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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Eating out in Iceland: Tender lobster soup, pristine fish, dried cod with butter + more

EATING FISH MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT: A sandwich with smoked and cured fish I assembled from the breakfast buffet at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura.
NOON: Fylgifiskar, a popular Reykjavik fish market with tables and chairs, offers a lunch platter with servings from two of the three fish entrees prepared that day, along with roasted potatoes and salad, plus free crab spread, bread and coffee.

AND NIGHT: A creamy soup with tender, lobster-like langoustine tails and scallops is part of the fixed-price seafood gourmet feast at Fish Company, one of Reykjavik's best restaurants.

 SNAPS BISTRO BAR

 IS MY TOP PICK IN REYKJAVIK


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- If you love seafood, this big island in the North Atlantic is your paradise on earth.

One of the greatest fishing nations in the world follows through with some of the greatest seafood restaurants I've ever seen.

At the best places, prices easily equal or surpass Manhattan's finest, including Marea and Esca, with a la carte entrees going for about $35 to $85 each.

One concession is that even though Iceland is considered part of Europe, tipping is unnecessary.

Budget dining is an oxymoron in Reykjavik, the capital city, unless you eat fast food.

You'll find the best restaurants packed with Icelanders, tourists and foreign business people on expense accounts, and dinner reservations are a must.

Restaurants serve an astonishing variety of seafood from pristine waters prepared in imaginative ways, and service is usually excellent. 

Grass-fed lamb and beef

On a week-long vacation, our dinners for two ranged from $73 to $223 with wine or beer, lunches for two were $28 to $64; and breakfasts for two ran from $62 for a huge hotel buffet to $73 for hummus, eggs and coffee at The Grey Cat, a funky basement cafe (all checks included an 11% tax on food and alcoholic drinks).

If you're a meat and poultry eater, many fine-dining restaurants serve Iceland's superb free-range, grass-fed lamb, as well as naturally raised beef.

You'll also see meat from minke whales and puffin on menus, but I wasn't interested in either.

Portions in fine-dining restaurants are generous, so we could have spent less by sharing entrees. Unfortunately, I eat only seafood, and while my wife loves fish, she also enjoys beef, lamb and chicken.

And when we chose a three-course, fixed-price dinner over ordering a la carte, we couldn't finish our food, especially if we drank beer and ate the complimentary bread.

My thanks to Bo Olafsson, whose family owns and operates The Fish Dock, an Icelandic fish market in Closter, N.J., for tips on where to eat in Reykjavik. 

You can also find guidance at the website of the free English-language newspaper, The Reykjavik Grapevine.


Menus show prices in Icelandic kronas. During our stay, each U.S. dollar was worth about 104 to 108 kronas, according to the exchange rate on my credit-card statements. The bills shown are worth roughly $10 (1,000 kronas) and $50 (5,000 kronas).
My entree of pan-seared Arctic Wolffish -- served on a bed of diced celery and green apple, and crowned with sweet-potato crisps -- at Snaps Bistro in Reykjavik. My wife loved her Lamb Chops Bearnaise with fries and a green salad. For an appetizer, we shared 150 grams or about 5.29 ounces of lobster-like Langoustine Tails sauteed in garlic butter, below. They melted in our mouths.


Snaps Bistro is in a residential neighborhood in Reykjavik. 

Snaps Bistro

We didn't have a reservation when we arrived for an early dinner at Snaps Bistro on our first day in Iceland, and it was one of the best meals of the trip.

Service was terrific: Preparation of dishes and ingredients were explained in detail.

Our dinner of Langoustine Tails, Arctic Wolffish; and grass-fed Lamb Chops with fries, a green salad and bearnaise sauce -- washed down with a quarter-bottle of red wine -- totaled 14,550 Icelandic kronas or about $137.

Snaps Bistro has the perfect balance of food quality, sophisticated preparation, service and price.

Website: Snaps Bistro Bar


This extraordinary entree of pan-fried Halibut was one of three courses we were served at Fish Company, one of Reykjavik's best seafood restaurants, but I asked for mine without mayonnaise sauce. Me and my wife both started with bowls of creamy langoustine-and-scallop soup, and finished with sorbet, below.




Granola is served with bread and butter, and you can get extra-virgin olive oil on request.
We drank beer, including this Icelandic White Ale (about $14 a bottle).
The hefty check came in an empty purse.
We walked in circles until we saw this sign to Fish Company, which is down a flight of stone steps on the lower level of a building.

Fish Company

At Fish Company, we made the mistake of taking the server's suggestion to order a price-fixed, three-course seafood gourmet feast called Around Reykjavik, listed on the menu for 8,400 Icelandic kronas per person (more than $80 each).

The creamy soup with langoustine and scallops was sinful, and I've never had halibut that was so fresh and tender.

But we ate bread, and each of us had two bottles of beer ($14 to $15 each), so there was way too much food.

When my wife couldn't finish one of the large pieces of halibut on her plate, our server said the restaurant didn't supply takeout containers.

So, we asked for just the sorbet portion of the elaborate dessert listed, and I ate the last of her halibut.

Our check totaled 22,800 kronas or about $210.

Website: Under a Bridge


On our third day in Iceland, we spent about 10 hours in a tour bus, and decided to eat a late dinner at Satt, the overpriced restaurant in our hotel, Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura. My wife wasn't in the mood to share a large Caesar Salad and this Pizza with Shellfish and fresh arugula, so she ordered soup and risotto (she hardly touched the latter). Our check totaled about $110, and neither of us cared much for the food.
On our tour, we visited a farm, where we sampled a traditional Icelandic meal of lightly salted dried cod, which is supposed to be spread with butter and eaten with seaweed, above. This simple meal stood in contrast to the sophisticated preparation of fish in Iceland today.



Indian food in Iceland

At Austur-Indiafjelagid, an Indian restaurant in Reykjavik, I ordered a delicious, fresh-tasting Tandoori Salmon.

My wife had the Goshi Kalimirchi Dinner with big pieces of grass-fed lamb, which she couldn't finish. 

We drank Mango Lassis and ate Garlic Naan bread.

I looked in envy at another couple demolishing an enormous lamb shank, two side dishes and plenty of basmati rice, and thought me and my wife have to start sharing dishes. 

Our check totaled 12,085 kronas or about $112.

Website: Namaste


My wife's dinner of Indian-style Icelandic lamb.
A Mango Lassi is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit.
A private dining room at Austur-Indiafjelagid.

Sashimi on Rock is the name of this appetizing array of raw seafood at the Japanese-inspired Fish Market, one of the best and most expensive restaurants in Reykjavik. My wife started with the restaurant's Lobster Soup with langoustine tails, coconut milk and mandarins.
My wife's entree of tender whole Langoustine Tails and Icelandic Flounder.
I was bowled over by my entree of Icelandic Catfish with Pesto covered in an array of fresh greens and vegetables, including shaved corn. The restaurant says it buys directly from farmers and fishermen.


Fish Market

Fish Market in Reykjavik was our choice to celebrate a big anniversary, and we weren't disappointed.

The restaurant is so popular we had a time limit of 2 hours after we arrived for our reservation, but that wasn't enough time to have Fish Market's highly touted tasting menu (about $115 per person).

Each of us had an a la carte appetizer and entree, plus a large glass of beer.

The extraordinary seafood was matched by the service, and even food runners can describe what went into your dish and how it was prepared. 

Our check totaled 23,380 kronas or about $223.

Website: Iceland's Freshest Ingredients


A skewer of monkfish at Sea Baron, an informal seafood restaurant near Reykjavik Harbor.
Skewers of fresh seafood are displayed in a refrigerated case in Sea Baron's front dining room. You order and pay at the register before you are seated. 
A weird touch is this wax figure of the restaurant's founder seated in a corner of the rear dining room.
Lobster Soup is the best dish at Sea Baron.

 Sea Baron


The crowded Sea Baron was a poor choice for our last dinner before we left Iceland.

The restaurant is as basic as it gets: You order at the register before you are seated at communal tables in one of three cramped dining rooms.

We saw only two servers, who couldn't keep up with bringing food to customers and cleaning tables, so the latter went by the wayside.

We ordered small bowls of lobster soup, skewers of monkfish and shrimp, and two bottles of beer (about $9 each).

Then, we were shown to a table that was still covered with the mess left by previous customers. What a turnoff.

The best dish we had was a small bowl of Sea Baron's tender Lobster Soup.

Don't bother ordering shrimp in Iceland. They are not local, and we were told the small ones my wife chose were from North America.

We asked for a second basket of the mediocre bread to fill up after eating soup, monkfish and shrimp.

We left hungry after paying our check, which totaled 7,650 kronas or about $73 -- the least expensive and least satisfying dinner we had on our vacation.

Website: Try the lobster soup


We returned to Fylgifiskar, a fish market that serves lunch, on our last day in Iceland for bowls of Oriental Fish Soup, made with coconut milk and coriander, and fragrant with Thai spices, above and below (about $15 each).


When we had lunch the week before at Fylgifiskar, one of the selections was Ling with Moroccan spices, left, made with shelled pistachios and pitted black olives. On Facebook: The Fish that Follows Other Fish.

Coming soon:
An overpriced hotel in Reykjavik,
 and a delicious food tour