Posted 05 December 2010 - 06:31 PM
I remember a few years back my mother and I celebrated my birthday at a restaurant in New York. Caught up in a moment of reflection, she put down her fork. “Where do you see yourself in a year?,” she asked. Dreams, goals, personal and professional aspirations: this was the time to share them.
I responded with the name of a restaurant.
The name of that restaurant is not important (though if you know me personally, I’m sure you can guess). What is significant is that, a few months later, I enrolled in a graduate school just 90 minutes away from it. Three hundred and sixty five days later, I was there. In other words my answer, naïve or emotionally shallow though it may have been, was sincere.
Food is my guide.
I met my girlfriend at a gelateria. I signed the lease on the apartment she found me only for its proximity to a certain coffee shop. And last week we flew to a city 3,856 miles from where we live because I wanted to eat beets (which she hates).
Actually I wanted to eat at Rene Redzepi’s noma. But before visiting the professor, I chose to visit a couple of his old students. First up was Christian Puglisi at Relæ.
Puglisi wanted us to eat beets. He served them in little roll-ups with a thin layer of apple vinegar gelee and an Icelandic seaweed called söl. They tasted more of the sea than of the earth, tender enough that they’d probably been cooked but firm enough that it couldn’t have been for very long.
Before that we dragged pickled biodynamic carrots through a foamy sauce of mustard and egg yolk, with seaweed salt and bread crumbs providing crunchy punctuation to each bite. Then a tree of cabbage — that is, a thin cross-section of a lightly pickled head — shaded a
Danish oyster with yogurt and horseradish. Awfully large, these oysters. We had several of them on the trip, and each time they were too much to swallow, fork and knife affairs. Luckily we had plenty of those, in a handy little cutlery drawer under either side of the table. Very cool idea.
This felt a lot like a tasting menu, which was odd for a restaurant that by all appearances eschews them. Run by a former sous chef, Relæ is not a baby noma. Nor does it try to be. The goal here is purity and focus on just a few ingredients. The menu offers just two four-course prix fixe options each night, one vegetarian and one not. On this night, Chef Puglisi kindly offered to do both menus for us. We did not say no.
Our first warm dish — unless you count the bread, baked in-house and replenished regularly — was warm barley porridge with cauliflower, smoked almonds and pickled black trumpets. Grain, smoke and vinegar would form the backbone for much of what we ate in Copenhagen, and here the three were balanced with a deft hand. I commended our server for the wine he’d matched with this dish. But he insisted that matching had not been his goal at all; rather, he thought the dish cried out for the acidity, minerality, and oxidation of a funky Jura white. “I just finish off the dish.”
Thusly went the wine pairing. Lesser-known varietals, small producers, and a bunch of biodynamic wines — such a lineup can easily slip into a soporific soliloquy with every glass. This one remained an enjoyable and educational dialogue. Wine service at Relæ, and for that matter service in general, was competent and graceful.
Biodynamic broccoli arrived next, the leaves lightly pickled and the stems cooked (though not much) in butter. Like attacking a pork chop with chopsticks, we felt a bit unequipped to cut through the still very al dente stem. Thin slices of fresh hazelnut and a red currant-and-wine sauce may or may not have made their way onto my shirt as I stubbornly persisted with the cutlery. The overall flavor of the dish was clean and subtle, according to my girlfriend perhaps even too much so.
The same observations cannot be made for the veal heart that arrived soon after. Brined and then slow-poached at 62°C, it was ultra-tender, our forks dissecting it with ease. On the tongue it had a mouth-coating richness like that of bone marrow. Chewy knobs of Jerusalem artichoke and a tingly pepper sauce toned that feeling down slightly, but make no mistake — this was rib-sticking, cold-weather food. For my girlfriend it was also rib-punching food. I probably shouldn’t have laughed at her for having unknowingly eaten heart.
Dessert revisited an approach Puglisi had employed in several dishes — multiple preparations of the same ingredient. Here “apples, apples and fennel” meant crunchy freeze-dried pebbles, airy mousse and vibrant granita, respectively. Oblivious to the punishingly cold climate, Danes apparently can’t get enough granité — we had at least one with literally every single meal. But somehow, I didn’t mind. Its refreshing sweetness and immensely satisfying range of different textures unexpectedly made this one of my favorite dishes of the meal.
And so we finished, our brains still in a very different time zone than our bodies. Our palates, though, were now firmly in Scandinavia. This was our introduction to the flavors of Copenhagen as painted by the brush of Christian Puglisi, a Sicilian boy that flew north to become one of Denmark’s brightest young talents. Relæ has been open a very short time — just three months as of our visit — but I for one am keenly interested to see what it will become. As it stands, Chef Puglisi and his front-of-house staff (I’m talking about you, Kim and Anders!) have already made the restaurant a very worthwhile stop for those who, like ourselves, make the pilgrimage to noma. In time I bet they will attract pilgrims of their own.
Posted 05 December 2010 - 11:14 PM
Posted 05 December 2010 - 11:40 PM
Thanks for mentioning this place. I'll be in Copenhagen again next year, and it sounds like a very worthy place to try. What part of town was it in.. not that it really matters. Where else did you eat in Copenhagen?
Relae is on Jægersborggade in Nørrebro district. And there's definitely some stuff worth visiting on the very same block as Relae...
Coffee Collective -- great coffee
keramiker inge vincents -- really cool ceramic wares
MANFREDs -- the casual/take-out sibling of Relae, directly across the street
We also had dinner at Kødbyens Fiskebar on the strong recommendation of Rene Redzepi's wife. Really enjoyed that.
Then two consecutive lunches at noma.
We stayed very close by Sweet Treat -- another recommendation from Redzepi and company that we enjoyed on multiple visits.
Among bakeries, we tried some sweet and savory goodies from Lagkagehuset, the bread from Bageri Bo Bech, and some really good cupcakes from Agnes Cupcakes.
In two failed attempts to eat smørrebrød, we were a half-hour too late for both Schønnemann and Told og Snaps.
That was pretty much it. And now we've got all sorts of ideas for next time!
Posted 26 August 2011 - 07:54 AM
First up was mackerel with pickled cucumber and deep green lovage sauce, and a lot of it too. On their own it they were just OK but together they were quite wonderful. You could even say there was a lot of lovage on that plate.
Roasted celeriac with dark olive sauce and seaweed was not the prettiest dish – however – it was truly remarkable and enjoyable. I’ve not idea how to describe the seaweed preparation but it left it slightly transparent. Very moreish.
Butterflied leg of lamb cooked sous vide (4 hours) was a joy – it came with some samphire (which it feeds on) and covered by a bed of sliced turnips. The turnips let it down a little – slightly pedestrian/boring taste. But overall pretty good.
Dessert was blueberry and coconut with black pepper ice cream and some mint. It was just plain strange. The initial taste was fairly rounded but after a couple of minutes the pepper oil just took over and dominated everything and covering the inside of your mouth. Extremely unpleasant and not quite ruined an otherwise lovely meal – but it came pretty close.
The food was moderate at sub-400 kr mark but we were slaughtered by wine costs. In fact, the meal was half the price on Noma (for less than a 10th the experience) which we were going to the following evening. Clearly the next time in Copenhagen I’ll just have to go to Noma twice ;-)
Posted 26 August 2011 - 10:08 AM
Thanks for posting your impressions on Relae. When did you go?
I had a memorable meal there with my husband a couple of months ago. I took pictures and notes but have not had time to post my review yet. But I can tell you that the wine pairings were one of the highlights of the meal, so we did not mind the extra costs. Also I enjoyed the food a lot (but the black pepper ice cream was not on the menu that day!).
I can't compare Relae to NOMA because I did not get a chance to eat there. But overall I was extremely impressed. Too bad you did not have the same experience.
Edited by FrogPrincesse, 26 August 2011 - 10:09 AM.
Posted 27 August 2011 - 08:20 AM
Posted 12 October 2011 - 02:11 PM