Icelandic culture and cuisine arrive in Seattle at Taste of Iceland, presented by Iceland Naturally
Presented by Iceland Naturally, Taste of Iceland returned to Seattle in 2014 for its seventh annual year. The event brought a wide range of food, music, literature and art events. Most events were scheduled between Oct. 9 and Oct. 12.
The highlight of Taste of Iceland for many, including myself, is the special Icelandic set course menu that is prepared each year. Dahlia Lounge, the famous Tom Douglas restaurant, served as host in 2014. Chef Viktor Örn Andrésson, head chef at Blue Lagoon’s LAVA Restaurant, created the menu in collaboration with Dahlia Lounge’s Chef Brock Johnson. Andrésson was named Nordic Chef of the Year 2014 and Icelandic Chef of the Year in 2013, among his many other awards.
Icelandic cuisine, it should come as no surprise, is often dominated by fish and shellfish from the North Atlantic Ocean, and this Taste of Iceland menu was no different. Lamb is also a common entrée in Iceland. In Iceland you could potentially see more exotic fare on the menu, such as minke whale, puffin and horse, all of which are either outright illegal in the United States or would not be feasible due to cultural taboos and/or availability. That being said, many of the more exotic foods consumed in Iceland, such as hákarl (fermented shark), are not eaten by many Icelanders at all, or only during special holidays.
The menu for Taste of Iceland was delightful, as to be expected, provided you enjoy eating seafood. Each year I am amazed at the carefully crafted menu and the detail that goes into its preparation. The stand-alone meal was $75, with an optional beverage pairing an additional $25. I ordered the whole menu, including beverage pairing. I could try to describe each item, but I’m no food critic and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Below then, is the full Taste of Iceland menu with some brief comments and photos.
BIRCH SMOKED SALMON
FRIED SCALLOP AND ICELANDIC BARLEY
TORCHED ICELANDIC ARCTIC CHAR
ICELANDIC SHRIMP COCKTAIL
ICE COLD BRENNIVIN
The appetizer plate was actually one of the highlights for me. The barley served with the fried scallop made for a great flavor combination. And the torched Icelandic Arctic char was delicious. The appetizers were served with ice cold Brennivin, an Icelandic spirit made from potato mash flavored with caraway seeds, cumin, angelica and other spices.
SLOWLY COOKED COD AND FRIED SEAWEED “SÖL”
LIGHTLY SMOKED LANGOUSTINE SALAD
APPLE, SALSIFY, PICKED ONION
DRAGON’S HEAD MANCHURIAN CIDER
My main comment here is that the cod is actually slow boiled, a common Nordic preparation. In Norwegian, which is closely related to Icelandic, the translation for “boil” is actually “koke”, which I think is often translated as “cooked” although it has a different meaning in English.
Langoustines are related to lobster but they closely resemble a large prawn. It’s not something you would normally see in the United States; they are native to the North Atlantic and are popular especially in the Mediterranean. I’ve never had a course paired with a cider before and it was really refreshing, a great pairing. Dragon’s Head Cider is a local cider maker based in Vashon Island, Washington. Their Manchurian Cider is made from a blend of apples, but it retains the unique characteristics of the Manchurian Crabapple.
GRILLED RACK OF LAMB AND SLOWLY COOKED LAMB SHOULDER, SUNCHOKES, BASIL, MUSHROOMS AND MADEIRA SAUCE
BORG BRUGGHUS GARÚN ICELANDIC STOUT
The lamb was very good, but it tasted different to me in some ways. Perhaps a bit more on the gamey side, or perhaps cooked longer. Perhaps this is just what natural meat tastes like when it’s not pumped full of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. The Icelandic sheep is a different breed, however, so that could account for some flavor differences. Also, differences in the sheep’s diet could be a factor. Another great dish, excellently paired with an Icelandic stout from Borg Brugghús.
SKYR AND WILD BLUEBERRY MOUSSE, CHOCOLATE CREMAUX, MARZIPAN CAKE, MARSHMALLOW, SKYR AND LEMON ICE CREAM
CHILLED HERBACEOUS SWEET WHITE WINE
Skyr is another yet another food unique to Iceland. Skyr has been made for thousands of years by taking skim milk and then introducing live active cultures. The whey is then strained out, producing in the end a thick a creamy, concentrated yogurt. Some compare it to Greek yogurt but not as sweet and a bit thicker. For an interesting comparison of different types of yogurt, see the following article.
Out of all the courses, I found this one to be the least successful. The dessert was still fantastic, but I felt there were too many flavors competing with each other. I’ve had skyr in Iceland and it’s always been a very plain preparation, usually with fruit such as blueberries or strawberries. I think skyr goes very well with fruit in general, but I felt that the added flavors of chocolate and marzipan made the dish a bit overwhelming in the end.
Finally, two Reyka Vodka specialty cocktails were created for Taste of Iceland by Dahlia Lounge Mixologist Amber Gephart. I did not order the cocktails, since I had already partaken in the pairings. Others at my table ordered the cocktails, though, and they were excellent and highly unique.
The Reyka Martini ($11) was made of Reyka Vodka, dry vermouth, a rinse of brenivin and a large ice with a pickled smelt head frozen inside. Yes, this cocktail had a fish head frozen in a piece of ice! For an idea of what this looked like, see the following pic (and below), taken from Heed the Hedonist‘s blog post about Seattle’s Taste of Iceland in 2014. The Lingonberry Flip ($12) was made of Reyka Vodka, lingonberry jam, orange and cardamom bitters and egg white.