noma, Copenhagen 3
July 6, 2011
On June 9, 2011, Trine joined Linda and me for dinner at noma. Trine had eaten there the week before and we had enjoyed lunch there the previous day, so we were looking forward to the restaurant’s promise of new dishes.
We were warmly welcomed at the door by a group including chef René Rezepi and his number two chef, Matthew Orlando, who gave us a tour of the kitchens. The young chefs come from many countries. Only one is Danish. English is the language of the cooks, which helps when they serve the dishes they have prepared to an international clientèle. There are two small kitchens downstairs off the dining room and a larger one upstairs where the “stagiaires” work. There is no shortage of ambitious young chef-hopefuls who want to work at noma for the experience and the line on their résumé.
Chef Rezepi, on the right, stands in the small kitchen by the front door. Dishes are finished here en route to the dining room.
This is the spacious upstairs kitchen in which the stagiaires do the extensive prep work needed for noma‘s cuisine.
Matthew is showing us the upstairs “staff room” which is used for meetings of noma’s staff. It can be reserved for private meals of up to fifteen diners.
We were seated at the corner table with windows on two sides and this view along the harbor side of the dining room.
We ordered glasses of Chartogne-Taillet Champagne. The “snacks” were much the same as at our lunch. If you have not recently read my blogpost on our meal the day before, you should do so now, before proceeding: click here to do so. The repeat snacks were the bullrush shoots, the malted flatbread, the reindeer lichen, the mussel shells, the sea-buckthorn leather, the spring onions, the cookies, the chicken skin sandwich, the radishes (with the addition of baby carrots,) the quail eggs, the duck skin and the “Æbleskive”.
There were three new snacks:
Very thinly sliced cod liver on crisp cups with seaweed chips.
These had a subtle, nice, fishy flavor.
Live fjord shrimp with brown butter emulsion.
One just dipped them into the little dish of brown butter on the left and popped them into the mouth and chewed. The shells were somewhat chewy, but that is where much of the flavor is.
The bread arrived. At the suggestion of the sommelier, we ordered a bottle of 2009 Charles Dufour Pinot Blanc from the Côteaux Champenois.
The first menu course was a whole, shelled, raw razor clam wrapped in a parsley-spinach gel garnished with a snow of frozen horseradish and buttermilk with sea salt.
Mussel broth with white wine, shallot, thyme and dill oil completes the dish. Very good.
Brown crab with its own roe.
The brown gel is beach mustard; the green one is seaweed on a spinach base. They both had distinctive flavors which enhanced the good crabmeat sphere.
This species of clam grows undersea in the North Atlantic, particularly around Iceland. They can live up to 400 years. They were somewhat chewy with a definite clam flavor. They were garnished with leeks, sea snails and little bunches of red berries.
Cauliflower with pine bough.
The slow cooking of the cauliflower chunk with pine boughs infused it with the pine flavor and caramelized it on the bottom. It was served with yoghurt whey and spruce oil on the bottom and a scoop of whipped cream with horseradish. Very good.
A milk skin raviolo filled with a purée of garden potatoes, garden snails.
The sauce was fresh grass with a little buttermilk.
Caramelized compote of onions topped with a Swedish cheese, several other onions, tapioca, chive stems
The variations in the medley of onions was very interesting.
The sommelier poured us glasses of 2009 Jean Foillard Morgon.
Its Gamay fruitiness went well with the next course.
Braised beef cheeks, cheese made daily in house, chicken broth
The beef was served with very picturesque knives, although it was quite tender and didn’t need them. The slow braising had brought out its flavor.
The sommelier poured us glasses of André Beaufort Demi-Sec Champagne.
Gammel Dansk ice cream, milk crisps, wood sorrel
Gammel Dansk, or Old Danish, is a bitter herbal digestif, creating a sweet and bitter ice cream. The natural tartness of the wood sorrel contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the milk crisps.
Walnut ice cream, ground walnut, frozen milk, dried berry powder.
The three mignardises were the same as the day before: the chocolate chips, bonbons and the marrow caramel.
When we dined at noma three years ago, it had just emerged on the world foodie scene, although it was already ranked number 10. I commented in my blogpost then:
“It was too bad that our expectations were so high, as that made even this very good meal seem somewhat disappointing.”
The cuisine then was fascinating, but somewhat uneven, with several mediocre courses. There was a service problem with a long delay. But this year we had no disappointments in our two meals; quite the opposite. noma deserves its reknown. The conception and execution of each course was superb. The rigorous adherence to Scandinavian sourcing of excellent ingredients created an overall experience in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The welcome at the door and the constant attention to the needs and progress of each table was exceptional. Of course, our second meal was enhanced by the knowledgeable conversation with Trine, which added depth to our appreciation. The repetition of the snacks and mignardises was not a problem as each is just a delicous bite or two and we were happy to have them again.
Two restaurants for comparison come to mind. For many years we have said that Pierre Gagnaire is our favorite restaurant in the world. (A few years ago it was ranked Number 3 in the 100 Best ratings.) Its character is “poetry on the plate” and in the beautifully written French menu descriptions of dishes that are complicated and simple at the same time. Like noma, the whole is greater than the parts. But we have discovered that we cannot go back to Pierre Gagnaire very often. The magic disappears with familiarity. I suspect that that the same might be true of noma.
Another great restaurant is Arpège. I was reminded of it during our second meal at noma by the many vegetable courses. Arpège sources most of its ingredients in a different way through its three extensive gardens, but the principle of adhering to a philosophy is the same.
René Rezepi’s influences have spread around the world. Some of the newly renowned Flemish and California chefs have a locavore philosophy similar to noma, but of course in different localities with entirely different products. Kobe Desramaults at In de Wulf is particularly succesful at this.
When we saw the “Staff Room” shown at the beginning of this post, I immediately thought that I would like to have a birthday party there. What a good idea.