and formidable warehouse located along a remote area at the end of the scenic harbor in Christianshavn. It was formerly a trading port that was converted in 2004 into an art and cultural center.  The Nordic Food Lab is located across the way (it too has incredible design elements). NOMA means "Nordic Food" NO = nordic, MAD = food. A rather basic name for what is such a progressive and elevated food establishment. Also in that vain were the chefs I spied around the back of the building in the alley grilling away on classic black Webers behind a small fence near the old loading dock, bike racks and trash cans. Not what I expected but something I was happy to witness. I love a good collision of high/low.

NOMA Entrance
That day happened to be a rare sunny winter day, shedding warm honey colored light onto the sparse building and its other worldly landscape of low grassy mossy mounds and rocks hugging the base of the exterior. It felt as if we had been lured to the edge of the world, in an appealing and mysterious kind of way. Upon entering the bright and rustic interior, we were greeted by the handsome staff, all of whom seemed to be anticipating our arrival by suddenly appearing from the kitchen and other luminous corridors to gather in a group to welcome us with familiar smiles and a hearty hello. The sideways slants of winter light entering the room only enhanced this surreal reception. It was some sort of heaven that I won't soon forget.

Greeting committee
The lounge
The NOMA kitchen
The dining room was airy, light and weightless grounded only by rustic wood and the gorgeous black tables and chairs (by Space Copenhagen) draped with sheepskin. The unique thing about Denmark in the winter is the "hygge" tradition (for lack of a better translation, "to make cozy") which means that every room in every buidling you enter has many candles burning throughout the day and into the night. This added to the casual embrace of the room. In contrast, it was the kitchen that contained the elements one might expect to encounter at the such a fine establishment; indulgent rich and elegant with a refined contrast of black surfaces, shiny brass, subdued lighting....and it is worth mentioning again, a rather attractive staff busy at work making magical things.

We were seated at the communal table in the corner with windows looking out over the mossy mounds out to the water. It was then that the spectacle of the senses began and continued for the next 4 hours. It started with 10 "snack" courses that arrived in a rapid procession. (Including a juice in a "Nordic Coconut", Smoked quail eggs and my favorite new discovery, Pickled Rose Petals).

Janella and the "Nordic Coconut", a hollowed out kohlrabi filled with pressed juice sipped through
 a straw made of a chervil stalk. Served with an herb bundle of dill and chard. An otherworldly delight
Pickled and smoked quail's eggs
Pickled rose petal wrapped blackcurrant ball presentation
Pickled rose petal wrapped blackcurrant bite
The "snack" portion of the meal was  followed by the main courses including fermented onions seasoned with salt made of burnt ants and an elegant plate of wild duck with pear, the only meat centric dish of the meal. 
Burnt ants that were foraged in a nearby forest
Wild Duck, Pears and Kale
Then a series of desserts (one that left the most beautiful mess and the last of the 21 courses which came wrapped up in a bow!)

Gammel Dansk, a danish bitter with a crispy filet made of milk and a sorrel sauce poured over it.
 The beautiful mess before...
...and after
Fudge of smoked bone marrow presented in wrapping paper and a bow
All were paired with exceptional wines and presented by our lovely server and a revolving cast of characters from the kitchen. With the permission from my fellow diners I managed to photograph the glorious procession on my IPhone. You can view the complete 23 course experience here.

Another unexpected highlight during the course of the meal was the conversation that transpired with the fellow diners at our end of the communal table. After consuming the ridiculously yummy steamy savory æbelskiver ball during the "snack" round, our new friend Greg informed us that Trader Joe's is now selling the normally sweet Danish holiday treat in the frozen section. In that moment I reflected on the recent frenzy that went down over the Isabel Marant for H&M release as I began fantasizing about a "René Redzepi for TJ's" collection... The conversation somehow then turned to fast food and in that moment the British and  French couples at the opposite end of the table stopped to join in and confirm that yes, In-N-Out Burger is pretty f-ing delicious and just as worth the trip as to NOMA. And so went the discourse while finishing an epic meal at the former best restaurant in the world.

A friend of mine put it perfectly, he said it was as if myself and the other diners had each been given a ticket to the moon, so it was only natural that we would come together and form a bond over the experience. It was far closer to the moon than I imagined I'd ever possibly get and well worth the journey.

Æbelskiver and greens

A rare winter sunset with detail of the Black Diamond

All text and photos by Janella Fox

2 comments :

  1. The Pickled rose petal wrapped blackcurrant bite are every unusual but I will not mind new experiences even though I love my classic salad or chocolate cake with vanilla icing like the one they serve at Cafe Demel.

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