At a Taste of Iceland, Warm People from a Cold Country Make Magic

Thirteen years ago I planned a trip to Reykjavik, signing up for a tour that would have me on an Icelandic horse to tölt my way across the interior of the country. I had just toured Ireland’s Ring of Kerry on horseback, and was hot on this new way to be a tourist. Complying with Icelandic law, I bought a new helmet, chaps, and riding boots to avoid bringing contaminants into the country, and even visited an Icelandic horse farm in California where I could practice riding a tölting horse.

Then, unexpectedly, someone offered to buy my home in Vermont. I used it as an opportunity to move cross-country to Seattle, canceled my trip to Iceland, and neglected my riding gear, except for one-time use as part of a Halloween costume. Some would say that today I’m more likely to ask about eating horses than riding them.

I’d still like to get to Iceland someday. If you’re like me, now is the best time to get close to that experience, as “A Taste of Iceland” has come to Seattle.

To experience some sounds of Iceland, Neumos is hosting the third Reykjavik Calling concert, featuring musicians from Seattle and Iceland. (The October 12 concert starts at 8 p.m. and is free, open to ages 21+.) And for a look at some of the people of Iceland and their stories, the Nordic Heritage Museum is hosting an exhibit entitled “Fabulous Iceland: From Sagas to Novels–Portraits of Contemporary Icelandic Authors.” (The exhibit runs October 12 through November 11.)

I’m most interested in experiencing the tastes of Iceland, and had the opportunity to go to Staple & Fancy Mercantile where chefs Ethan Stowell and Branden Karow worked with Bocuse d’Or and World Culinary Cup winner chef Hákon Már Örvarsson in developing an Icelandic menu that’s available through October 13. Techniques were traditional (check out the harðfiskur) and modern, with an as-expected emphasis on seafood. I enjoyed the use of many Icelandic ingredients, some of which Örvarsson transported himself.

The food was fabulous, and the Icelandic people I met (for example, Ásgeir Trausti, one of the visiting musicians, performed a song) were soft-spoken and warm. If you’d like to experience the Icelandic dinner, there may be very limited seats still available by calling Staple & Fancy.

Otherwise, follow Icelandair on Facebook or Twitter to find out how you can play a clue-based game to win airline tickets to visit the country itself. You’ll have to compete against me, however, as I’m now inspired to get to Reykjavik in January for Thorrablot–the “Stinky Food Festival” that serves the fermented shark, pickled ram testicles, and maybe even the sour whale fat that I didn’t get at the Seattle dinner. (Check out the entire menu in the photos below.)

Pickled herring with green apple and curry mayonnaise – my favorite bite of the night with its varying flavors (slightly sweet, sour, and spicy) and textures

Smoked salmon

Cod and potato fritters with seaweed aioli

Grilled Icelandic langoustine – so buttery soft, cooked just enough to be almost creamy inside

Harðfiskur – this is an Icelandic hard, dried fish typically made with a white fish like haddock, cod, or flounder and served as a snack (almost like a Triscuit cracker) that would go well with beer

Cold-smoked and poached Iceland Arctic char – nice texture to the fish

Atlantic shrimp and pickled vegetables with lumpfish caviar

Baked Iceland Cod with parsnip purée, leeks, fingerling potatoes, micro greens, organic barley, burnt butter, soy, ginger and Icelandic dulse “Söl” (seaweed)

Seared Icelandic lamb filet with glazed root vegetables, juniper berry-infused lamb jus reduction, and a dusting of dried wild Icelandic herbs and dried blueberries – tender and delicious!

Skyr of the Vikings: this Icelandic Skyr mousse (Skyr is a fat-free dairy product with a slightly tangy taste) comes with crispy oats, hazelnut crumble, cinnamon rhubarb compote, and red currants

Chefs Ethan Stowell and Hákon Már Örvarsson away from the heat of the kitchen – can you guess which is which? (Photo by’s Michael van Baker)

Chef Hákon Már Örvarsson at work

(Note: While this was a special event, this type of menu is typical of Staple & Fancy’s recommended multi-course meal in which $45 each gets your table a family-style feast crafted by the kitchen.)

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