It was a clay pot with carrots planted inside.
A tiny pot, in fact, with four tiny carrots. But upon further review - unearthing the carrots - it was much more. It was a trick for the eyes and a treat for the diners.
The "dirt" was roasted hazelnuts and reduced beer. Below it was a soft green yogurt sauce the baby carrots (they were real) were to be dipped in. A deceivingly clever dish and a good analogy for the city I was enjoying it in - Copenhagen.
A first glance, Copenhagen is like so many old European cities. Unless you're into old buildings, Carlsberg beer or Hans Christian Anderson, it's easy to overlook. Dig a bit deeper, though, and you'll find the paradox that defines Copenhagen: an old world city transfixed by modernity.
The old grabs your attention first: Rosenborg Castle, the royal gardens, City Hall, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace. But the modern is an attention starved child. Behind Christiansborg Palace is Copenhagen's "Black Diamond" Royal Library, all angles and black glass. Across the harbor is the new glass and steel opera house. Dansk Design and Bang & Olufsen are ever present in storefronts up and down the city's worn streets. Copenhagen is a old port city interlaced with trains decked out with wi-fi.
Lunch spots, like Ida Davidsen, will serve you the traditional smørrebrød open faced sandwiches. Walk across the street afterward to Gorm for the buttery, sweet filo pastry, rosenbrod (seriously, do this). Or make reservations at Noma, the Minibar of Denmark's capital, and experience the creations of another Ferran Adria student, René Redzepi.
Walk into most any bar in Copenhagen and you'll have a Carlsberg, the hometown beer. The brewery and its products have been a staple for 150 years. However, not every bar pours Carlsberg. A select few are ignoring the mammoth brewery and joining the craft beer movement.
Like the clay pot, Copenhagen is worth digging into.
If you want to eat like the Danes then you need to eat a smørrebrød. Tradition has it that you eat these sandwiches in threes: one fish, one meat, one cheese. At Ida Davidsen, a lunch only spot in the old city, that's easy to do. Davidsen, the restaurant's chef and name sake, still works the counter in chef's jacket and hat and will walk you through the dozens of smørrebrøds she's concocted over the years. Once you place your order, take a seat and enjoy your meal there, with an aquavit and lager starter, or have it boxed to leave with you. The sandwiches are delicate, creative (caviar and crawfish tails; liver pâté, bacon and cowberry jam; pungent cheese and radishes) and delicious. Three sandwiches make a hearty meal, but they're well worth it.
Now, not all smørrebrøds are alike. A different restaurant on a different day produced smørrebrøds twice the size of the sandwiches I encountered at Ida Davidson. So it pays to ask about proportions before ordering three sandwiches at once.
Something else to consider is the pølsevogn, or sausage wagon. Like our beloved dirty-water hot dog vendors, the pølsevogns are everywhere selling sausages cheap. If you close your eyes and forget you're in Denmark, the sausages, or røde pølsers, taste pretty much like a hot dog. But in a city where a beer will cost you $10 and an open-faced sandwich $20, the $5 røde pølser makes a pretty good lunch. Order one French style and enjoy the bread tube the sausage comes in.
When in Denmark, you have to have a danish, right? Nah. But you do have to try some of the pastries. These people know how to bake a sweet treat. Whether it's the aforementioned rosenbrod, a wenerbrod staenger (a type of coffee cake), or napoleonshatte (marzipan-filled cookie dipped in chocolate), the sugary baked goods delight. Hell, try the danish too.
At the other end of the spectrum is Noma, a thoroughly modern restaurant headed by chef Redzepi, who worked at El Bulli and The French Laundry before returning to Demark to open his own restaurant. Redzepi's menu is a reflection of his resume. A few of the dishes on the seven course tasting menu showed off the tricks he picked up in Spain, including a snowman made of meringue, carrot sorbet and a berry cream, smoked quail eggs and, of course, the potted carrots. However, Redzepi's dishes aren't all trickery. Like his other former boss, Thomas Keller, Redzepi's dishes also celebrate local ingredients and products.
If there's a middle ground between Noma and Ida, it's Søren K, an upscale restaurant inside the Black Diamond. Named for Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the restaurant is a study in warmth and elegance. The restaurant's exterior wall is floor-to-ceiling glass, offering one of the best canal-side views in the city. During the day, students and boats bustle by. In the evening, city lights flicker through the glass. For all of it's modern design, the restaurant's menu leans traditional with a decidedly French influence. Dinner began with fresh oysters and a bracingly cold dram of aquavit. I also had a creamy bowl of sweet lobster bisque, while my wife saved herself for an entree of pork loin and roasted hazelnuts. I opted for lamb brazed in what the waiter could only describe as "a very old traditional beer." The meal was excellent, but the view was spectacular.
Of course you could skip the restaurant scene entirely and picnic in one of the city's many parks and gardens. Small groceries dot the city and there are a few butchers, cheese shops and produce vendors that can easily fill a picnic basket or backpack with house-smoked sausages, pâtés, and other porky, beefy delicious things. If you're a fan of stinky cheeses, skip the blue and give gamle ole a try. It's just as Danish, but way more funky. The man at the cheese shop, Osten ved Kultorvet, said Danes have an expression for the cheese: "If you eat the cheese, smell your fingers before you go to the bathroom."
Copenhagen is the St. Louis of Denmark. The only thing more common in Copenhagen bars than Carlsberg beers is Danish drinkers. This isn't a bad thing. The mega brewer produces a pretty good selection of beers, including its flagship pilsner, and the brewery tour is worth your time. On the other hand, why fly half-way around the world for a beer you can buy down the street? What's the point in that?
Hey, is that Flying Dog on draft?! Hot shit, I'll take one of those!
Yeah, yeah, I'm a hypocrite. Still, I was excited to see one of our local beers on draft in the Scandinavian kingdom. Den Tatoverede Enke, the bar pouring Flying Dog, was one of a handful of joints I planned to visit while in town. After doing some homework on one of my favorite Web sites, beermapping.com, I tracked down a few bars that might give me a first-hand look at Denmark's craft beer scene.
Though tiny compared to the craft beer movement here, the bar owners and beer enthusiasts in Copenhagen who have eschewed Carlsberg for its smaller Danish competitors, Belgian ales and other European and American micros are every bit as committed to supporting craft beer as we are. And with more limited availability, the Danes have to work a little harder to wet their beaks in craft brews.
Den Tatoverede Enke was the first stop I made. The bar and restaurant is just off the King's Square and Nyhavn, the city's bustling bar and restaurant strip. Hidden from the street behind a few small shops and the Wall Street bar, Den Tatoverede Enke is worth the hunt. The pub was opened in 2001 by a jocular New Zealander, Jeremy Popa, and his Swedish wife at the urging of his father in law. Although the economy has taken a toll on Popa's business, he maintains a regular rotation of a dozen regional and American drafts that keep his regulars coming back. The day I showed up, the U.S. offering was Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA. When that runs out, Great Divide will replace it. The beer theme continues upstairs in the restaurant, both as an ingredient in most dishes and as a pairing with the food.
Bryggerier and the Apollo Brewery are different. Located along a busy street at the front gates of Tivoli Gardens, the glass-enclosed brewpub has the polished look of a chain restaurant. And given the amusement park rides just on the other side of Tivoli's gates, I can be forgiven for thinking I stumbled into the Disney Village. That said, the house beers -- a bock and hibiscus blond ale -- were decent. Combine the beers with the warm service and a decent lunch of herring, cheese and roast beef (the Holy Trinity of Danish cuisine) and maybe I should keep my Disney observations to myself.
A tip from Popa led me to my third pub, Charlie's Bar. As I've mentioned in a previous post, I'm a sucker for British bitters. Well, Charlie's is a traditional British pub a couple twists and turns off the main pedestrian mall, Østergade, with more than a few bitters on tap, six of which are hooked up to beer engines. Add in the fact that the bar had free wi-fi and I was a very happy man.
Last on my list was Ørsted Ølbar. Situated near one of Copenhagen University's many campuses, the bar draws a mixed crowd of students, business folks and locals. Of the four bars I visited, Ørsted Ølbar easily had the largest selection of craft beers on draft and on hand. Soren, the bartender on duty, was happy to chat about the lengths the bar goes though to track down American beers (Great Divide's Yeti was on draft) and show off Danish micros, including Mikkeller's Drikkeriget (a double IPA) and Festival IPA, a curiously flavorful beer that didn't taste much like an IPA. (That may be due to the rice, kinin and peach Amager Bryghus adds to its beer.) If the economy was hurting Den Tatoverede Enke, you wouldn't know it at Ørsted Ølbar. When I walked in, Soren was alone at the bar as Depeche Mode played quietly in the background. Within 20 minutes the 4 o'clock Friday crowd was released from their offices and the place jammed with cheery suits eager for a few pints. A quiet bar no more.
There are way too many travel guides to bother much with this (For what it's worth, I like Rick Steves). If I were to recommend anything, I would tell you to see the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, a 30 minute train trip outside Copenhagen. A quick stroll north through town will bring you to the harbor, museum and the capital of Viking era Denmark. The museum is dedicated to five Viking ships discovered a half century ago in the waters off shore. The boats were dredged from the sea floor and meticulously reconstructed over the course of 25 years. Sure there's a bunch to see in Copenhagen, but how can you go to Denmark and not visit the Vikings?
Store Kongensgade 70
Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1
Osten ved Kultorvet (cheese shop)
Slagteren ved Kultorvet (butcher)
Den Tatoverede Enke
Gothersgade 8 C
Bryggerier and the Apollo Brewery
Nørre Farimagsgade 13
Viking Ship Museum