Simply put, Stockholm is a beautiful city – water everywhere you look, the stately palace, narrow stone streets shaded by tall, old buildings, churches, and gorgeous scuptures. The Grand Hotel wasn’t too shabby either 😉
We headed to old town Stockholm (Gamla Stan) after checking into our rooms, where we saw the King’s palace and the changing of the guards. Then we entered an old square with impressive statues, and picked one out of many sidewalk cafes in which to eat and view all the amazing buildings around us, as well as the crowds of tourists.
When I saw Swedish meatballs on the menu, I knew exactly what I was getting. I had checked almost everything else off my list of “must-try Swedish foods” (pickled herring, salted salmon, absolute vodka, etc.) but had not yet seen meatballs! See how excited I was?
They were covered with that delicious, creamy gravy (yep. Just like at Ikea, but better) and served with mashed potatoes, and lingonberries. Yum. Comfort food.
We moved away from the square and walked down narrow streets to one of the most touristy streets we’d ever been on. But it’s all part of the experience, and we went into shop after shop buying Swedish souvenirs just like everyone else, such as earrings made by a Swedish craftsman made out of recycled forks and spoons.
By mid-afternoon we had worked off our meatballs and were ready for fika (remember? The traditional coffee break?) One minute we were enjoying an espresso and little almond cookies at a sidewalk cafe …
The next minute we were caught in a downpour! The umbrellas started giving out, spewing us with water as the wind swung them back and forth. The man at the table next to us was desperately trying to hold one up as two of the bus boys ran around trying to take them all down before they broke. We watched people scramble through the square holding newspapers (or whatever they had) over their heads. Soon, were one of those people too, because we had to get back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and had not thought to bring the complimentary umbrellas sitting by the door. What an exciting afternoon. We safelty returned to the hotel after splashing our way down a few streets. It was absurd, but all we could do was laugh, and then change our clothes.
We ate in our first Michelin star rated restaurant that night – Mathias Dahlgren. The main restaurant “Matsalen” has recently been granted its second Michelin star. “Matbaren” – the food bar – holds one Michelin star and is known for a more casual setting. Both dining experiences are in “à la carte style,” which means you get to choose from many exquisite small plate options, going at your own pace until you are extremely full (at least that was our experience). The restaurant is also known for its extensive wine list. It was fabulous, as one would expect! The low lighting only allowed us to capture a few pictures, I hope you’ll appreciate my descriptions!
We sat down at a long table next to the bar, taking in the modern decor, low lighting, and vast amounts of wine bottles displayed above the bar. An eclectic soundtrack played in the background – everything from jazz, to techno, to country was heard throughout the evening, and we really wanted to ask for a copy of the playlist! At each table setting was a wooden tray, lined with a rustic paper menu (containing both food and drinks on one easy-to-read page). Next to the tray was a little paper bag tied with a string. We curiously opened the bags and found several varieties of freshly baked cracker-breads inside. A small pad of butter on top of a cool stone was served alongside. We ordered a bottle of rosé wine and felt spoiled already. The atmosphere felt even more relaxing when our waiter explained that we could order things as we go, rather than in courses. No pressure here.
We loved the simplicity of the menu. Items were divided into 5 categories: From Our Country, From Other Countries, From the Plant World, From the Pastry, and Dairy Products & Cold Cuts. First round, I ordered “Fried sepia from Italy” – lightly pan-fried squid with garlic, parsley, and lemon. Usually, I’m freaked out by the texture of squid (either too chewy, or too creamy) but this was perfect. I could hardly even tell I was eating squid. The flavor was subtle and the accompaniments were light and refreshing. Equally light and refreshing was my dad’s “Leaves, sprouts, herbs from Ekerö,” – served with a dressing on the side of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and black pepper, and tasting like everything had just been pickled from the garden.
Dustin ordered “Horseradish herring from Simrishamn” – served with baby potatoes, whitefish roe, browned butter, and chives. It was layed out beautifully on the narrow plate.
Another favorite (that was so good, it was ordered twice at our table) was “Beef Dahlgren” – my brother’s self-proclaimed “perfect meal,” a perfectly cooked fillet of beef (this is the kind of place where they don’t even bother asking how you like your steak cooked), served with potatoes, truffle gravy, and a 63° egg on top. Ok, I must digress for a minute because we were all fascinated by this egg! Apparently 63° is the magical temperature that yields a soft yolk, a completely cooked white, but with a creamy texture. When you cut into it, you think “wait, this egg is not cooked,” but when you take a bite, you realize that the creaminess is a result of the way it was cooked – slowly in a water-bath, from what we understand. I wish I was more of an expert to explain more, but I’ll let you ponder the magic the way we did at the table.
We were amused when our menus (which conveniently doubled as place mats) were replaced between each plate that we ordered (unless you were successful in not dropping or spilling anything on yours, and then they let it be).
I wish I had pictures of our second round of dishes. My mom and I split the “Dumplings of pork” – the most delicate, flavorful dumplings we’d ever had, swimming in a broth with vegetables, sweet & sour syrup sauce, and lemon rind. As someone who is a huge fan of Asian food (as you know from this blog), I hope you can truly believe me when I say that this was THE best Asian dish I’ve ever had in my life!!! Really. Way to go, Chef Dahlgren!
After the dumplings went away (I don’t think we spared a drop in the bottom of the bowl), we devoured a selection of cheeses from a Swedish dairy, Vilhelmsdals. Toasted bread, a small bowl of jam, and cold-pressed locally grown rapeseed oil was served with the cheese.
After two dishes each, lots of fork passing (because of course we all had to try everything) and 3 (4?) bottles of wine later, we were on to dessert (and yet a 3rd replacing of our menus — don’t worry. They’re made of recyclable paper). I was so full that I chose what the waiter called “a good, light option” – a martini glass with yogurt on the bottom, followed by a layer of nuts, olive oil, and sea salt. On the top was a scoop of peach sorbet. Beautiful. Simple. Stunning. I want to make that at home sometime. We also tried the “Rhubarb crumble pie” with vanilla sauce, strawberry sorbet, and clove. Amazing flavors. The boys went straight for the “Baked wild chocolate from Bolivia” – basically a chocolate cake with a molten center, served with sour cream, toffee ice cream, and nuts. And when our dessert plates were empty, our champagne flutes were dry, and the house-made Limoncello had been downed, they brought out a bowl lined with more paper menus filled with little goodies – chocolate truffles on sticks, and bite-sized madelines.
Whew. Now that was a meal – one of those that will probably go down on that list of “best meals of my life.” I feel really fortunate to have been able to eat there!
What better way to end our time in Stockholm (and Sweden) than walking along the bridge by the Grand Hotel, taking in the view of the city lights. The moon rose close to 11pm, and we talked about our favorite places and favorite dinners. We also joked with my mom about why our Swedish ancestors had decided to leave! What an amazing country, and a relaxing trip – a chance to go back our roots, eating and exploring in the same places that my Great-Great-Grandfather and his family might have gone.